Gardening can be very expensive – or not. For those who have limited budgets, there are some ways to save costs by thinking “out of the box”. Here are a few ideas that I have discovered.
Tired of replacing clay pots that crack and plastic pots that break when weathered, try using simple galvanized buckets, spray paint the exterior sides, drill holes in the bottom, and you have a virtually indestructible 5 gal pot. This works for water gardens also, using a wash tub but with no drainage holes. With the cost of decorative looking plant containers being what they are, this is a much cheaper, yet still attractive way to display your potted plants. There is a rustic appeal to it as well.
Can’t remember plant names. Tired of plastic name plant tags breaking or names fading, try using old aluminum blinds – merely cut them into strips and label with a #2 pencil. They are weatherproof and the name will not wash off. It’s a good way to recycle as well. Another helpful way to remember plant names is to create a plant data base that you can refer to as necessary – no labels needed.
You can spend a small fortune on brand name potting soils, but I find the best way is to buy the cheaper soil ingredients at a local garden center and blend your own potting soil. I often use a 40 lb bag of compost and an equal amount of top soil. Do check the relative quality of each of these ingredients before buying. Once blended, if you can hold a handful, squeeze and it doesn’t compact, it will drain well, yet retain moisture, and grow most any plant well in a container.
Nursery plant prices have been increasing to where it costs a lot more to replace plants. Look into propagating some of your own plants, trading or swapping plants with other gardeners (e.g. at a Plant Swap or through garden clubs or with other garden acquaintances). We all end up with surplus plants that we can divide or otherwise share with others. Don’t overbuy for instant effect when buying a perennial that can be divided into multiple plants after one growing season. Often, commercial growers propagate and pot two rooted plants per container to ensure at least one survives. When buying a potted plant at a retail outlet, look for multiples that can be divided into two or more separate plants.
Organic gardeners save a lot of money by not purchasing and using toxic chemicals and fertilizers, but by focusing on composting and enriching garden soil naturally and dealing with insect and pesky weeds using many of the environmentally friendly methods. Texas AgriLife Extension calls it Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
Recycle pots: Reuse your pots until they can no longer be used. Nursery containers are not currently accepted for plastic recycling so offer them to a nursery – most of which will gladly accept them as it saves them money. Vice versa, if you need pots, ask your local nursery if they have a surplus of used pots they would like to get rid of. I did this for potting plants I propagated for a charitable plant sale. Wash out all used pots to reduce risk of transmitting disease organisms. Recycle your old potted plant soil back into your yard and garden .
Hand water everything. This way you can concentrate your watering to the root system and zone of each plant without wasting water. Automated systems are wasteful and wasted water is costly both environmentally and pocket book wise. Another cost saving, water wise thing to do is mulch your garden beds each spring with a fresh layer of ground hardwood mulch. Native plants may not require mulching as they are already adaptive to our climatic conditions.
Don’t buy or grow tender plants or non-adaptive plants unless you have a means to protect and grow them successfully year round. This requires researching and learning about plants before buying, rather than impulse buying at a local garden place. As a plant buyer, you must be knowledgeable of what you are getting as many sellers aren’t that knowledgeable about what they are selling. Know what a plant requires to grow well before purchasing it. Use of native plants always saves you money as they are durable and rarely need to be replaced.
Buy or grow perennials for seasonal color rather than annuals. Annuals are indeed beautiful but are less adaptive to our climate extremes, and are costly to buy and replace every season. Many plants sold at Nurseries are perennials in certain areas of the country but can only be grown as annuals in central Texas.
For garden décor, nothing looks more natural than native stone or artistic pieces of dead cedar wood. Without violating private property, there are many opportunities to gather these natural accents for your garden at no cost.
Try growing clusters of plants in a single container. A good example might be a small cactus garden in a shallow and wide container where many different and compatible plants are used and displayed artistically. Another method is to make colorful arrangements of thrillers, fillers, and spillers.  This technique used one upright “showoff” plant surrounded by smaller fill-in plants and bordered with cascading plants.  This saves money on pots and soil.
About now, you are probably thinking I’m out to put every horticultural enterprise out of business. Not at all! I shop for and buy new plants and supplies regularly, but I am merely pointing out some common sense ideas that can save the average gardener with limited resources, time and money as well as help our environment . I know there are many unique ideas that other gardeners have implemented that haven’t crossed my mind. As gardeners, we might want to look for new and innovative cost and labor saving ideas which require unconventional thinking.


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