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Whether you’re a beginner on your gardening journey or a seasoned enthusiast looking to cut costs, you’re in the right place. We’ve got everything you need to garden on a budget! Please keep reading to discover our top 12 tips for saving money on gardening!
Table of Contents
- Top 12 tips for gardening on a budget
- #1 Start small and slow
- #2 Plan ahead
- #3 Start plants from seed or divide existing plants
- #4 Use what you have on hand
- #5 Build a compost pile
- #6 Use a rain barrel
- #7 Mulch
- #8 Join local gardening groups
- #9 Get trees from community planting programs
- #10 Grow prolific veggies and plants
- #11 Learn from your local extension agency
- #12 Buy garden plants on clearance
- Set your gardening budget and go from there!
Top 12 tips for gardening on a budget
#1 Start small and slow
If you already have an established garden, start there! But if you’re just getting into gardening, rather than going all in on an expansive garden, start small and slow to save on your initial investment.
Even for seasoned gardeners, expanding your garden over years rather than months saves money – and prevents burnout! That way, you will spend less money (or time) on materials in any given year.
The same concept applies to gardening tools. Start off with the essentials. Then, keep a wish list of tools for future years.
Wish lists are great for tracking what you want/need. But they also keep you from making spontaneous purchases that you might eventually decide you don’t need.
Essential gardening tools to consider:
- Hand trowel
- Hand cultivator
- Long handled spade
- Garden hose & spray nozzle
- Watering can
Depending on your garden(s), you might also consider the following items:
- Wheelbarrow, wagon, or cart
- Hand pruner
- Long handled fork
- Soaker hoses
- Watering wand
- Knee pads or kneeler
Not only will you add to your garden and tools each year, but you’ll also add to your expertise! Just one more reason to take it a year at a time and stick to a gardening budget.
#2 Plan ahead
It pays (literally) to plan your garden. From the garden location, materials, tools, and seeds/plants – planning ahead will save money.
Think about your location, needed tools, and the plants you will grow. And then make a list of needs.
We also recommend using a grid-style paper and planning out the size of your garden and where plants will be placed.
Ask the following questions when planning your garden:
- Where will you have your garden?
- How will you prepare the area for gardening?
- What materials will you need?
- What will you plant? Will you buy seedlings or seeds?
- Do you need a fence?
- How much will it all cost?
#3 Start plants from seed or divide existing plants
Starting plants from seed saves a ton of money over buying seedlings, especially full-grown plants.
If you’re starting a vegetable garden, some plants, like tomatoes and peppers, can get started indoors in late winter. Transplant after you’re past the threat of frost.
Other veggie seeds, like squash and beets, can be planted directly into the garden.
Some flower varieties can be started from seed as well. In fact, winter sowing is a great way to start native wildflowers from seed (see our article on winter sowing for more information).
And if you really want to save money year after year, plant perennials. This is less of an option with vegetable gardens. Still, when it comes to flowers and other plants, perennials are a great option because once they’re established, they come back each year. And they can get divided into even more plants!
Spread the word to friends, family, and neighbors that you’re in the market for their divided perennials. We’ve received strawberry and rhubarb plants and countless perennials like hostas and lilies this way, and it’s helped our gardening budget.
#4 Use what you have on hand
You probably already have items at home that can help you garden on a budget. Get creative and find new gardening uses for items inside and outside your home!
Here are a few ideas:
- Plastic containers (like yogurt containers) or egg crates can be used for starting seeds
- Milk jugs are perfect for winter sowing
- Pallets can be used for compost bins or fencing
- Rocks and logs can be edging for gardens
- Cinder blocks can be used for raised beds
- Grass clippings and leaves make great mulch
- Trash cans can become rain barrels
- Newspaper and cardboard help with weed control in new garden areas
- Nylon stockings can tie up vines or help support young trees.
#5 Build a compost pile
Make your own garden soil with your kitchen scraps! There’s no wrong time to start composting, and you don’t need any special equipment or containers to get started.
