Cash Cultivation

By Valerie Lemke

February 20, 2009 5 min read


Pinch your pennies by finding multiple uses for your plants

Valerie Lemke

Creators News Service

Creating and nurturing a garden requires not only an investment of your time and passion. Happily, there are dozens of tips for saving money while watching your garden grow -- and many won't cost you a penny.

"Do your research. Smart garden planning makes it easier and more enjoyable for you as a gardener," said Jeff Downing, vice president of education at the New York Botanical Garden in New York City. Founded in 1891, the institution features 50 different gardens and plant collections.

"There are lots of plants that don't require huge amounts of time or money to care for," he said. "Local garden centers and nurseries have very knowledgeable plant experts. Ask questions if you're not sure what to plant. Don't be intimidated. Across the board they are passionate about plants and more than willing to give you ideas in your price range."

"We welcome all questions," agreed Fausto Palafox, owner of Mission Hills Nursery, a 99-year-old nursery in San Diego. "As independent nurserymen, our claim to fame is to educate."

You can also always "Ask the Experts" online at the New York Botanical Garden, "Our plant information team will be able to provide you with competent answers for any region in the country," Downing said.

Armed with a general plan, there are numerous cost-saving tips that savvy gardeners can use to keep within budget.

When you divide and propagate existing plants, you increase the number of plants you have. Geraniums and iris are just two examples of plants that thrive when divided. If you don't have any of them in your garden, chances are your friends and neighbors are willing to share.

Downing grows orchids as a hobby. When they get rangy and pot bound, he divides and replants them into smaller containers and gives them as gifts. His living orchids not only make a personal and thoughtful present, they cost nothing.

Populating your outdoor space with perennials is another budgeting trick. "Perennials tend to be hardy, require little effort and expense and they're going to come back every year," he said.

Growing food at home is also a popular trend. As summer approaches, put in a few tomato plants, some squash and some herbs. Not only will you save money on your food bill, but if you haven't experienced the flavor of a homegrown tomato, you're in for a treat.

"If you don't have much land, consider using window boxes or pots," Downing said. Large plastic garden pots can be purchased inexpensively. Or you can reuse five- and 10-gallon containers from past plant purchases to grow tomatoes and other veggies. It's also useful if you are renting and don't want to invest in permanent vegetation.

Go green in a big way by learning how to compost, turning food waste and garden clippings into rich soil. You save money on planting mix, mulch and fertilizer. Go online and search "composting" for information for how-to information and classes in your area.

In the same vein, look into organic remedies for insect repellents that are not only safe but inexpensive.

Patience can also save you money, Palafox said. "This year I'm seeing greater sales in seeds and seedling plants."

The results are rewarding, both financially and psychologically. Who isn't proud of coaxing a $2 packet of miniscule seeds into producing dozens of bouquets of flowers or baskets of homegrown vegetables?

Gardeners are also looking at fruiting trees. "People are buying more edible trees than ornamental today. They look good in gardens and you have something you can eat," he added

When it comes to selecting larger plants such as trees, it's your budget versus maturity. You always pay a premium for size.

"The maples, birches and sycamores, popular in gardens around the country, generally cost $25 to $30 in a five-gallon container and will take about two years to reach the size of one in a 15-gallon container," Palafox said. "But you'll pay from $70 to $80 for the larger tree."

Forego the instant gratification. Within a couple of years, few can differentiate between the landscapes of the big spender and the patient gardener.

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