Friday, May 9, 2014

Gardening without Breaking the Bank

I think it is well-established at this point that we are very frugal here at the Pinspired Home. If we can find a way to save money and use our resources more wisely, we will do it. This is especially true when it comes to gardening and landscaping. We're willing to put in the work (well, in full disclosure, Hubby does most of it), and we definitely reap the benefits. The following are our favorite cheap or free ways to maintain our outdoor spaces.


One of the ways we save a bunch is by growing and preserving our own produce. We have a huge garden (and I mean really big - roughly 75' x 30'), so we could easily spend a fortune filling that space. This is where frugal gardening comes in. 

Start From Seed

We save so much money by starting plants for our veggie garden by seed. Considering that tomato plants are $2-3 each around here, and we usually plant upwards of 20 (for eating and canning - we LOVE tomatoes!), starting from seed is a huge cost savings. This year we bought a pouch of 200 organic Roma tomato seeds for less than $5 and right now we have about 30 tomato seedlings happily sprouting in the greenhouse Hubby bought with his birthday money. If we bought 25 tomato plants, we'd pay between $50 and $75, meaning we saved $45-70 dollars on tomatoes alone. (More, if you consider that we probably have some seeds left over for next year.)
We're also starting spinach, kale, lettuce, onions, broccoli, peppers, radishes, corn, cucumbers, squash, black beans, and green beans from seed. I'm sure I'm missing one or two, but I'm sure you can see that the savings add up.
Hubby preparing to plant broccoli seedlings in the garden.

Volunteer Plants

Pay attention when you're weeding. If you have a vegetable garden, you may find some baby plants that have "come up volunteer," as Hubby says, from the previous year. Basically, seeds that fell from last year's plants may sprout into new plants this year. If they survive the frost, they are a great way to get some free plants.
At our old house, we had a cherry tomato plant that produced many volunteer plants year after year. We gave several away to local friends and left two plants for ourselves. I wouldn't be surprised if there's still a legion of tomato plants in that same spot today! Each year, those were the largest and most productive plants in our garden, and the cherry tomatoes were delicious!

Buy Small

It's tempting to purchase a full-sized bush or shrub at the garden store (at least until you see the price tag!), but good things come to those who wait. When we purchased our last home, we planted some small barberries, boxwoods, and holly bushes in the bed in front of our house. The first year they looked pretty puny, but it only took few years for them to fill out nicely.
Here they are when we moved. Photo cropped from Zillow.
 Another great bang for your buck is to buy Bare-root Roses. You can usually pick these up at the grocery store for $6-7. They don't look particularly pretty - just a few thorny stems poking out from a plastic-wrapped root ball - but by the end of the season they produce some beautiful roses. There are pictures and descriptions of the blooms on the packaging, so even though there aren't any blooms when you purchase it, you can pick the type of flower you want.

Buy Perennials

Perennials bloom every year, whereas annuals (usually) die over the winter and need to be re-planted. The reason many people prefer annuals over perennials is because one plant will bloom all season long, whereas most perennials will only bloom for a few weeks. Don't let this deter you! If you do some research, you can plant a variety of perennials that will add color to your yard until winter. We have tulips and daffodils in early spring, hydrangeas and hostas for most of the summer, and mums in the fall, to name a few. The best part is that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor year after year!
Our neighbor has beautiful perennial landscaping!

Buy Toward The End of the Season

This is Hubby's Tip. The first few weeks of nice Spring weather bring hordes of customers to nurseries and home improvement stores, just itching to beautify their yards. Then in May, the Mother's Day crowd is out buying plants for mom.
Again, good things come to those who wait. If you hold off until June to purchase your flowers and bushes, you will find better deals because the Spring Rush, as Hubby calls it, is over. Just don't wait too long or the plants will be gone.
Another good time to purchase your shrubs is August or early September. Often, it's better to plant in the fall anyway. You can get better deals, and you'll avoid the large crowds.

Use Free Plants

Ask around: Put the word out on Facebook that you're looking for plants or ask your neighbors. Guaranteed, someone you know will have an extra plant for you, as long as you're not too picky. Sites like Freecycle or Craigslist are also a great place to look for free plants in the spring or fall.
Plant your presents: If you receive a potted plant for Mother's Day, Easter, Teacher Appreciation, etc., find a spot to plant it! To be fair, some grocery store varieties aren't hardy enough to survive the winter, but most will return year after year. We've had the best success with mini rose bushes and mums.

