10 Tips to Create an Affordable Garden

The average household spends more than $500 on gardening annually, but you can do it for much less with these 10 tips for an affordable garden.

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It can be easy to quickly fill your vehicle and blow your budget at seasonal greenhouses when spring fever fuels visions of a dream garden.

According to its annual survey, the National Gardening Association reports the average household spends $503 on gardening. Twenty-nine percent of gardeners are in the 18- to 34-year-old range, peak years for when its important to pinch pennies.

Fortunately, gardening can be one of the most budget-friendly hobbies if you plan well, have patience and do a little networking. Here are our top 10 tips for gardening on the cheap and protecting your investments.

Share Seeds

Most seed packets contain more than any backyard gardener can use in a season. Find a neighbor or friend with whom you can split packets or set up a seed swap. Its a great way to try more varieties of flowers and vegetables, without having to buy as many different seeds.

Use Up Older Seeds

If you have leftover seeds from previous seasons, you dont necessarily have to throw them out. If youre unsure whether theyre still viable, test them out by putting seeds between a few layers of damp paper towels. Put the paper towels on a paper plate and slide it inside an unsealed plastic gallon bag to hold the moisture but allow a little air flow. Within a couple of days, you can see which ones have sprouted and can be planted.

DIY Seedlings

Buy vegetable or flower seeds to start indoors with seed starter trays or any DIY seed starter containers such as free well-washed yogurt cups, egg cartons or even cardboard toilet paper rolls.

Follow Planting Instructions

Seedlings need a few days to harden off (gradually adjusting to harsher outside temperatures and sunlight) before planting. This can avoid shock. Follow seed packet guidance on when to transition seedlings outdoors. Burpees free online growing calendar tailors planting information for your zip code.

Start Ready-to-Go Veggies

If youre a complete beginner or working with young children, pick the least fussy vegetables and plant directly outdoors. Peas, lettuce and radishes sprout in cool conditions. Beans, cucumbers and summer squash like it warmer. Check the USDA plant hardiness zone guide to pick regionally appropriate plants and the right timing to start them outdoors for garden-fresh produce all season.

Find Garden Sales

If you crave a few unique varieties, check out garden club or public garden plant sales. Skip more expensive gallon-sized pots and look for less-expensive sturdy, healthy small seedlings. Seek a colorful assortment of heirloom tomatoes or sweet and spicy peppers or put together your own planters or hanging plants with a variety of annuals.

Revive Favorite Flowers

To avoid spending money on hanging or patio-ready flowerpots every spring, choose plants such as geraniums, wax begonias, dahlias, sweet potato vines and ivy, which can be cut back and brought inside for the winter. Begin watering them and put them in a sunny place in the early spring to generate fresh growth and another season of flowers.

Trade Perennials

Find a friend, neighbor or garden club member with whom you can swap seeds, seedlings or plants for a wider variety in your garden without spending extra money. Perennials, such as shade-loving hosta plants, can be expensive but are easy to divide and share once theyre established. Daylilies, ferns, iris, peonies, rudbeckia, coneflowers and daisies also multiply well and can be easily shared through dividing bulbs and plants.

Locate Plants Wisely

Dont bungle your investment by putting plants where they wont thrive. Pay attention to which plants can withstand full sun, partial shade or even deep shade. You can find free USDA grow guides for most plants and trees online. Also consider your soil, and whether the plants you choose like a moist environment or can tolerate sandy and well-drained soil. You can test your soil and modify it if needed.

Compost Enriches Soil

Collecting your kitchen food scraps and building a backyard compost pile or compost tumbler doubles as good for the environment and good for the garden budget. It creates a nutrient-rich additive for your garden soil and lessens the need for fertilizer. You can also take care of your soil and plants by mulching to retain moisture and prevent weeds.

Keep Away Garden Pests

When youve invested time and money into your gardens, youll want to keep pests from wiping out long-awaited flowers and vegetables. Consider pest deterrents such as bars of soap, homemade repellent sprays and marigolds to discourage rodents, deer and other wildlife. Building a fence does double duty by keeping out domestic wildlife, kids with soccer balls and rambunctious dogs.

Lisa Meyers McClintick
Lisa Meyers McClintick is an award-winning Minnesota-based freelancer specializing in travel across the Upper Midwest and to national parks across the United States. She has been a longtime contributor to USA Today, Midwest Living magazine, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and also has written for Minnesota Monthly, TravelChannel.com and AAA publications. Her specialties include watching wildlife and birding, harvest travel, hands-on art and history, gardens and wildflowers, quirky small towns and scenic outdoors. She's a member of Society of American Travel Writers and Midwest Travel Journalists Association, which named her the 2019 Travel Writer of the Year. She's also an award-winning photographer and teaches workshops on memoir and creative writing, photography, travel, and creating sketchbooks and journals.