Friday, April 8, 2011

Big Dreams, Small Budget

If I ruled the world, anything that would make the Earth a cleaner, healthier, more peaceful place would be free and anything that could cause harm would be so expensive, no one could afford it. Of course, that's why I'm not in charge. My Utopian society would last about a hot minute before collapsing into chaos. But like Marie Antoinette, who allegedly yelled "Let them eat cake!", my last words would be fierce and proud, "Let them have potting soil and gorgeous pots at affordable prices!"

Every year I try to devise new ways to save money on gardening. Individually, the savings are small. But the collective total is large enough to make it a bit easier to dream up new projects or splurge on the things I really want.

1. I fill the bottom of my big pots with Styrofoam peanuts.
This is one of my favorite summer tricks. It makes the pots much easier to move and reduces the amount of potting soil I need to buy. For pots that don't drain well, it's a lifesaver for plants whose roots might rot in soggy soil. I fill the bottom of each big pot about 1/3 full of Styrofoam and reuse the Styrofoam every year.
Savings=Money spent on potting soil

2. Buy cheap pots and use them in the very back or middle of a grouping so no one can see them.
Tired of spending big bucks on big pots, I've started buying cheap terracotta plastic pots and using them in the very back of a grouping of more attractive pots to hold tall plants. Because the more attractive pots are placed in front, all you see is the plant and not the pot. Savings = Money spent on pots

This pot holds an agastache 'Ava', a gorgeous hummingbird magnet from High Country Gardens that would die if grown in my heavy soil. Growing to almost 5 ft tall, it thrives behind a cluster of pots full of summer annuals. It overwintered in this pot and is full of new growth.

3. Match the plant to the soil.
No matter how much you amend the soil, there's a strong chance a poorly placed plant will die. I've learned this the hard way. Regardless of how desperately I might want to put a plant in a specific spot, if the site doesn't match the needs of the plant, the plant will die and I've wasted money. By allowing the moisture levels of my soil to control my garden design, I've created a healthy garden full of plants that thrive without needing to be constantly replaced. Savings=Your sanity plus money spent on plants  

 I had to move the stokesia (Stokes Aster) several times before finally realizing it wanted steady moisture. Here it grows happily with a bunch of chives. This picture was taken last spring. By mid-summer it needed constant watering to stay alive and by fall was in a new spot.

4. I stop deadheading my plants in August and use the seedlings to fill in empty spots.
Every spring when my plants emerge, I start looking for seedlings that can fill in for plants that didn't make it through the winter or that can be traded with friends. I currently have a big empty spot next to my air conditioning unit. I'm hesitant to do too much digging there because of all the wires, but will be able to transplant my latest crop of obedient plant seedlings without a problem because their roots are so small. Savings=Money spent on plants  

 Pink obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) is native to my area and grows well in a moist, partially sunny spot. It self seeds with abandon, but I consider that a bonus.

5. I shop the plant sales every fall.
Every fall, most nurseries and big box hardware stores sell off their summer inventory at drastically reduced prices. This is when I buy the bulk of my plants. I've purchased gallon pots of perennials for only $1!! By doing most of my planting in the fall, the new plants are already established by the following summer, which means I use less water in the garden. Plants with a well-established root system aren't as thirsty as plants dealing with transplant shock and possible heat stress. Savings=Money spent on plants

6. I always try to buy smaller pots of plants as opposed to gallon pots.
I don't follow this rule 100% because I can't always find what I want in a smaller pot. But smaller pots equal smaller root systems, which means I use less water. However, if I notice that the larger pot actually has several plants in it, as is often the case with daylillies, then I'll usually buy the larger pot because the plants can be divided, resulting in a cheaper unit price per plant. Savings=Money spent on plants

7. Get creative with what you have at home.
I find it really frustrating how expensive cute outdoor decor can be. My local garden center is bursting with fabulous finds for both the garden and home. Unfortunately, they are usually so expensive I rarely buy anything. This year I've decided to turn a two tier metal fruit bowl that always turned my fruit brown into a decorative planter. Savings=Money 

The bowl on the top is supposed to go inside the larger bowl on the bottom. Instead, I'm going to fill them both with a liner and xeric plants. I'm thinking of hens and chicks, Mt. Atlas daisies, sedum.... Help!!

