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Gardening Ideas on a Budget

Updated on May 28, 2013

Your Garden and Gardening Cheap

Gardening is not only a great hobby, it can save you money, and if you have a few gardening ideas on a budget, you can get a great harvest without spending too much money. In fact, a properly run garden turns into a very inexpensive source of food if you really try. As food prices continue to climb year after year, a home garden becomes more attractive.

You don't need to go to a whole lot of trouble to start a small garden plot, but even a small space can reap big rewards. Let's take a look at some ideas to get your garden going, or keep it going, while sticking to a budget.

Photo by Muffet via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Cheap Garden Soil

There are few ways to really save money on your garden soil. The approach you take depends on the type of garden you wish to maintain. Here is how to get it done right.

A tilled garden is best for those who want a serious gardening space and are willing to put in the time it takes to keep a sizable plot clean. The easiest way to get this garden going is with a power tiller, but they are very expensive to own. Here is a tip to save. Your local hardware store likely rents these machines so that you can make quick work of cutting in a new garden. That still costs some money, but you'll save some heavy lifting this way. For future years, however, opt for the pitchfork. Not only is this free (once you own the tool), an annual tilling can create a hard pack below the soil surface which will gradually make your garden worse. A good old-fashioned turning of the soil with a pitchfork is the best maintenance routine.

A raised bed garden is best for those who want simple maintenance year after year. Since the soil is made up of other light materials and compost, it never gets packed down, and to restore it you can simply use your home compost for the most part - which is free. There is an initial cost to filling the garden with a mix of equal parts compost, peat, and vermiculite, but once established only some new compost is required to replenish the soil.

The way to keep your soil cheap regardless of which garden style you choose is to amend the soil cheaply. Some great ways to do this are to use sawdust, fireplace ash, grass clippings, leaf compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, or composted kitchen scraps. You can find all of these things in a typical household for zero dollars more, and all working together will benefit your soil and future crops.

Setting Up a New Raised Bed Garden

When you start a new raised bed, fill the bed with a mix of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. I love a mix of leaf compost, mushroom compost, and composted manure that I find at a local nursery, but you can use nearly any type. As for peat moss and vermiculite, they really are important for keeping the soil light over the years and helping to retain water - a serious money saving attribute.

Espoma VM8 8-Quart Organic Vermiculite - Brown/A
Espoma VM8 8-Quart Organic Vermiculite - Brown/A
This is my favorite ingredient in my square foot garden, and you will love it too. Vermiculite has no equal for preventing soil compaction. I can "till" my raised beds with my bare hands. Shoot for up to one-third of your raised bed to include vermiculite.
Espoma PTM8 8-Quart Organic Peat Moss
Espoma PTM8 8-Quart Organic Peat Moss
Peat moss is not soil, which helps to keep certain soil-borne diseases away, but it does remain light and, at the same time, holds water so that your plants won't dry out too quickly. Peat moss is also a great seed starting medium, since it prevents damping off disease.

Save on Garden Tools

There's no doubt about it - you can spend plenty filling your garage up with garden tools. However, you don't need to. Most gardeners have far more garden tools than they really need to get the job done.

To operate in a standard garden bed you really only need a few tools, and here are my favorites. Start only with these and see if you can get by.

- A pitchfork is a must for turning the soil, or harvesting potatoes

- A garden rake or 3-tine rake is important for moving soil and keeping the weeds at bay

- A hoe, either rectangular (my pick) or triangular, is wonderful for making rows

- A spade is a must to really move dirt

That covers the basics, and if you really try you can get by with these. Here is some great new as well. If you plan to only garden in a raised bed or square foot garden, you probably don't need any of these tools. Instead, one of the simple gardening sets with hand tools is all that you need. This is because the soil of a raised bed is so simple to work. Don't waste your money here, however. Quality sets like Fiskars tools are well worth it. I've gone through more than a few bargain hand trowels over the years, but now that I have high quality tools it's clear that they will last forever.

Another great place to search for cheap garden tools is at a garage sale or yard sale. Those other gardeners who purchase too many tools may be looking to get a few coins for them, and if you find one in good shape it can be a real steal.

