CORVALLIS, Ore. – Any time of year is a good time to start a budget, but the new year when resolutions are in the air seems especially suitable. Since the gardening season is still a few months away, there’s a good stretch to set priorities.
“Gardening is like any other hobby,” said Brooke Edmunds, a horticulturist with Oregon State University Extension Service. “It takes some level of investment. But it doesn’t have to be that expensive. There are shortcuts.”
Some of them are easy. Buying smaller plants is a no-brainer if you’re looking to save money. Some techniques – think saving seeds or making compost - take more effort. But all of Edmunds’ tips bring the same result - keeping your wallet fatter. Adopt some of her advice to start saving money on your gardening budget.
Use seeds instead of starts. Although there’s an initial investment of lights, trays and planting mix, it doesn’t take long to make up the money and start saving dramatically. “You’ll get a lot more plants – some packets have 100 seeds,” Edmunds said. “You’ll have enough to trade with friends and get a wider variety.” To save even more, reuse trays. If plants grown in a tray didn’t show signs of disease, just clean with soap and water. If there was damping off or any other kind of disease, wash them and then disinfect with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. To save even more, sprout seeds in egg cartons, newspaper rolled into cylinders or plastic cartons with holes punched in the bottom for water drainage.
Buy smaller plants. If you’re not the impatient type, buying smaller plants – a 4-inch pot instead of 1 gallon or a 1 gallon instead of a 5 – will save you a pretty penny.
Make your own compost. “It takes more time, but it saves a lot of money,” Edmunds said. “Use your kitchen scraps and garden waste and start building your own.” An Extension story gets you started. If you’ve got your own chicken or livestock or know someone who does, mix that into the compost pile for an even richer end result. Make sure you let it decompose well. A good rule of thumb is until there are no pieces of recognizable bedding left.
Shop sales: Search out plant sales, usually abundant in spring. Check newspaper calendars, ask friends, contact Extension master gardeners in your area to see if they are holding a sale or know of any. At nurseries, shop during the dog days of summer or in late fall. Also, some garden centers have a corner set aside for plant “seconds.”
Save seeds. Collecting seeds at the end of the season makes sense when you’re looking to save money or even if you’re not.
Hold a plant and seed swap. Dig up plant “babies” or divide larger plants. Set aside some of those tomato plants you started from seed. Brew some coffee, invite some friends who have something to share and throw a party.
Make use of recycled materials. Garage sales, thrift shops and the classified sections of newspapers and online shopping sites often have gardening paraphernalia, everything from used brick and rock to pots and old tools, at greatly reduced prices or free. It’s also fun to forage for natural materials such as interesting stems or stones to make edging or bamboo poles for fences.
Build your plant collection with cuttings. Propagating by cuttings can be as difficult or easy as you want to make it. Neil Bell, an Extension horticulturist, advocates for the easy way, which has enriched him by thousands of plants over the years. He explained how in an Extension story.
Attract beneficial insects. Instead of reaching for chemicals or even organic products, plant things that attract beneficial insects that will eat the bad bugs and balance out your garden’s ecosystem. Refer to Extension’s publication on Encouraging Beneficial Insects in Your Garden for more information.
Split a load of mulch. Save on delivery costs by buying a load of mulch or compost with a neighbor. Save even more by keeping your eyes peeled for arborists taking down trees. They’ll often share wood chips that you can turn into mulch.