Anyone who’s ever been to a botanical garden or driven through a swanky neighborhood with professionally landscaped flower beds has likely had serious plant envy. Nothing creates curb appeal quite like a lush garden full of colorful blooms. Flowers soften up the hardscapes of concrete and brick, and brighten any yard. Like most things nowadays, though, a bountiful landscape comes with a big price tag. If cost has been keeping you from planting the garden of your dreams, you’ve come to the right place! The following tips can help you fill up your flower beds without emptying your wallet.
1. Start from Seeds
Though starting plants from seeds requires much more time and planning than does buying small plants, the money you’ll save is significant! For what you would spend on one 4-pack of starter plants, you could buy enough seeds to equal a few flats of the same flower! Raising your own flowers from seed is especially wise when you are planning to use a great number or variety of annuals. Annual plants aren’t hardy enough to survive winter, and therefore have to be replanted each year after the threat of a hard frost. Some annual seeds can be sown directly in the soil of your garden and require very little work from you other than good dirt and plenty of water and sunshine. This method, called direct-sowing, is great for popular annuals such as marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, alyssum, and cosmos. Other more tender annuals, such as petunias, impatiens, snapdragons, and salvia, need to be started indoors under a growth light about 6-8 weeks before the danger of the final frost.
If starting your own garden from seed sounds like the way to go for you, we suggest this great reference book of over 500 species of flowers, their germination requirements, hardiness, and time to bloom. The guidebook describes all of the materials you need to get started, and takes the guess work out of this penny-pinching method of starting a garden. Many of the flowers you have in your garden now can provide you with the seeds you need to replant them next year; simply keep some of the flowers when you dead-head, and dry them out, using the seeds within next spring to start your seedlings.
2. Plant Plenty of Perennials
One of the best ways to save money in the garden is to only plant things that have lasting power. Perennial plants and bulbs come back year after year, making them the perfect investment for the thrifty gardener. While annuals generally pack a color punch and are fantastic for containers, perennials offer structure and longevity to beds. With little attention from you, these guys remember what to do every spring and pop back out just in time to add life back to your landscaping. And an added bonus: every other year or so, you can divide these plants in the early spring or late fall, instantly doubling the number of plants in your yard!
Perennials come in a huge variety of options, including everything from ground covers and climbing vines, to drought-tolerant sun-lovers or delicate shade dwellers. Because they establish deep roots, these plants tend to get more and more beautiful with each passing year. As mentioned above, an occasional splitting of dormant (or just awakening) perennials keeps them healthier over time, allowing their root systems to have more room to grow. Once you’ve gotten them established, most perennials are happy with little attention other than a deep drink of water once a week or so, and a good plant food or compost heaped on once a year.
3. Shop Clearance
As you read above, starting a garden from seeds means that you start planning your flower beds up to two months before bedding season. If you want to score some ridiculous bargains on ready-to-plant flowers, however, you are going to need a whole other level of patience. If you can stall your gardening urges until late May/early June, you can take advantage of deep, drastic price cuts in home gardening centers everywhere. This method of money-saving isn’t for the faint of heart, and is probably best suited for the greenest of thumbs among us because it’s slim pickin’s at this point, and many of these bargain-basement plants need lots of TLC. They may be root bound in their tiny plastic pots, or they could be suffering from being under-watered or over-scorched in the sun. The best way to baby these little buds is to get them into some really good dirt, mixed in with some plant food, and keep them thoroughly and frequently watered. It’s also a good idea to keep them shaded, even if they’re full sun varieties, for the first week or two that they’re in the ground; you can create shade with a lawn chair in a pinch.
If you are willing to wait for the deals, you’ll be surprised at the crazy low prices you’ll find. Trees and shrubs that were once in the $40-60 range could be marked as low as $5, and those 4- and 6-packs of colorful bedding plants that were once between $2-6 each could be as low as $0.25 each! You can save even more at Mom & Pop, locally-owned garden stores because… get this… you can negotiate the price with the owner! Unlike at the giant box stores, the thought of a dead inventory that cannot be sold is an incredible motivation to haggle for a local shop owner. Gather all of the plants you need, plus a cushion in case some don’t survive, then make a rounded-down offer for the bundle. Never hurts to ask!
