Do you want a lush, beautiful garden on a budget? It can seem like you need a lot of stuff for gardening and that means spending money. But here are 14 smart gardening hacks to garden for practically free.
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Gardening on a Budget 101
Past Me would have found it really funny that I’m writing a post on how to garden on a budget.
I used to have the opposite of a green thumb.
I liked the idea of plants and for some reason friends always thought I was good with the greens (blame that on my organic bakery owner/very slightly hippie tendencies).
But alas no.
I even tried nurturing a couple of cacti and I killed them.
Like the plants that are supposed to be the easiest to keep?
One day the lovely green tops just sadly sunk down to the soil.
I overwatered the cacti.
So I gave up on plants for years.
Moved around the country. Worked on a boat. Traveled to the Arctic. Had adventures.
Then settled down. Moved into this sweet brick bungalow and started getting the desire to plant things. Frugal me wanted to try to garden on a budget.
So a few years ago I decided I would give gardening a shot. And the idea of saving money by growing your own food was tempting.
If it didn’t work out, I’d just buy the dang carrots at the store, no biggie.
And I loved it.
I don’t know if it was the brick bungalow or me or the right timing but I fell head over heels for gardening. And turns out I can grow things now.
But I am always one for saving money so I started looking for ways to garden on a budget.
And there are lots of them.
So strap on your knee pads and get ready to garden on a budget with me!
Also check out 5 easy tips to save money on landscaping (I especially love the first tip!)
Garden on a Budget – 14 Smart Ways to Garden for Cheap
1. Start from Seeds.
This is the first tip for gardening on a budget because it can save the most money.
The more “prepared” your plant, the more you will pay for it.
It’s just like buying food at the grocery store. You save money on groceries by buying unboxed, unprepared food.
You can buy a tomato plant that already has dozens and dozens of green little baby tomatoes. That will cost you more money than buying a tiny tomato plant seedling. And that tomato plant seedling will cost more than starting tomato plants from seeds.
Here are 16 brilliant tips for eating healthy while you’re on a budget >>
2. Make Your Own Compost
If you’re wondering why is compost good, it’s something I didn’t know a few years ago. It just seemed like an extra step to gardening. It is but it’s a useful one.
Using compost can cut down on the need for fertilizer for your plants. Compost helps the soil keep moisture, especially important on those long hot summer days. It also gives your plants much-needed nutrients, which means happier plants, better growth, and more pest resistance.
So how do you make your own compost?
You can either start with a compost activator or just start saving and piling up your own food scraps (the cheaper way). Add produce food scraps to your compost, skipping meat, dairy, and fish.
For what type of bin to hold your compost, it really just needs to be big enough, and you need to have a way to stir it. Lids are important to keep pests to the minimum. (As a little kid, I loved opening the compost bin in my grandparents’ backyard and trying to catch glimpses of the mice living there before they scurried away.)
Make sure you are regularly stirring your compost. You want the lovely rich decomposed stuff at the bottom to mix in with the new stuff at the top.
There are compost bins that you can easily rotate, or you can use a shovel with a stationary compost bin. The compost bin below just needs to be given a turn every couple days.
3. Use Natural Methods of Pest Control
Picking slugs off your berry patch might seem ickier than spraying the heck out of your plants with chemicals. But think about those chemicals on your food plants. Manual pest control is cheaper, much better for the environment, and doesn’t introduce chemicals into the plants you are growing and potentially eating.
Using companion plants is another method of pest control and a great way to garden on a budget. Your companion plants are still contributing aesthetically to your garden, while they are also performing an important function of keeping garden pests at bay.
Here is a resource with more information on companion planting.
Also make sure you are regularly going through your garden and pulling out the weak plants. These can quickly spread whatever plant pest is affecting them to nearby plants. Remove them so the other unaffected plants can thrive.
4. Dollar Tree Garden Supplies for a Budget Garden
You can save money on gardening by picking up inexpensive garden supplies from Dollar Tree or the Dollar Store.
There are lots of dollar store planters you can get for cheap. You can find hanging planters from Dollar Tree and also pots in all colors, shapes, and sizes.
Dollar Tree garden supplies that will save you money on gardening:
- Knee pads
- Kneeling mats
- Garden sheers
- Gardening gloves
- Garden markers
- Fairy garden pieces
- Bird feeders
- Bird seed
- Hummingbird nectar
- Outdoor thermometer
- Watering cans
- Solar lights
- Gardening bags
- Seed starter greenhouses
- Plant clips
- Soaker hose
If you’re planning on camping this summer, check out these best camping supplies to pick up from Dollar Tree (and what you shouldn’t buy there!)
5. DIY Fertilizer to Garden on a Budget
These are my 3 favorite super-easy DIY fertilizers:
Instead of raking up and tossing the grass clippings after you mow your lawn, keep them as an organic fertilizer for your grass. It helps block weeds and is also a source of natural nitrogen for your plants, instead of buying fertilizer containing nitrogen.
I learned about using leaves as a DIY fertilizer a few years ago. Instead of raking up all those leaves in the fall and sending them off in brown bags of yard waste, keep some and use them as an easy DIY fertilizer for your garden on a budget.
Leaves are a natural source of trace minerals that plants need, and they also suppress weeds. You can till them into your soil or container beds or put crushed dried leaves right on top of the soil. I used dried leaves in between strawberry plants to keep the weeds down in between plants.
Eggshells are a natural source of lime – a major component in fertilizers that you buy. Crushed eggshells can also be used as a type of organic pest control. Just crush up the shells and scatter them right on top of the soil.
