Want to save money, grow organically, and have the best possible garden? Read on. These aren’t the odd and absurd gardening gimmicks or wives’ tales that go viral online. These are smart, practical tips from experienced, organic gardeners who like sustainability both in their gardens and their wallets. In other words, it’s all about making the best of what you have.
So dig in, hang onto to your money, and see how organic practices, resourcefulness, and a dash of ingenuity can get you a gorgeous, thriving garden.
For all of my home organization and financial tips, also see How to De-Clutter Your Finances and Live Debt-Free.
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Let’s Start with the Essentials
I saw you try to click away! Let go of that computer mouse! Soil may sound boring but stay with me here. I promise, this will pay off.
- Good soil is the key to a thriving garden and essential for life on earth (big, bold, true statement).
- Our tiny, borrowed pieces of the earth are ours to care for and pass along, better than we found them.
- Planting is the fun part of gardening but without a good foundation (soil), you are wasting your plants.
Feed Your Soil Naturally
- You need life in that soil to feed the worms and zillions of microscopic critters that live in there and keep it thriving so that they can, in turn, nourish your plants.
- This means adding compost (see Composting 101), manure, and other, luscious decaying organic matter. Always give back to the soil and it will be your BFF forever.
Here’s a super quick (free) way to get an idea of what type of soil you have: home soil test.
Healthy Soil Tips
1. If space or your budget is limited, use containers or raised beds. That way your best soil goes right where you need it.
You can see my raised bed front-yard garden here: how I came out as a front yard veggie grower.
Water is another essential, precious resource that is, of course, required for life. If you live in an area affected by droughts, you may already be doing these things to conserve water.
3. Collect rain water in rain barrels: see how to make rain barrels.
4. Reuse household grey water for the garden.
5. Water the soil, not the foliage (so it gets to the roots where the plants need it).
6. Grow native plants that are well-adapted to your growing zone so they will not require supplemental watering.
7. There’s many ways to provide slow-drip irrigation to your plants. Large, upside-down soda bottles with their necks pushed into the soil work great.
8. Besides drip-irrigation, be sure to move plant containers to the shade when you can’t be home to water them.
9. Make your own compost from fruit and vegetable scraps (plus a few other things—but not meats or cooked or processed foods).
10. Know your greens and browns. Ratios matter for composting to work.
11. Continue composting in the colder months (it’s easy—here’s how I do it).
12. Worms can help speed up the process: here’s how to do vermicomposting at Our Fairfield Home & Garden.
13. Build a compost system using pallets: see how Heather of newhousenewhomenewlife.com did it.
Bare soil is a garden problem waiting to happen. Nature always move fast to fill in bare spaces and that’s where mulch comes to the rescue.
Mulch protects and feeds soil, suppresses weeds and retains moisture. What’s not to love?
16. Apply a thick layer (2″) of mulch (bark pieces or other organic matter) to any bare patches in your garden beds.
17. Use fallen (disease-free) leaves as additional mulch for the winter months. This also helps insulate plants from severe cold.
18. Again, grow native plants and plants that are well-adapted to your growing zone so no special care is required. Nature will take care of them.
19. Know your invasives: growing plants that don’t belong in your zone can destroy your garden. Here’s the ones I regret planting.
20. Grow a lot of perennials (plants, trees, shrubs, vines) with a dash of annuals. Annuals can be irresistible but expensive unless you grow from seed or get a very sweet deal.
Be Fruitful and Propagate Tips
This is the most under-used tip of all! You can make more plants from the ones you already have. You do not have to always buy new plants from a nursery. Use propagation methods instead.
My favourite resource is:
Grow Your Own Garden: How to propagate all your own plants by Carol Klein
It has step-by-step instructions and photos showing how to propagate a whole bunch of different types of plants.
21. Learn to propagate with hardwood and softwood cuttings, layering methods, and pruning. It’s different for each plant type, but basically you’re getting the cuttings to root.
22. Know your seed types to make the best choices for your garden. Here’s an easy guide to open-pollinated (OP), heirloom, hybrids, and GMOs.
23. Start plants from seed: here’s how I start seeds indoors.
24. Participate in seed exchanges. There’s lots of online groups and associations you can join.
25. Use and contribute to seed banks. They’re like local libraries but with seeds.
26. Time things properly so young plants get established before frosts set in. See when is it too late to plant seeds outdoors?
