10 Tips for the Frugal Gardener

How do gardeners end up millionaires? They start off as billionaires.

My mother, an avid gardener, was once visited by a friend who had just returned from Las Vegas. He chatted about his luck-or lack thereof-with the one arm bandit. My mother rolled her eyes and smugly replied that she wasn’t a gambler. The man paused to look around her expansive garden, grinned and replied, “You’re a gardener and you say you don’t gamble?”

 She has been laughing-and agreeing-with that verbal exchange ever since.

Gardening is always a gamble, but it is also an investment in both our mental and physical health. Sure that crop of beans might be lost to frost, but was there ever a better year for peas? Every season has its losses and unexpected wins. And, as any gardener will tell you, there is always next year.

Gold pea pod

They will also tell you real wealth comes from picking your own vegetables and seeing that first crocus poke its head up in the spring. And while it may be hard to escape a garden centre without your wallet shivering from shock, there are ways to be frugal. Here are ten of them.

1 – Fertilizer never expires. If stored in a cool, dry, place it will last indefinitely so stock up during end of season sales. Better yet make your own organic compost or fertilizer (see below).

2 – Fertilizer can also be found in unlikely places. Don’t pour that pot of cold leftover herbal tea down the drain. Feed it to your plants instead. Use water that you have boiled vegetables or eggs in to water your plants. Valuable nutrients will have leached into the water and your plants will thrive on it. Just be sure none of these liquids contain salt, sugar or oils, and of course let the water cool before pouring on your plants.

3 – Containers are expensive. Look for used ones at garage sales, paint plastic ones to look ceramic or think outside the pot. Putting a cheap plastic dollar store pot inside another vessel you already have can be a great way to display your plants.

What do you already have kicking around that would make a great container? Old washtubs, buckets, tea kettles, dressers and more can be used as eye catching unique containers. Just make sure they either have drainage or you put a pot inside of it that does. Nothing kills container plants faster than soggy feet.

4 – Join a garden club. Most perennials thrive by having divisions taken- garden speak for using a sharp shovel to cut a piece off an established perennial. These divisions will, in turn, thrive in your own garden. Garden clubs are always welcoming to new gardeners and happy to share their knowledge and plants. When you get your garden established you will, of course, pay this generosity forward to the next new gardeners to come along.

5 – Start from seed. A lot of pricey perennials can be started from seeds for a couple bucks a package. Check out the racks at nurseries and catalogues online. Since each package can contain hundreds of seeds, garden clubs will often do seed sharing or have each member grow enough of one plant to share with all its members, while the rest do the same. The result is a plant sharing bonanza for the frugal.

woman hands picking mint leaves in garden

6 – Start from cuttings. A lot of plants can be reproduced by simply snipping off a stem and poking it into a pot of moist vermiculite or even a glass of water until you see roots being produced. At this time you can plant the cutting into a pot of soil and voila! A new plant. Succulents are perhaps the easiest to propagate this way. They often drop a leaf onto the soil by themselves and these fallen pieces take root. This is how they propagate themselves in the wild. Nature is pretty amazing.

7 – Buying a tree? Buy small. When we go to the nursery to pick out a tree we naturally gravitate to the biggest ones. They cost a lot more but it makes sense that if we start with a bigger tree we will have apples, shade or whatever much faster than if we chose the smaller one. Not true. The bigger the tree the longer it takes to recover from the shock of being transplanted. If you planted a big tree and a small tree side by side nine times out of ten the small tree will outperform the larger one in the end. Buy the small tree and you will save both time and money.

montage de compost

8 – Compost. Turning kitchen waste into compost is free and saves you all kinds of coin that would otherwise be spent on bags of compost or fertilizer.

9 – Make your own markers. Instead of spending money on those cute little ready-made tags in the stores make your own by painting small stones, wine corks, cutting up old blinds or scraps of wood. With a little creativity frugal doesn’t mean it can’t be fancy!

seed saving book
In its second edition Suzanne Ashworth’s comprehensive seed saving book is a wonderful resource for the serious seed saver.

A great book on the topic is Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth now in its second edition.

10 – For centuries gardeners saved their own seeds from their very best plants slowly building up superior vegetables that thrived in their particular climate and soil. As long as your vegetables aren’t GMO or hybridized you can follow in your ancestors footsteps and save your own seeds too. Stored in a cool, dry, place seeds can last for years.

seed
Another book on seed saving that also explores herbs, flowers, fruits, trees and shrubs