8. Keep it simple!
The most exotic gardening tool I have is a cheap shovel. Combined with sheer determination and a lot of coffee, it's been very effective at turning my compacted clay into a real garden. Savings=Money spent on fancy tools

9. Get bare, baby!! 
Bare roots, not bare naked! Although that might make for an interesting sunburn... Every fall I make a list of the plants I want for the garden and head straight for the bare root bins, but usually end up at Prairie Moon. Many of my native plants have come from Prairie Moon. The more you buy, the cheaper it is. If you buy a tray of 38 potted plants for $96, the plants are only $2.52 per plant!! Savings=Money spent on plants

10. Feed your soil
Using compost and other organic amendments to enrich your soil will create a healthy, fertile environment full of the micro-organisms plants need to survive. It will help your garden fend off disease and pests, reducing the  numbers of plants you need to replace every year. Avoid those gimmicky bags of chemically-enhanced Miracle Grow "Garden Soil". Once the nitrogen has been consumed by the plant, there's nothing left to enrich the soil. It's like taking a vitamin but washing it down with a bottle of whiskey and a cupcake. After a quick trip to the toilet, you're right back where you started. Full of cr*p! Savings=Your sanity plus money spent on plants

11. Link your blog to Jan's Thanks For 2 Day blog to win a bunch of free stuff!!
She's even giving away a rain barrel!!


  1. Great tips!!! I didn't know the styrofoam rule....that is really brilliant. Thanks for an informative post:) Every Spring, I have to pinch pennies to get everything ready for summer.....grrr.:(

  2. Some really good idea and things to think about--thanks for posting this!

  3. Thanks for your great saving tips. I really like your sheer determination with lots of coffee. Actually, it's the way you write that makes it fun to read. I've just collected some used coffee ground again today to go with my clay soil.

  4. All great tips! You're right, they add up. Instead of packing peanuts in the bottom of a big pot I put an overturned 4 inch plastic nursery pot that otherwise gets tossed. It creates a hollow area at the bottom.

  5. Always love to read more tips and comments.

    Thank you for visiting my blog. You asked about California poppies in heat and humidity. Mine grow in loamy sand with good drainage. I treat them as annuals. They reseed like crazy.

  6. You commented that your toadflax is different to mine. We have blue toadflax everywhere, not just in the gardens, Nuttallanthus canadensis.
    Another scientific name for Blue Toadflax is Linaria canadensis. I think Nuttallanthus is the fashionable name of the moment, depending on which authority you read.

  7. I do what Laurrie does too. The peanuts are fine, yet compact over the season, but the pots allow more air and void. I do give most of the pots to a lady at the farmer's market to reuse, but always keep a few for the big ceramic pots in my yard.

  8. I've heard of gardeners sticking leftover pots at the bottom of their bigger pots but haven't tried it yet. If my packing peanuts become compacted, I'll definitely give it a try.

  9. Nice tips!!! I have been filling bigger pots with stones from my driveway...styrofoam would be MUCH lighter for when I want to move them & I don't have to get more stone for the driveway!!hahaha
    check out my blog & look at the "Hypertufa". You could make your own pots & they would last for years. You can even add dye to the mixture for different colors. All in all though, I pretty much do a lot of the same things since $$$ is tight & my addictions can get the best of me! I won't spend more the $2 a lb for a piece of meat, but DAMN! a fab plant that I ALWAYS wanted....hehehehehehe
    oh yeah... you need "yard art"???? Again , check out my blog, on the top right you HAVE to check out the "Along Life's Highway Yard Art Game"... sometimes some really good & cool ideas, but definately a lot of laughs all the time!!!

  10. Great advice!

    I always propagate a lot of my own plants because it depresses me to look at receipts and see all of the plants that I bought that are now dead. If I propagate from the survivors then I feel like I'm gaining back the losses. :)

    I love Prairie Moon! I haven't bought any plants from them yet but their seed selection is great.

  11. All fabulous ideas! Looking forward to seeing your new planter full of plants.

  12. Some good tips there, especially #7 - I want to see how that turns out!

  13. Great ideas! I love your new planter idea. those metal bowls will look wonderful filled with plants.

  14. Great money saving tips, TS! I especially like this comment: "It's like taking a vitamin but washing it down with a bottle of whiskey and a cupcake." Made me seriously giggle...soooo true! I reeealy don't like that Miracle Grow cr*p. It's all hype and chemicals. Love this post. That fruit bowl turned planter will be gorgeous with something flowing and yellow spilling over its edges!

  15. Great great idea!. My favorite is the packing peanuts to file the bottom of a planter. Genius.

    Also, I can't wait to see the how you use the fruit bowl.

  16. That's a great list. I do the styrofoam in the bottom of pots thing, although I often end up losing some of it to the compost bin come clean-up time. I also re-use compost from growing seedlings for growing salads or to mix with compost for large pots of annuals - saves a fortune. Love the tip about using cheap plastic containers at the back of a display - will have to try that. After all, plastic container need less watering, just a pity they don't look as nice.

  17. Great post filled with great ideas! I think the metal fruit bowl will look fabulous filled with hens and chicks.

  18. Hi Tammmy, I enjoyed all of your great money-saving ideas. I will make a note of Prairie Moon for 'the future'. I haven't ordered there before. I now am thinking about moving my Physostegia virginiana. I planted 2 plants about 3 years ago and it has never budged. I get no little seedlings and it stays short...which is not a typical characteristic of Obedient plant. It doesn't get enough moisture, that's the real problem. It may end up in my back yard near my new water garden. Looking forward to your new plantings in your bowls. Thanks for joining in my project for Earth Day;-)


Thanks for visiting my blog! Feel free to comment on the posts or photos.