Wednesday, April 11, 2012

6 ways to garden on the cheap

The girls at work call me an old lady.

At first, I was mildly offended. Most people still think I'm in college from a first look. I guess it's after I open my mouth and start talking about my hobbies that the old lady makes her appearance.

I get it. The girls I work with are barely 20. What was I interested in when I was 20? Um, boys?

So I'm 27, and I love gardening. Unashamedly. I will apparently try to tell you about it even if you just graduated from your teenage years.

I'm not doing as much gardening this spring, since we'll be gone all summer. But. I can't keep away from it entirely. There's maintenance! And seed-starting! Because I already have seeds and they are free!! And if they die when we are gone it's okay because they were free!! Oh my dear garden, how I love thee.

I got to thinking about ways that I save money in the garden. It can be an expensive hobby, especially if you like rare and unusual cultivars. (See how I just pulled out the word cultivar?)

Here's what I thought of:

1. Compost. Trying to garden with bad soil is like trying to eat soup with a fork. Buying compost, peat moss, and manure from the store adds up. What to do? Enter the homemade compost pile! Ours is in an old metal trash can. I had Aaron drill holes in the sides of it, and I fill it up with dead leaves, grass clippings, fruit and veggie scraps, eggshells, etcetera. Over the winter I just let it sit there. But once spring comes, I strap the lid on with a bungee cord

This is me strapping the cord on at night. Don't worry, it's the same process in the day.

and roll it back and forth across our yard.

This is me rolling at night. Don't worry, it's the same process in the day.

About once every other day. It helps everything decompose faster. I'm sure our neighbors think I'm crazy. It's okay. Old ladies sometimes are. There are all sorts of things you can put in your compost, but the key thing to remember is to balance green material with brown material. Try to keep it even, and the pile will do its thing better.

Compost is your friend!

2. Become friends with other gardeners. Preferably experienced gardeners with vast gardens. Perennials need dividing every few years, and even when it's not time to divide, a little section can be sheared off without harm to the plant. You then have a free plant! My mom and I swap plants like this, and it's a great way to add plants to your garden without buying them.

My mom shares her hostas with me

3. Haunt the clearance racks. Lowes almost always has clearance carts floating around their garden section. I have gotten gallon perennials for as cheap as $1.00 off this rack. Same with Wal-Mart. Throughout the summer, look for plants that have been marked down. These clearanced plants take a little extra love, but I have successfully nursed lots of them back to life. Totally worth the savings. Our local nurseries mark down perennials around August--still plenty of time for a plant to get its roots established before the first frost.

4. Start from seed. This is a great option for plants that you want to experiment with. I started lupine from seed last year, knowing that it isn't native to our area. But for a $1.00 seed packet, I thought it was worth the risk. It's actually doing really well this year and is going to bloom. When you start something from seed, you'll feel really proud. You'll start taking your guests to see it, and you'll say something ridiculous like, "See this plant? I grew it from seed. Do you know how long that takes?" Not that I've ever done that.

Columbine I started from seed

5. Garage sales! I have bought so many pots at garage sales. Big, big pots that would sell for 15 dollars at Wal-Mart, and I fork out a buck or two. Take it from me: don't buy pots new.

Pansies in a garage sale pot

6. Overwinter annuals. Not all annuals can overwinter. Some can. I think they are generally called tender perennials in that case. :) Petunias will die inside. Geraniums won't. I have a friend who overwinters her impatiens. I haven't had luck with those, but she is a great gardener. This winter, I brought in four geraniums and a fuchsia plant that I paid 15 dollars for in a moment of weakness. There was no way I was letting Old Man Winter kill that baby. All five made it through a winter of neglect in our sunroom. I watered them maybe once? The abundant light kept 'em hanging on, and now they are back outdoors and ready for another season. And I just saved 30 dollars. Booyah.

Dianthus my sister gave me when she moved overseas

Phew. Who knew I had so much to say about gardening?

If all of this overwhelms you because you don't garden, read this and then get yo'self some zinnia seeds. I'm telling ya, we can all be old ladies...ahem...gardeners. :)

I gotta give some credit where credit is due: a shout-out to the ladies that taught me to love gardening and help me do it cheaply. Thank you Mom, Rach, Lea Ann, and Carol! And no, I don't think you're old. :) Or if you are, at least we're in this together.

Aaron wants to add his tip:

Don't kill a bee.

That's all we got, people.

(All pictures are current garden blooms.)


  1. Lara,

    I love that you love to garden! You have such beautiful plants and flowers, and your pictures have inspired me. Aren't you glad God created flowers and that He made them in so many different shapes and colors?!


  2. I just came over from the Nester's. Your post is so fun and you are so cute. I love your spunky style of writing and photos. I have container gardened a bit off and on through years of apartment living and now I have my own house and yard!

    We moved in memorial day weekend of last year and after getting the essentials moved in/settled on Friday/Saturday/Sunday, Monday saw my husband building raised beds and starting our own square foot vegetable garden - most from seed but the tomatoes we grew from plants since we have such a short growing season here.

    We LOVED having fresh veggies to eat into October!!

    How have you met your other gardener friends?

    Good to know about the clearance racks. I've been afraid of them.

    I bought some pots from garage sales but then haven't used them because I wasn't sure how to clean them and I heard that was necessary.

    I do have some zinnia seeds. I need to get those suckers in the ground. Thanks for your great post! Kelly