Fiskars Softouch Garden Tool 3 Piece Set, 70676935J
Fiskars Softouch Garden Tool 3 Piece Set, 70676935J
If you garden in raised beds or containers only, this is the only tool set you'll ever need. The trowel, hand rake, and transplanter all have comfortable soft handles and are ready to hang on the wall for easy storage. You'll really appreciate the built-in ruler on the transplanter - it makes planting depth foolproof. Fiskars makes quality tools, and these are no exception. They also come with a lifetime warranty, so dig away!

How to Save Money on Seeds

Seeds seem pretty inexpensive, but they can really add up. In fact, if you buy at full price they surely will. Here are some ideas on how to trim that cost down to size.

First, shop garden seeds on sale. I have yet to see a store not have a seed sale at some point in spring, so even if you really want that packet you see at the store, wait for the sale. Many will be offered at up to 50% off the package price at some point.

Consider buying in bulk and sharing if possible. If both you and your neighbor have a garden, perhaps you can both save by picking up the big package. Online catalogs are also worth a look here, as many offer different seed quantities for different prices. Some will even ship for free once you pass a certain threshold.

Seed saving and seed exchanges are really the cheapest way to get seeds each year. If you save your own seeds, they are free. You can't beat that, and it's a fun hobby too. I always save some seeds for next year, and it's rewarding to see them come to life for a new season. Consider growing some heirloom seeds in your garden and saving them for next year. Also, see if friends or neighbors would do the same. Then, you can swap seeds around and all get something new each year. Seeds, especially unique ones, make great gifts for a gardener too.

Reducing Water Use in the Garden

Depending on where you live, water may be a costly part of the garden, but you can take some steps to limit how much you need.

Always water in the morning. More water hits the ground this way and reaches your plant than it does during the hot part of the day. Also, since the sun and wind will dry up your plants by mi-day, the risk of fungal diseases will go way down.

Use proper watering devices to water. If you have a sprinkler that sends water into the air to be blown away, get a new one. Better yet, consider a low sprinkler or a soaker hose to do the job.

Build a raised bed and use peat moss as part of your soil mix. It will retain moisture, and raised beds in general don't dry out as quickly, which means much less watering.

Use mulch to cover your plants once they are growing. A few inches of straw mulch can make a huge difference in water needs of your vegetables, and it will control weeds too, which steal water from your plants. If that's not available, simple cut grass from the mower will do fine. Just be sure you haven't used fertilizer or chemicals on it. Grass clippings will not only make a nice mulch, you can turn them into the soil at the end of the season as a source of new organic matter.

Bond Manufacturing Bond 70280 Eco Flo 50-Feet by 1/2-Inch Soaker Garden Hose, FT
Bond Manufacturing Bond 70280 Eco Flo 50-Feet by 1/2-Inch Soaker Garden Hose, FT
A soaker hose is a much smarter way to water a garden, as the amount of water lost to the air is next to nothing. Many vegetable gardeners will put soaker hoses down the garden rows at planting time and leave them in place all season. This is the most efficient "sprinkler" you will find. This 50-foot hose can save 70% off your water usage and slowly drips water right to the source.
RTS Home Accents 50-Gallon Rain Water Collection Barrel with Brass Spigot, Wood Grain
RTS Home Accents 50-Gallon Rain Water Collection Barrel with Brass Spigot, Wood Grain
If your garden is anywhere near a roof line, a rain barrel makes perfect sense. It's an investment, but the future water supply will be free of charge. The classic barrel shape of this barrel looks great, but it has a flat back to sit up next to the house nicely. It also contains the important screen to keep bugs out.

Inexpensive Gardening Techniques

You really can have a great garden and do it on a budget. If you turn soil by hand most of the time and replenish it with homemade additives, buy only a few tools of high quality, save or exchange seeds, and do everything possible to reduce water use, the garden won't cost much at all.

In fact, if you compare prices of simple items like a red pepper or tomato at the grocery store, it's easy to see that an efficiently run garden is worth a lot of money, so go ahead and get yours working smarter today.

I'd love to hear more ideas that readers can use to make gardening as affordable as possible. Please share your thoughts!


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