Gardening on a Budget
Watch your plants grow, not your expenses. Here, some basic tips to keep the red in your garden, not your budget.
Before you’re tempted by the latest store flyers and garden shows, sort through your garden tools and equipment. Make a list of what items you already own, what you need and what needs repair or replacing. This way, you can avoid buying duplicates of items you have, and you can get rid of what you don’t need.
Create a plan
Create a garden plan. One of the top 10 gardening mistakes is overspending on plants because you don’t know what works where, and you don’t know how you want your garden to look. You might buy plants that aren’t suited to certain conditions, or purchase more than you need and suffer overcrowding.
Also, keep track of your progress throughout the summer to help you save next year. Use a chart to help you note which perennials come up and when, and get out your digital camera to snap some shots.
Often, the bigger the package, the better the unit price — and gardening supplies are no different. If you can’t use it all, split the cost and the goods with a friend or neighbour but still enjoy the bulk price.
Another growing trend: timesharing your tools. Chip in with your neighbours to buy items you don’t need often, like an aerator or lawnmower, and take turns storing and using the items. (If you’re borrowing instead, a token of appreciation is always welcome.)
Do you have cuttings, perennials or seedlings to share? Check your local events listings; many communities and gardening groups have plant swaps each year. Alternatively, you can organize your own swap with friends, family and neighbours.
Find free stuff
Does your community compost or mulch? Find out when pick-up dates are and mark your calendar. You’ll save money, and you’ll help your plants thrive with natural (rather than chemical) materials.
Another source to try: Freecycle.org. Keep an eye on the items in your area, and post a request if there’s something in particular you’re looking for.
Find new uses for old items
Use your creative thinking in your garden by reusing and repurposing items. For instance, borrow some plastic containers from your recycling bin to start seedlings, or make your own pots from newspaper (they will decompose when you plant them).
You can also use objects around the house to decorate your green space. Try an old aluminum watering can as a planter, or coil an old piece of hose into a wreath and decorate. Get the kids in your life involved for projects such as making a stepping stone.
You don’t have to sacrifice beauty to grow your own food. Look for vegetable and fruit-bearing plants that are attractive as well as edible. For instance, mesclun mix or ornamental lettuce adds colour to the garden as well as your salad.
You can even dine on many of your favourite flowers. For instance, add geranium petals to a salad for a splash of colour, or crystallize pansies to decorate a dessert. (See A feast of flowers for more ideas.)
Buy low maintenance
Plants that are naturally resistant to bugs and fungi or that require less water can save you money on maintenance. They will also help ensure that your plants (and your cash) won’t go to waste.
When you factor in all the costs, growing your own grub won’t always save you grocery money. One way to tip the financial scales in your favour is to focus on plants with a high yield and long harvest to make the most of your space. Some tasty choices include alliums (leeks and onions) and lettuce, but find out what works best for your area’s growing season.
Include plants that make a repeat appearance rather than buying new every year. Perennials aren’t just for the flower beds — depending on your climate zone, you can even find perennial herbs and vegetables like rhubarb, artichokes or asparagus.
Don’t have a rain (or two) barrel yet? It’s time to start shopping for the best prices — including subsidized rain barrels offered by your municipality. You’ll save on water costs, and your plants will love the warm, untreated rainwater.
When you use the hose, time it right for maximum effect. You won’t have to get up early to water before the sun gets too hot, or risk forgetting to turn the hose off if you invest in a water timer. (See Water conservation tips for a beautiful garden for more ideas.)
Every year, tonnes of organic matter end up rotting in landfills while we spend on fertilizers. Compost contains essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in a form that plants can easily use — and it slowly releases them into the soil.
You can purchase compost bins, or build your own. For full details on the benefits and how to get started, visit the Composting Council of Canada.
Have a harvest plan
Of course, you won’t save on your grocery bill if your harvest goes to waste. Have a plan to use up what you’re growing — like canning, freezing or cooking. Some options, like no-cook tomato sauce or freezer jam, are surprisingly easy and don’t require a big time commitment. (See Savour summer all year long for details.)
You can also share your bounty with those in your community. Many charities, food banks and shelters have programs to collect fresh produce — something which they may not be able to afford on a regular basis.
Go to seed
Don’t buy seeds next year — save the seeds from the plants you’re growing now. All you need is a little patience and know-how. Check with an expert at your local garden centre for tips on how to harvest and save seeds, or look online at sites like The Seed Site for advice.
Watch for sales and coupons
You want to save, but there are two places you shouldn’t cut corners: good quality plants and seeds, and tools (especially if you have arthritis or mobility issues). However, that doesn’t mean you have to pay full price. Keep an eye out for coupons, sales and promotions, especially as the season advances.
Overall, gardening is a labour of love — but worth the price when you see the results. However, careful planning and smart spending can prevent your expenses from growing like weeds.