Is Gardening Digging a Hole in Your Wallet? 7 Money-Saving Tricks To Try
There’s no way around it: Gardening can be incredibly expensive. Even if you’re an experienced gardener, chances are good you’ll still spend a pretty penny on new plants, fertilizers, and even mulch.
But gardening doesn’t have to cost quite that much.
In fact, once you adopt the mindset of a thrifty gardener, you’ll probably start noticing how little it actually costs to maintain a beautiful outdoor space. Here are seven money-saving tips that will help you have a happier garden (and a heavier wallet) this gardening season—and every one to come.
1. Use natural mulch
Lest you were starting to think of mulch as some mystery mix from distant magical forests, let us remind you: It’s essentially chopped-up trees, leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, shredded bark, and other organic material. So you really don’t need to pay the big bucks to get bags of the stuff, especially since you might already have some in your backyard for free.
“Nature often gives us exactly what we need for mulch,” says Laura Durenberger, owner of the eco-minimalism blog Reduce, Reuse, Renew. “The two most common items I use in my own garden are grass clippings in the summer and leaves from trees in the fall. The fall leaves act as an insulator for plants through the cold winter months, and then become mulch in the spring.”
Looking for something a bit more heavy-duty than grass and leaves? Try arranging for a free mulch drop-off with Chipdrop.com, a company connecting arborists and gardeners.
2. Make your own compost
Much like bags of mulch, compost is another unnecessary expense for gardeners.
“Composting at home is not only good for the garden, but for the planet as well,” says Durenberger. “Food waste in a landfill slowly breaks down, and while doing so releases methane gas. Composting creates all of the necessary components needed to break down food into beautiful, free garden food.”
There are a number of ways to compost: an outside bin, an inside electric countertop composter, an outside tumbler, and more. The key here is to research what will work best for you.
Not sure you want to compost at home? Check if your community offers shared compost programs, or try the app ShareWaste, which matches up compost bin owners with compost enthusiasts.
3. Collect rainwater
If you pay for water, then we don’t have to tell you how expensive growing vegetables can be. But by setting up a small rain-collecting system, you might just have enough water to keep your plants happy, especially if it rains frequently.
“Be creative,” says Andrea Ballanti, gardener and owner of Your Indoor Herbs. “This works wonders if you live in a dry area where it rains heavily once in a while. Water barrels can be set up in any outdoor area of your house near your garden.”
“Remember that water collection is regulated in some places, so always double-check you’re allowed to do it first,” she adds.
4. Support local farms
As tempting as it is to stock up on those cheap (and let’s be honest, half-dead) plants from big-box stores, they’re probably not your best option—especially if you live near local growers.
“You’ll almost always end up with better plants from a locally run greenhouse or farm than you will from a large chain store,” says Erinn Witz, gardener and co-founder of Seeds and Spades. “Local businesses will usually offer a better selection of suitable plants for your growing zone, and they’ve been raised in the regional climate instead of being imported from somewhere far away.
“Also, since they’re operating on a smaller scale, local businesses tend to offer lower prices and take better care of their plants,” Witz adds.
5. Use recycled materials whenever possible
In addition to all the money you spend on plants, you might find yourself spending a bit too much on gardening equipment—like starter seed trays, plastic pots, and even gardening tools.
“You can easily rack up the expenses on new pots and trays, but a good free alternative is recycled kitchen items,” says gardener Michelle Davies, CEO and founder of The Best Ever Guide to Life. “For example, yogurt containers, egg cartons, and plastic containers from fruits and veggies can work great.”
Short on garden tools? Join a local gardening group or a Buy Nothing group on Facebook to score free ones.
6. Let your plants go to seed
“Saving seeds from plants you own might save you a lot of money in the long run, especially if you grow pricey plants,” says Ballanti. “I love poppy plants and I have hundreds of them, but I haven’t bought seeds for at least five years. Once mature, each plant produces thousands of small seeds in easy-to-collect dry seed heads. Just harvest them, and drop them in a letter envelope ready for the next year.”
You can also simply leave your intact flower heads and let nature run its course, spreading the seeds for you (i.e., letting your plants “go to seed”).
7. Shop seasonal plant sales
This one might sound obvious, but how many of us actually take advantage of these amazing local sales? From seed sales in the spring to bulb sales in the fall to plant sales throughout the summer, there are plenty of opportunities for savings if you just follow local organizations.
“In springtime, every church, civic organization, school, and master gardener organization seems to have a plant sale,” says gardener Hillary Swetz, of Homegrown Hillary. “Usually, the plants are donated from local nurseries or lovingly grown by community members with green thumbs. They’re a great way to support local causes and get amazing deals on plants.”