You’ll probably supplement your composted soil with other soil, especially starting out. But compost can add vital nutrients to your garden, reduce weeds, and help conserve water. And it’s virtually free!
Use a garbage can or other outdoor bin to layer kitchen scraps with dry leaves or pine needles. Stir now and again, and soon you’ll have garden soil. You can even keep your compost going through the winter.
To ensure the health of your soil, test your soil now and then. You can purchase a soil testing kit or find local soil testing labs to analyze your soil.
In Iowa, there are several university labs and private labs that test garden soil.
#6 Use a rain barrel
Collecting rainwater for watering plants is a great way to save money on watering. Rain barrels can be pricey to buy, but DIY options abound!
Find many DIY options online, or sign up for a rain barrel-making class in your community. Building your own barrel and saving money on watering can be pretty satisfying!
Dry grass clippings and leaves are the perfect materials for mulching the garden – and they’re free! Mulching helps moisture retention, keeps weeds at bay, and moderates soil temps.
Just don’t use any grass clippings from a lawn treated with herbicide.
#8 Join local gardening groups
Online gardening groups and community gardens are ways to learn about gardening. And often, members offer up plant cuttings and seeds to others. It’s a great way to meet fellow gardeners and share plants – and wisdom.
Some groups even hold plant swaps, where members can share seedlings or plants. Freecycle or Buy Nothing groups are other places to check for free plants.
#9 Get trees from community planting programs
Local county conservation and city parks programs often offer trees at a discounted price. Check with local organizations for what’s available in your area.
And if you have an acreage, there are options for bulk ordering bare root trees for planting. Many states have tree nursery and conservation programs where you can order bare root seedlings in the spring and fall.
In Iowa, the State Forest Nursery sells about one million seedlings yearly!
#10 Grow prolific veggies and plants
Research and buy plants that will give you the most for your money! Whether veggies or hardy native flowers, you can stretch your gardening budget by buying easy-to-grow, prolific plants.
For example, tomatoes and peppers are typically good producers that provide lots of produce from one plant. And many native wildflowers, like Purple Coneflowers, for instance, will continue to spread each year (and can get divided).
Also, grow only veggie varieties you know you’ll eat or preserve and plants that are hardy and do well in your growing zone.
#11 Learn from your local extension agency
Extension programs in the U.S. vary from state to state regarding what they offer. However, most provide educational programs, gardening, farming events, and information directly from the experts. And the good news is many programs and resources are free!
Here in Iowa, the Iowa State Extension has offices in each county, providing research, education, and access to the pros. They have info on lawns, plants, and trees that thrive in Iowa, a series of “How-to’s,” sample diagnostics (for soil, plants, and insects), and even a master gardener program.
#12 Buy garden plants on clearance
Buying perennials on clearance is a great way to start a flower garden on a budget. Many garden centers discount plants toward the end of the planting season.
Check out Home Depot and Lowe’s – they often have clearance racks at the back of the garden center.
Be cautious when selecting clearance plants, though. Many look pretty sad, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t viable. Ensure the plant has a sound root system, plenty of green leaves, and is suitable for your growing zone. And then make sure you plant it as soon as possible and give it plenty of water.
Set your gardening budget and go from there!
Remember how tip #1 was to start small and slow? Well, that all starts with your gardening budget!
How much money can you budget for your garden this year? Before you plan your garden, you need a realistic idea of how much you can spend.
And remember to consider your time. Most gardens – even small ones – can take longer than you think, especially when starting out.
Once you figure out your budget, decide how much your garden will cost! Add up how much plants, seeds, soil, building materials, water, and mulch will cost and go from there. Assume things will cost more than you think, and add a little to your estimate!
Even if starting with a small budget, you can add on each year as you can afford it. Plus, your knowledge and skills will expand as your garden does!
Below are a few books to consider when planning your garden!
- When To Start Seeds Indoors in Iowa
- Winter Gardening in the Midwest? Calendar for Winter Garden Tasks
- Top Tips for Keeping Compost Going During Cold Weather
- Winter Sowing Seeds: List of best seeds to winter sow and how to do it