6. Join a Seed Swap
If you want to garden on a budget, join a local or online seed swap.
Seed swaps are just what they sound like – groups of people who love to garden and exchange seeds for free. You get to try out different varieties of plants without having to spend money on them.
The best place I have found for free seed swaps is Facebook. Search seed swaps for your local community or neighborhood.
7. DIY Raised Garden Beds
If your soil isn’t great for growing, it’s often cheaper (and definitely easier) to do container gardening, rather than remove a whole bunch of crappy soil and replace it with good soil. Container gardening can also be an easy type of gardening for condo and apartment dwellers.
You can buy beautiful raised container beds which are your most expensive option.
An alternative to save money is raised garden bed kits (I love this one) and do some simple assembly yourself.
The cheapest option is DIY raised garden beds. If you have basic hammer and nail skills, you can make a simple wooden homemade garden bed.
We have two wooden container beds in our backyard and I made them with my husband. We made our DIY raised garden beds out of cedar fence boards. The wooden beds are each 2 feet by 3 feet. We used 5 foot cedar fence boards and cut them to make 2 foot pieces and 3 foot pieces. We attached the cedar planks together with galvanized nails and a couple of screws.
And they’re beautiful! I love how they look in the garden and they were cheap to DIY.
8. Collect Rainwater to Garden on a Budget
Use large buckets or a rainwater barrel (like this one) to collect rain to water your garden.
Gardens drink a LOT of water during the growing season.
On hot summer days, I have to water our garden twice a day, because by the evening the soil is completely dry.
In more southern growing zones, I can imagine that you have that much more water to keep your gardens happy.
Conserve water, and save money on water, by collecting rain for watering.
9. Use Free Garden Markers for your Budget Garden
Instead of buying garden markers, use popsicle sticks!
Simple, cheap, and they work. You can get your kids involved by decorating the popsicle sticks.
10. Garden on a Budget by Planting Perennials
Plant things that come back year after year.
There are so many tempting annuals but if you really are looking to garden on a budget, they won’t give you the most bang for your buck.
A few years ago I planted a tiny black raspberry bush (it was more like a stick). It didn’t look like much, but it grew and now every year we have a gorgeous harvest of berries. I paid a few dollars for that black raspberry stick and each season we get many, many pints of berries for free.
There are lots and lots of perennials; take a look at what grows well in your growing zone.
Here is a helpful post on what perennial vegetables you should plant if you want to save money on your garden.
Popular perennials you might want to consider planting:
- Shasta Daisies
- Baby’s breath
- Lamb’s Ear
- Lavender (if you grow lavender, check out this amazing lavender scone recipe – they are SO good!!)
11. Get Free Plants
If you have other friends who garden, swap seeds and plants with them.
I have given seedlings and cuttings from my garden to several friends. And the tiny flavor bomb wild strawberries in our backyard initially came from a single offshoot given to me for free.
Another great place to look for free plants and seeds is on Facebook.
Join Facebook groups for your neighborhood or community – look for groups called Freecycle or Buy Nothing.
You can make posts giving away some of your plants and seeds and also keep your eyes open for people gifting things from their gardens.
12. Skip Manicured Lawns
Say no to manicures, when it comes to your lawn.
There is a lot of extra expense to chemical sprays and high maintenance lawns.
But more than that, it’s not good for the environment, for kids playing on your lawn, for dogs and neighborhood wildlife.
Spraying the heck out of your lawn is so old school.
Save money on your garden by having a natural lawn. And enjoy peace of mind that if your toddler eats a fistful of grass while playing in the yard, it’s no biggie.
13. Garden on a Budget by Saving Seeds
At the end of the growing season, harvest your own seeds for the following year.
This isn’t as simple as plucking veggie or flower seeds from the plant and storing them in a jar. If you want to garden on a budget, seed saving is a skill worth learning and will save you lots of money on plants or seeds every year.
For more information about seed saving, check out this resource.
14. Grow Food
With this frugal gardening tip, you not only get the pleasures of gardening, but you get to eat what you grow too. This can save money on groceries, especially with some planning.
Think about what you really like to eat and tend to buy a lot of.
If you eat a lot of salads, greens are cheap to grow, and it’s also really fun to pick your own salad from your backyard.
We eat TONS of berries, so we have two berry patches in our backyard. The black raspberries barely make it into the house; they are gobbled up so quickly by warm little 5-year-old hands outside.
And the wild strawberries that grew from a small seedling that I got for free from a friend.
Fresh berries aren’t inexpensive to buy, and with the amount we consume, we save money on food by growing berries in our backyard.
Check out this post for DIY food gift ideas from your garden that people would love to receive!
One Thing I Wouldn’t Recommend for a Garden on a Budget:
I often come across the tip to use an old tire for container gardening. Sure it is a free way to get a container so that is a plus and will save you money.
I don’t think it’s worth the savings in this case. If you grow flowers in the old tire container, then that’s probably fine.
But for anything edible you’re growing in your frugal garden, skip the used tire container.
Old tires are not inert and will leach into the soil. It’s likely not a concern that it will make you immediately sick by eating the produce grown in old tires. But with time some components in the rubber could leach out and be taken up by the roots of the plants you are growing.
There are lots of areas to save money on gardening and this isn’t one of them!
I would love to hear your ideas for how to garden on a budget!
If you want to save more money on food, check out my Meal Planner for Busy Families HERE!
P.S. Did you know you can make money gardening? Here are 9 simple ways to make $1000/month from your garden.
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