My parents gave me a potted Hydrangea (my favorite) for
Easter this year, and I'm excited to find a spot to plant it!

Do It Yourself

Whether it's planting, fertilizing, or spreading mulch, you'll save big bucks by doing the work yourself. If you're not sure where to start, there are great online resources which will even help you research your own landscape design.

Free Mulch

In the six years that Hubby and I have been homeowners, we have never paid for mulch. How did we do it? 
Municipal Yard Waste Site: Most of the townships in our area have a location where you can drop off your yard waste - tree trimmings, branches, bushes, and small trees. The township then runs all this "waste" through a wood chipper and voila - free mulch for residents! All you have to do is drive over during open hours and pick up what you need. This does require a little bit of muscle to shovel it (and it's much easier if you have a pick-up truck to haul it), but the extra work is well worth the (lack of a) price tag. Before Hubby had his truck, we used to borrow a friend's pick-up for a day or take several trips with with a big Rubbermaid bin in the back of our Rav-4.
*When looking for mulch, check to see if your municipal site also offers compost.   
Pine Straw: Where Hubby grew up, it is very popular to use pine straw as mulch, so when we noticed that a neighbor about a mile from us had a heavy accumulation of pine straw under his trees this past fall, Hubby stopped by one day on his way home from work and asked if he could take it. Now, we had never met the man before, but it never hurts to ask. The gentleman was glad to have Hubby take it off his hands because it saved him the work of raking it up himself, plus we got free ground cover - a complete win-win!
Another benefit of pine straw? It's not as attractive to termites.

Be Patient

If you're doing the work yourself, and starting small, it may take a few seasons before things look the way you want. Keep working at it, and eventually you can have a beautiful yard you love!
This is our yard right now. The grass (a variety planted by previous owners) is
brown all winter and turns green in the spring. Unfortunately, that takes a while.

Share Your Tips!

What do you do to save money in the great outdoors? I'd love to hear your tips for gardening without breaking the bank!


  1. Hi Kim ! Thanks for your sweet comment :) That's really nice!
    So I see YOU are a mamma already, any advice for a soon to be mamma like me??? :):) I still can't believe I'm going to have a BABY !!! So exciting and scary at the same time!!!
    xo, Iris

    1. Iris, I ended up writing a whole post for you (kind of by accident). :)
      Blessings to you as you start your family!

  2. Awesome tips! Especially the one about waiting until the end of the season to buy plants. Even the big box stores have a special spot for discounted (almost dead ;) ) plants you can buy!

    Pinning to our Party Board!

    Thank you so much for sharing your creativity at our Show-Licious Craft & Recipe Party! Join us again on Saturday to show off your latest projects!

    ~ Ashley

    1. Thanks for the comment love and for pinning, Ashley! I know I said it before, but I love they way the Show-licious Linky is set up. You and Marti host a great party! :)

  3. ok, now i hear you on the start small and all that, but i really am too impatient, i want the impact. yet every year i buy the cheaper, smaller plants and every year i say i shouldn't have done that. so this year i bought bigger ones, and i am thrilled with the instant flowers on my garage wall garden and plant wall.

    1. Thanks for the comment!
      Above all, you have to do what works for you, and it sounds like that's what you did. :)
      I guess I should have clarified in the "Buy Small" section that I was specifically talking about perennials, that will grow bigger and bigger each year. After looking at your garage wall (looks great, by the way!), I'm guessing most of your big plants are annuals? In which case, my advice doesn't make as much sense. It's one thing to buy a puny perennial a the end of the season, knowing it's going to come back bigger and beautiful next year, but it's another to buy a tiny annual and not get as much enjoyment out of it. Good luck with finishing your yard space! :)

  4. Thanks for the tips! It turns out my county has free mulch available!

    1. Awesome, Angie! Thanks for commenting and letting me know. :)

  5. Great advice! Vegetable plants are so much more expensive than seeds. I will keep that in mind when I start my vegetable garden.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Mom In Music City! I'm glad you found this post helpful. :)


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