Gardening doesn't have to break the bank. Anyone can have a beautiful garden for pennies with a few smart purchasing moves. By shopping smart and understanding how to best outfit a garden with the plants you want, you can save money with your ornamental and vegetable plants.
The novice gardener may take a look at the price of annual plants at the garden center and think they've found the cheapest plants, but in reality, annuals are the costliest plants to buy. Even with a six-cell pack at around $1.50 to $2, the cost can be huge over the lifetime of gardening. Plus, annuals--so called because of their one-season lifespan--have shallow-growing root systems that need more frequent watering and fertilizing than perennial plants.
Grow annuals that are self-seeders to stretch your budget, such as regular petunias (not Wave and Supertunia varieties), violas, johnny-jump-ups, pansy, alyssum, baby's breath and snapdragons. These annuals all drop seeds that will keep plants coming back year after year. Be prepared to find them in odd places like sidewalk cracks, as the seeds can travel in the wind.
You can also stretch your annual garden budget by growing from seed. Marigold, zinnia, sweet pea, sweet potato vine, black-eyed Susan vine and sunflower are some of the many gorgeous plants you can plant from seed. You can grow a whole garden for less than $1 with a pack of quality seeds.
Perennials may have the largest up-front cost, but, if stretched across the lifetime of the plant, the total cost is the lowest. To save on perennials, shop garden centers in late July for bargains and don't be afraid to pick up discounted plants that may look less than perfect. Many garden centers will slash prices on plants that have gone to seed, got a little droopy from lack of water or may have been damaged. They may not be the prettiest plants now but next year, they should give quite a show in your garden for less money. Plant, water and care for them this season as any other plant in your garden.
Also, consider plant swaps, organized events where you bring plants to swap with others and check sites such as Craigslist or home gardeners offering free or inexpensive plants from their own landscaping. Again, consider growing from seed as well--though, you may wish to research your intended plants before purchasing seeds. Some plants, such as lavender, are more difficult to grow from seed and take a few years to fully establish themselves.
The best way to save money on spring bulbs is to purchase in bulk from a reputable bulb and seed dealer. Catalog companies such as the Michigan Bulb Company and Burpee Seed often have excellent deals for bulk quantities.
Digging up existing bulbs to divide any new bulb growth is another way to stretch your spring garden dollar. Divide bulbs every three years or when plants stop blooming. The best time to divide is late spring when the flower has faded but the stem has not completely dried away.
Again, Craigslist and plant swaps are another excellent source of free or inexpensive plants from other home gardeners.