The ecomony''s lousy. Costs are up. Incomes are down.

Gardening has many benefits. Sense of peace, connection to nature, sense of accomplishment, source of pesticide-free food, something to do on Sunday morning as the neighbors drive to church....

But if we don't watch ourselves, we can buy great plants, hardscaping, watering systems, packaged compost, and wind up with what amounts to $20.00 tomatoes. Not cheap. Maybe really, really, good, but not cheap.

As an officially "cheap" guy, I do lots of things to save money in the garden. None are original. Some I learned from grandparents, who learned from their parents. Some are newer to me. Please feel free to add more! I could probably use some of your frugal habits!

1. Grow from seed. A packet of seeds can last for several years. This year's beans were from packets that I bought last year, so essentially free seeds. The tomatoes were from 2 to 3 year old seed packets. Even more free. Fresh seed is usually very cheap, compared to buying the plants. Saved seeds take a little more effort, but if you have nonhybrid varieties, they are even more cheap.

2. Grow from free starts. Some (not all) of our grapevines were from cuttings taken from established vines. Very little effort, and no cost. It takes about 4 years to get grapes from cuttings. We also have chives, mint, multiplier onions, garlic, garlic chives, forsythia, fig trees, pussy willow, rose of sharon, sedum, sempervivum, strawberries, and roses grown from free starts. Somehow, this is also much more rewarding than buying them. It's also fun to say, "This came from my friend's yard" or "this came from my grandmother's yard". I also have irises that came from illegally-dumped yardwaste in a local park. Somehow, I take pride in that as well. They are really gorgeous, too. I think that the official word for this is "scrounging".

3. Let the lawn go brown. This applies to dry-summer climates. Not all neighborhoods allow brown lawns, and not all spouses allow them. If you can get away from it, quit watering it, let it go brown. Cut any weeds that come up. When the rains start again, the lawn will green up and grow again. Mine has for the past 5 years. This is nature's cycle. Expectation of green lawn in a dry-summer climate is zone-denial. Tell the neighbors to get over it. Meanwhile, you save the cost of energy, gas/electricity if you are using a power mower; cut back on the water bill, and can be smug about your environmental consciousness.


4. Exchange with online or local friends. Most of my fig trees were started from cuttings that came from an online fig forum. Members mail cuttings to one another, so the cost is just postage and packaging.


5. Use gardening to accomplish other goals. This grape arbor provides shade for a south-facing French door. We built the arbor over a weekend. The grapes were either cuttings, as already mentioned, or 1st year plants for about $10.00. The arbor provides deep shade in the summer, keeps the bedroom much cooler than it used to be, saving air-conditioning costs. It also provided about 50 pounds of grapes last year, which are so sweet and 'grapey' they make the grocery store grapes hang their heads in shame.



6. You know I had to mention chickens. Actually, they do not make for cheaper eggs than you can get from the grocery store. However, the eggs are much better, and they come from happy hens. To save money, on feed, I feed them fresh weeds or leaves every day. This supplements their diet - they still get prepared chicken feed. Given how rank the grapes grew this year, I break of a couple of 6-foot grape branches and give them to the hens, every day now. They devour the leaves quickly. The hens also get lots of kitchen scraps, and any slightly moldy but not rancid veggies and other foods. I no longer buy packaged manure for the garden - instead, the chickens provide lots of good compost.

7. Scrounge for compost sources. Drop by starbucks or other coffee shops and ask for coffee grounds. Our local shops sometimes give me 50 pound bags of coffee grounds, happily. Unfortunately, then I feel guilty about taking something for free, and but a cup of coffee. Coffee grounds are similar in carbon/nitrogen ratio and other minerals, to manures, but smell a lot better.

8. Save eggshells and scatter them on the tomato patch. Eggshells are high in calcium. You could buy lime, but eggshells are free. I crush them so that they don't look like eggshells.

9. Grow some shade trees from seeds. True, you may not live to sit in their shade, but someone will. I planted ginkgo, locust, and maple seeds when I was in grade school. These are now huge trees (because I am old). A seed-planted ginkgo, started 10 years ago, in my yard is about 15 feet tall now. I feel very good about that.