Plants aren’t the only thing you can get for next-to-nothing if you’re willing to wait until the end of the season. Usually right around the back-to-school rush, stores begin marking down all of their garden centers to a fraction of the original prices. You can get containers, tools, decorations, furniture, and much more for pennies on the dollar if you’re willing and able to grab them at the end of summer. Yeah, you miss the opportunity to actually put most of it to use this year, but just think: you’re WAY ahead of the game for next spring!
Garage sales and Craigslist are also great places to find bargains. Many people practically give away piles of rocks, dirt, bricks, or landscaping edging, as well as garden containers and incidentals. Local social media groups have started popping up for selling or trading all kinds of household goods, too, including gardening implements. All it takes is a little luck, good timing, and a pick-up truck to take advantage of the score of a century.
4. Make Friends With Other Gardeners
If you love to garden, chances are you know plenty of other people who love to dig in the dirt, too. Befriending other green thumbs can be beneficial in many ways, the least of which is the free advice and shared experience that comes from years of trial and error with flowers. Want to plant a new shrub or flower you’ve admired in a friend’s yard, but aren’t sure if it will work in your space? Ask! Your gardening friend can tell you about pest threats, watering preferences, perfect lighting conditions, and any other particulars for that plant you might not get from the generic nursery tag. The more educated you become about the plants you have in your landscape, the more likely they will be to survive… meaning you won’t have wasted money on dead plants!
And remember how perennials and bulbs need to be divided annually to keep them healthy? Well, you could arrange a plant swap with your trowel-toting pals each fall! Maybe a friend has a gorgeous, unique variety of a flower that you can’t find anywhere. Some established plants can be divided by taking a cutting, which is exactly what it sounds like: cutting a small segment off of a mature plant, and starting a new plant from the cutting. Of course, it’s not as easy as sticking the segment in dirt, but it is pretty simple, and you can find detailed instructions for starting a plant from a cutting by clicking here. Sometimes plants will “volunteer” themselves, meaning that they naturally reseed themselves elsewhere in the garden. If you or your green-thumbed friend already have enough of a particular volunteer, these tiny seedlings are easily transplanted, giving you yet another way to share plants. Social media groups are a great place to solicit plant swaps, too.
5. Think Outside the Pot
Another huge expense in flower gardening is all of the containers and decorations that are sprinkled throughout the landscaping. A good sized pot could run upwards of $30-40! And a trellis for a climbing vine could be closer to $100. Sure, these are usually one-time purchases that are mitigated over years of use, but what if you could chop the initial cost exponentially by using less traditional containers and decor? For containers, anything that will hold dirt and allow for a drain hole in the bottom works. Can’t poke holes in the bottom? Make sure to put an inch or two of gravel at the bottom before you add dirt to provide drainage. Like a more industrial look? Turn several cinder blocks over on their sides and use their holes as containers! For decor, generally any heavy glass, plastic, or metal trinket can be an object d’art. Need to take an eclectic find down a notch? A good coat of outdoor spray paint transforms even the most kitchzy items into showpieces. Need a trellis for a climber? Old iron porch or stair railings does the job nicely, as do antique cast-iron headboards. Don’t have a bird bath? Use a giant terra cotta drip saucer. Have a big empty spot that’s hard to keep plants alive in? A huge chunk of rock or driftwood becomes a focal point in a once barren plot. Literally, anything goes. It’s a great adventure trying to find new ways to use ordinary things in the garden! Bonus: no one else’s garden will look like yours.
Gardening is a great hobby, and now that you know it doesn’t have to cost a lot of green to be a green thumb, you can start digging! You can implement one or two of these money-saving techniques to take the sting out of the cost, or start practicing them all for even more savings.