When it comes to your garden, are your dreams bigger than your checking account? No worries. With these tips, you can save money and still have an abundant and beautiful garden!
Where to Buy
The first and most obvious place to save money on your garden is at the store. A little research here can go a long way to keeping your money in your wallet and out of the dirt. Big box hardware stores, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, are often the default places for plant purchases. Although not the cheapest option overall, these stores sometimes run specials, especially on common shrubs that they purchase in bulk. Avoid the annuals here unless you only need a small amount; they entice you with their colorful displays of these flowers and often charge more than other places.
Annuals are cheapest from seed but can also be a bargain from discount stores like Walmart. The fast growth rate and short life span means that their early care is not as important. Be careful about buying trees and shrubs from these stores, as they may not have had the best early care and a dead plant is never a bargain!
Talk with gardeners in your area or search online for discount or wholesale nurseries. Sometimes a short drive can save you hundreds of dollars on your landscaping. If you’re in the market for native trees or shrubs, check with your state’s forestry service. I once bought 10 bald cypress seedlings for $20 that grew into two-story trees within a few years!
Of course, the best place to “buy” plants is from donated cuttings and divisions from other gardeners. Keep your eyes peeled for overgrown and overcrowded plants and don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve rarely had anyone turn me down when I’ve offered to divide their iris or trim their hydrangea in return for some freebies.
When to Buy
Annuals can only be purchased during their growing season, but perennials, shrubs and trees can be purchased any time. With the exception of the occasional big box sale, try to avoid purchasing these during the plant’s glory season. You pay a premium when the plant looks its best. I’ve often found the best deals at the end of the summer when the plants are a bit heat stressed and many are starting to enter dormancy. They may take a little TLC, but that is worth money in the bank. In warmer climates, you can plant most vegetation well into the fall. If you live in a cooler zone, protect the plants until you’re ready to put them in the ground in the spring.
What to Buy
When you buy a plant, you should be more concerned about the health of its roots than the appearance of its foliage. Don’t be afraid to slide it out of the pot and to take a look at what lies beneath the soil. The roots should show no signs of rot, not be too dry and should fill the pot. It is okay (in fact, often good) for it to be a little root bound but you want to avoid plants whose roots look like they’ve been circling the pot for eons.
One of the best ways to stretch your gardening dollar is to select plants that will spread – either through rhizomes, seeds or division. In fact, I frequently purchase eager growers in one gallon pots and divide them into 2-4 plants before they’re even in the ground! Be careful not to get so impatient to fill space that you buy invasive species; there is a fine line between an enthusiastic grower and one that will soon take over your yard.
How to Plant
Dig a hole that is 2-3 times wider than the root ball and just about the same depth. If your native soil is reasonable, use it un-amended. If you have heavy clay or sandy soil, mix in some basic manure with the native soil before back-filling the hole. Save the expensive potting mixes for the pots.
If your plants are heavy feeders, use a concentrated fertilizer that you mix with water. Make sure you apply it well before any forecasted rain or your hard-earned dollars will wash away with the storm. Most plants do fine with a occasional topdressing of manure or homemade compost (my azaleas love plain old coffee grounds!). Simply sprinkle the manure or compost on top of the root ball and let the worms do the rest.
Gardening on a budget means that it may take more time for your garden to reach maturity but the rewards are so much sweeter when you know that you saved money in the process.