I tend to get really excited about my garden when it finally starts feeling like spring. My fingers are just itching to get out in my garden and start growing things! Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for getting started often leads to the emptying of my wallet.
So this year, I decided I would take the money-saving initiative of starting my own seeds indoors (you can read about that HERE). But I knew there had to be other things I could do to help save myself some money, so I did a bit of research, and came up with a few tips that I think all gardeners should know!
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Now if only I could find seeds for a money tree… ;-)
Take Advantage of Free Soil Amendments
There are dozens of options to choose from when it comes to amending and improving your garden soil. There are the obvious choices, such as compost and manure, that you can purchase in large bags at any garden center or home improvement store. But many people aren’t aware that there are other rich, organic materials out there that most people are just throwing away!
Used coffee grounds, whether from your own home or from a coffee shop, make a great soil amendment. They’re rich in phosphorus and magnesium, important nutrients that help plants grow. It’s easy to get your hands on some coffee grounds, even if you’re not much of a coffee drinker at home. Starbucks has a program called Grounds for Your Garden, where they package up their used coffee grounds (reusing the bags that the beans originally came in) and offer the packaged grounds to local gardeners, for free! If the grounds aren’t out on display in the store, just ask a barista if they have any on hand.
Leaves are also a surprisingly good organic soil amendment, and they’re even easier to find than used coffee grounds! When fall comes around, gather a few bags of leaves to keep until spring, when you can dig them into your garden beds. Larger leaves will take longer to break down, so its best to shred the leaves into smaller pieces before adding them to the soil. An easy way to shred leaves is to make a pile of them on your lawn, and go over the pile with your lawnmower.
Find Free and Inexpensive Seeds and Seedlings
Starting your growing season off with an abundance of free or inexpensive seeds and seedings isn’t difficult if you know where to look.
For free seeds, many communities offer “seed libraries,” where you can collect as many seeds as you want to grow. In return, you simply let one or two of those plants you grew go to seed. You then collect the seeds, and return as many seeds to the seed library as you took home at the beginning of the season. A quick Google search will point you in the right direction for information on seed libraries in your area. However, some states have legislation that prohibits the sharing of seeds, so you’ll also want to make sure it’s legal before doing it!
Plant sales are a springtime tradition, and they are another source of affordable plants. These events are often held at nurseries, arboretums, and botanical gardens, and once you go, I daresay you’ll be hooked! :-) I’ve been attending the plant sale at Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City for the past several years, and I always come away with amazing plants for my garden.
Plant sales usually have a great selection of heirloom varieties and hard-to-find cultivars, so even if you’re not necessarily saving money, it may be worth the splurge! But if you are looking for a great deal at a plant sale, it’s worth waiting around until the end. You can (politely) haggle the prices of the plants that still remain, and make off like a bandit. Even if the leftover plants aren’t the prettiest ones, odds are they’re perfectly fine, and will perform just as well in your garden as the more attractive ones. :-)
Some cities even have plant giveaways put on by local nurseries or gardening clubs, simply to spread the love of gardening around the community! Sign up for the email newsletters of your local nurseries and garden societies so you don’t miss out on great opportunities like these.
Save on Tools and Supplies
I only found out about this recently, and I’m just kicking myself that I didn’t know about it years ago! The Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit organization that builds affordable housing for those in need, has a chain of stores called Habitat for Humanity ReStore. ReStores are like your favorite thrift store, mixed with a home improvement store. You can find building supplies, landscaping supplies, and even gardening tools and supplies at a huge discount. The items you can find in ReStores are donated, so your money goes to support Habitat for Humanity directly. Not only are you getting a great deal, but you’re helping out others! That’s my kind of win-win.
Aside from ReStores, other sources of affordable gardening supplies could include your local thrift store, garage sales, and even dollar stores.
Save Your Seeds
If you’re a gardener who was raised by gardeners, then you probably already know about the practice of saving seeds. After all, it was the traditional way that farms and gardens were run for the past 12,000 years! But with the emergence of commercial seed companies in the 50’s, it has become easier and easier to simply buy another packet of seeds when you run out. But if you practice seed saving, you’ll never need to buy another seed packet! How’s that for savings?
All plants have seeds, as you know, but some are easier to collect and save than others. The seeds of squashes are probably the easiest, since their seeds are so big and sturdy. Other plants, like tomatoes are harder to collect because the seeds are so small. Plants that are grown for their leaves, like herbs and greens, have to be left in the ground long enough to “go to seed”, which is when the plant sends out a flowering stalk that is meant to distribute its seeds.
While seeds from different plants are collected differently, the process for saving them is much the same. The seeds are rinsed, then allowed to dry for several days in a cool, shady, non-humid location. The dry seeds are then collected, and stored in envelopes or bags until they’re needed.
This practice should be done with heirloom or “open-pollinated” varieties, because many varieties of genetically modified plants are actually patented, and these patents prevent anyone, farmers and gardeners alike, from saving seeds from patented plants. Seed companies all over the country have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, which states that they “do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants”.
To find a seed company in your area that has taken the Safe Seed Pledge, see the full list here.