By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Gardening is a hobby, and like all hobbies, it’s easy to get carried away beyond hobby-budgeted funds. Even after you have the necessary tools and supplies, there always are new plants, hats, gloves, and new gadgets to try! But that doesn’t mean your garden has to drain your wallet. Some of the best garden tips don’t cost a dime, while some save you money for many seasons. Here are my no-pain-always-gain ways to save money while gardening and still have the garden of your dreams.
Make Compost Happen
It’s so obvious that our current gardens are free compost goldmines. But, incredibly, many gardeners let this mother lode go to waste. Stop bagging those needles and leaves and dragging them to the curb in the fall! Dried leaves make an excellent compost in as little as one season. Half-rotted leaves are called “leaf mulch,” and there is nothing like a layer of leaf mulch on your garden to attract earthworms and all kinds of beneficial insects and organisms. That’s what happens naturally in the forest, and it’s much cheaper than buying bags of shredded cedar bark.
Start Your Plants from Seed
Seeds are still the best deal in town. You can grow dozens of annual plants for a fraction of what you would pay for a 6-pack of the same flowers. Begin with annual flower and vegetable seeds, or start a patch of wildflowers. The savings from growing vegetables from seed can pay for the rest of your garden supplies!
Install a Drip Irrigation System
This is a dramatic money saver even if you only pay for electricity to pump from a well. Irrigation systems are composed of a lot of little pieces, making them seem very complicated and expensive when they really are neither. All those pieces simply snap together as you layout your system in the garden/landscape. Even drip irrigation that is programmed to go on several times a day will use less water and money than a good soaking with a hose. That’s because less water is lost to evaporation, and less water is consumed because what is used is going straight to the roots. You save money, and your plants are happily hydrated.
Collect Seed, Take Cuttings, Divide, Spread
Take seed-starting a step farther and become a seed saver. Open-pollinated plants grow true from their seed. Heirlooms and old-fashioned flowers are good candidates. You also can multiply your plants by rooting cuttings and by dividing perennials from friends’ and/or your own landscapes.
Some of your neighbors stopped gardening years ago, and when they finally clean out their garages you can find some deals. Many of the older tools, buckets, netting, pots, and gloves are better quality than the imported stuff offered at today’s big-box stores. Once all this used garden equipment has been found and set up in the driveway, no one wants to drag it back into the garage to store it until the next sale, so prices are usually pretty reasonable, even negotiable. But, hold on! Maybe YOU should be the one having a yard sale. I mean, really, how many pruners do you need, anyway? Have a yard sale and designate the proceeds to your garden fund.
and Re-Direct Rain
Water is one of those garden expenses we don’t really notice until the bill arrives at the end of the month. Yet a garden can go without water for a long time. A rain barrel has got to be one of the most natural garden tools to use. You insert your drainpipe into the hole in the barrel and wait for rain. They’re making it even more tempting these days with some beautiful rain barrels designed to complement the different materials of different house styles.
Plant Sales Between Seasons
You can save a lot of money at garden centers during the transition from the summer to autumn planting season. Fall’s colored trees, big bold evergreens, and autumn-blooming shrubs arrive as specimen plants, and they take up a lot of space at a nursery. Just imagine a 15′ by 8′ wide Colorado spruce and you get the picture. Well, we had an entire truckload of trees show up, filled with just such trees! To make room for fall shipments garden centers host clearance sales of their spring and summer plants. This is a great time to snag bargains at half price or less. At my garden center, we call this our Monster Monsoon Sale, but can also be called a Fabulous Fall sale, end of season bargains and more. This transition has already begun and continues through Labor Day. Snap up these bargains fast because they don’t last long! It’s a good time to take home that piece of pottery, garden art, or plants for that privacy hedge you otherwise just couldn’t afford!
Until next week, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping locals snag big garden savings.