Saving Money for Plants

Whoever coined the phrase “dirt cheap” never shopped for garden goods in a

modern garden center. Drop a few bucks here for compost and perennials, a

few bucks there for conifers and pavers, and suddenly there’s a gaping hole

in your wallet.

Here are 20 tips to make the most of your garden green.

  1. Buy in small quantities. You only need three Brandywine tomato plants,

not a half ounce of seed. Sure, you want some leftovers for the next year,

but for the next decade?

  1. Settle on a few good mail-order sources. The variety offered by

mail-order catalogs is inspiring, but don’t overpay on shipping because you

order from six companies every spring.

  1. Use local sources for the heavy stuff. The cost of shipping heavy items

can exceed the purchase price. Organic fertilizer ingredients, such as bone

meal, green sand, and composted animal manure, are cheap to buy but pricey

to ship. Make the calculation before you commit.

  1. Search out alternative retail sources. Your home-and-garden center may

not offer the best value for the money. A bale of straw at a nursery is

called mulch and priced accordingly, while a bale of straw at a farm store

is priced as livestock bedding. Guess which costs less?

  1. Be on the lookout for free garden materials. Limbs cleared away from

power lines are shredded, and you can often get the mulch free from the

utility company. Many community sanitation departments also give away

compost made from leaves and organic waste.

  1. Cultivate friendships with pickup truck owners. Or at least befriend

someone who owns a utility trailer. Delivery charges are killers. Even if

you’re nice and fill the tank with gas, you’ll come out ahead.

  1. Buy bulk. You can buy bulk compost from local manufacturers for $30 a

cubic yard. That’s about enough to fill the bed of a compact pickup truck.

That same quantity bought in bags at a nearby nursery would be more than

$100. Bark chips and other mulch also come cheaper when bought in bulk.

  1. Be nice to garden center clerks. This is not a frivolous tip. Develop a

relationship. Clerks know which plants are in the best shape, and they know

when the sales are coming.

  1. Go small. Pick up a 4-1/2-inch pot instead of a gallon pot. Perennials

don’t usually take off the first season you plant them because of the shock

of transplant; they need a little time to get settled. The following spring,

after a winter to put down roots, perennials start to thrive, and if all

things are equal, both big and little plants will reach mature height.

  1. Purchase late in the season. A shrub that costs $25 in May often can be

snapped up for $14.50 in October. Discounts of 50 percent—even 75 percent—on

plants are common during autumn sales. Plus, autumn is a great time to


  1. Don’t buy at all. In other words, swap with your gardening friends. Ask

a neighbor if you can take a clipping from his overgrown strawberry patch or

burgeoning hosta plant.

  1. Brew your own potions. A mixture of one-third ammonia and two-thirds

water is deadly to slugs. Control aphids with a few drops of dish soap in a

squirt bottle full of water. Check the garden section of the local library

for cheap homemade alternatives to store-bought pest controls.

  1. Don’t pay for the hole. It’s not uncommon for nurseries to charge a

minimum of $75 to deliver and plant a tree or shrub. Doing the planting

yourself is easy, particularly if you buy small. If you suffer from planting

anxiety, ask for instructions at the nursery or the county extension office.

One caveat: Many nurseries only offer survival guarantees if they do the


  1. Fall in love with native plants. Sure, you are enamored with all the

pretty plants at garden centers and in catalogs, so buy a few. But fill in

the voids with wildflowers, shrubs, and trees that grow naturally in your


  1. Take advantage of other people’s trash. Convert weathered livestock

fence posts into neighbor fences. Transform old sugarcane boiling pots into

gorgeous fountains. Turn rusty steel grates into trellises. Or let a

returned wooden stepladder host a collection of potted plants.

  1. Mulch! If you live in a dry climate, a thick layer of mulch dramatically

cuts the watering bill. Wherever you live, mulch is one of your best weapons

against weeds.

  1. Time is money. Consider a low-pressure sprinkle or drip irrigation

system on a timer. You can buy everything you need at the hardware store,

and the systems are simple to install. Over time, you’ll recoup the costs by

watering more efficiently.

  1. Pamper tender plants. Overwinter tender herbs by bringing them inside.

Then replant them in spring instead of buying new seeds. Keep the plants

moist and out of direct sun until they have a chance to settle in.

  1. Divide and conquer costs. Many perennials, such as sedum, can be divided

into segments when you buy them. Each will root. Don’t be afraid to divide

the mature perennials already in your garden. Honest, it won’t hurt them.

  1. Pick useful garden gear. A $75 English spade makes you a stylish

gardener, not a better gardener. Don’t get swept up by the testimonials in

the catalogs. Some of the best gear is available for less than $10 at your

local hardware store.




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