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Replies to This Discussion

Daniel, I have very small 40 x 60 back yard, and there is a huge existing mesquite tree on one side.  I already planted a red Crape Myrtle that will get to be 25'.  There is still room for one more moderate sized tree and I thought I might plant another Crape Myrtle, thus my question about taking young shoots that are coming off the newly planted tree to start another one.  However, since I made the post I realized that a fruit or citrus tree would be much more productive use of the space, smell good when it blossoms, and would produce fruit.  So I contacted a friend who has a orange and a lemon tree in her yard and asked for cuttings.  So now you mention dormancy in cuttings. Does that mean this is the wrong time of year to take the cuttings and try to get it started for next spring planting? 

Barbara, you can always try.  I have never grown citrus from cuttings.

Daniel, spoke with friend today who is Master Gardener and she agrees with you about dormancy. :(   I've decided to play with some cuttings anyway. I have some shrubs I would like to duplicate and so I'm going to get some root starter and see what happens.  If they grow, they grow, and if not I will most likely have learned something in the process. Nothing ventured nothing gained. :)

Excellent points, Daniel. I would add another topic, Sweat ... perspiration. The beauty of a garden for me, it requires time, attention and hard work. Problems always crop up, even with the best techniques. Part of the fun requires solving them ... kind of like going on a hunt. A gardener meets the nicest people while on the hunt for solutions. 

"Problems always crop up, even with the best techniques. Part of the fun requires solving them.".

Joan, I really agree with you.  Attaching that idea to a brain cell has been a long process for me. I wish everyone could spend a few hours on a regular basis working in a garden.  Maybe that's why communiy gardening is so popular as people gain more than food from gardening. Problem solving is a very confidence building task, or at least it is for me. Sweat equity is a bonus. 

Yesterday the gutters man came back for a final tweaking of the gutters so that they all drain exactly as I want into the rain barrels. Feeling flush with success (everything matches and looks really professional and I did it!) I was enjoying my nightime reading - "Weedless Gardening" by Lee Reich.  And then, I gulped and gasped and thought, 'oh, no, here I go again.'

Mr. Reich states: "Not having to dig the soil in spring also means not having to delay planting because of wet soil.  Digging a wet clay soil transforms it into a compact material better suited for sculpture than plant growth."  page 10.  (I'm not suppose to plant in wet soil? I didn't know that.) It immediately made me think of my plum and nectarine trees - are they going to live or become sculptures?  And yet now is the time for me to be planting so many things - and yes it is definitely wet - and yes I have clay soil. 

Obviously my issues are small compared to others, but when I remind myself it really is fun and I would sooooo much rather dig in the dirt and plant something rather than go shopping for shoes ... well, bring on the gardening problems!  And a good day of physical work in the garden merits 'cherries jubilee' from Baskin & Robbins without a bit of guilt. 

Daniel, thanks for re-posting this.  Lots of good information in it.  It is definitely a learning process. I am simply amazed at the amount of organics that went into my trash can the first year I owned my home. I've gone from thinking my composting efforts would only fill a trash can to laying out an area just for composting. Ditto for all the plants I now prune, trim and simply move. What was once 'trash' now has become new plants to share. My cheap gardening efforts has now become a part of my life - "do I really want this? or would I rather buy a plant or a packet of seeds?"   Grapes growing over a pergola is in the dreaming stage!  Too bad every new homeowner doesn't receive a frugal gardening book along with final closing papers! :)

 "Too bad every new homeowner doesn't receive a frugal gardening book along with final closing papers! :)"

I'll second that emotion Barbara.

I think so too. It would really help!
Mints are awesome when they invade the grass, and then you mow. Smells really good. Neighbors might not like the weediness tho.

I am protective of the trees I plant. I wish I could make them heritage trees or something so future owners wont cut them down. No way to do that, that I know of.

I think Randall is zone 5. He's in Indiana.

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