If you’re looking to save money on gardening this season, you’re not alone. The good news is, a beautiful garden doesn’t have to cost big bucks, says Catriona Tudor Erler, author of The Frugal Gardener: How to Have More Garden for Less Money and Design Ideas for Home Landscaping.
“You can often get better results with cheaper -- or even free -- materials and put in less effort as well.” Here, Erler’s tips for creating a gorgeous garden that only looks expensive.
1. Create instant compost
Using compost rather than store-bought soil amendments is better for your plants, according to Erler. Best of all, it’s free and you can forget all the rules you’ve heard about the need to layer green and brown plant materials.
“I just throw everything from kitchen scraps to leaves in an out-of-the-way spot in the garden, and it works out wonderfully,” says Erler. “I’ll even pour on milk that’s gone sour.”
But it takes a year until compost is ready to use. If you don’t have that much time, you can speed up the process by simply digging a hole, throwing in some kitchen scraps and then planting on top of it. “The worms will turn the materials into compost for you.” Any kind of leftover food will work -- except meat. Fish and coffee grounds (along with the paper filters) are especially good.
2. Make your own plant food
Soak some compost or aged manure (often available for free at stables) in a bucket of water for a few days, then use it to water your plants, including the leaves. When the water turns a mucky color, it’s ready. “This mixture has none of the harsh salts or petrochemicals of store-bought plant foods, and your plants will soak up more nutrients,” says Erler.
3. Don’t buy as much mulch
If you’ve got a weedy patch around a shrub or tree, place a thick layer of newspaper over the area first, and then add a little mulch on top. This cuts down on the amount you need. Mulch is also cheaper to buy in bulk. Ask a neighbor to split it, which will halve the cost for the both of you.
4. Purchase smaller plants
Nurseries charge more for larger plants. But it doesn’t take that long for small ones to catch up once they’re planted in your garden. Smaller plants also establish more quickly and tend to be healthier, says Erler, so you ultimately get more bang for your gardening buck.
5. Save with self-seeders
Many beautiful perennials drop their seeds after they flower, spreading themselves and blooming the following year, says Erler. This means that you don’t have to pay for additional plants (or put in extra planting work). These flowers also prevent weeds from springing up in the same area. Self-seeders include cosmos, marigolds, impatiens, California poppies, asters, black-eyed Susans, columbines and hollyhock. In addition, some plants grow in clumps that can be easily divided and replanted. These include iris, daffodils and hostas. Save even more by trading these for other plants with a pal who also has a garden.
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