27. Test old seed for viability. See how at learningandyearning.com for a quick germination test.
28. Get to know plants by their propagation method: see self-seeders, spreaders, and dividers at sensiblegardening.com.
Grow ‘cut and come again’ crops. This means, you plant them once and harvest many times, as the crops regrow after trimming.
29. Grow cut and come again green onions: see how at preparednessmama.com.
30. Grow cut and come again salad greens. Here’s how I grow salads indoors and how I grow salads outdoors.
31. Learn to forage and find unexpected food sources that are already growing in your garden. Here’s what I have found.
Protect Your Assets
32. Care for your tools: good quality, well-maintained garden tools can last for generations.
A day spent gardening can be exhausting. I try and do two things to make it better.
1. Prepare my meals ahead of time so they are ready when I am.
2. Stop before I’m totally wiped so I have the energy to clean up the tools and put them away properly.
Here’s how to care for garden tools to make them last a good long time.
Extend the Growing Seasons
If you live in a cold climate, the weather can vary a lot in the spring and fall. Homemade greenhouses and frost cloths are two resources that can prevent your plants from freezing (to death).
33. Make yourself a mini dome greenhouse: free instructions here.
34. Make a larger, low-cost greenhouse using hog panels (large wire panels): see how at flowerpatchfarmhouse.com.
35. Grow vegetables in the winter months. Here’s how I do it.
Repurpose Broken Junk
There are zillions of possibilities when it comes to repurposing. Here’s a few.
36. Garden art makes a garden unique and fills in the gaps while you’re waiting for plants to grow. Here’s lots of free project ideas and tutorials.
37. Turn an old hose into garden art. See Barb’s spring wreath at ourfairfieldhomeandgarden.com.
38. Turn an old hose into a soaker hose by adding more holes.
Think Outside the Pot
Take the No-Buy Challenge
40. Make yourself solve problems without buying solutions.
I wanted a waterfall for my pond and ended up creating one with a paint tray.
41. Instead of replacing something, can you adapt it?
Here’s examples of inexpensive ways (relatively speaking) for adding privacy or making a fence taller without starting over.
42. Declutter and get organized. One of the biggest problems with having a lot of stuff is, it never actually gets used! Out of sight, out of mind.
Here’s how I decluttered our home and garden: decluttering 101—how to let it go and get on with it.
And, if you’re carrying debt or living beyond your means, see how we live quite happily without over-spending.
Cheap is not Frugal
42. Cheap is often not frugal. Buy the best quality you can afford. And never buy plants that look weak or diseased.
This post at minigardener.wordpress.com describes nicely how a good quality, but fairly pricey garden container can actually prove to be economical.
Personally, I rarely ever pay full price for anything. Here’s how I get good deals on just about anything.
Knowledge Saves You Money
43. Read plant tags and seed packets (and believe them). There’s important information there that can help you make the best choices (and not buy plants that will be inappropriate or grow too large for your garden). This tells you how to read seed packets.
Let Nature do its thing
Don’t be a neat freak in the garden! Nature is messy because that’s what it needs to exist.
44. Leave seed heads for the birds and collect some for yourself.
45. Removing an old tree? Consider leaving the old stump or at least some big branches. Most living things live on decaying matter. If you tidy it all up and toss it away, you’re taking away a huge component in the food chain.
When it comes to making gardening decisions, consider how nature does it and imitate that whenever possible. Nature doesn’t rake leaves or spray pesticides or mow lawns!
46. Mix up your plantings so there aren’t wide swaths of crops just waiting for the pests to invade them. Sometimes just mixing flowers with veggies is enough to confuse the pests.
47. If the natural way really appeals to you, look up permaculture or hugelkultur. You may find your calling there.
Pay it Forward
You know the expression, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.
48. Plant as many native trees as you can today. And how does that save money, you ask? If you’ve ever checked the price of buying a mature tree, you know how expensive they are. And what’s better than a sustainable gift to the future?
These money-saving tips are just the beginning. Most gardeners seem to become frugal over time as they recognize the connection between sustainability, resourcefulness, and responsible spending. If you’ve got favourite tips or questions, I’d love to hear them.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