How to Save Big Money on Next Year's Lawn and Garden

By Linsey Knerl on 18 February 2010 (Updated 4 February 2011) 6 comments

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This article shares tips from the newest episode of Dealista, our podcast that'll help you get more for less.

Brrr! It’s still cold outside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t turn your mind to warmer thoughts and begin planning out how you’ll save on next year’s lawn and garden! The time to start is right now. Get the tips you need to save some green come spring time.

Use Seeds

Yes, we know it takes a bit more time, patience, and sometimes, even special equipment. The fact remains, however, that the cost of a tomato plant from seed (usually pennies) is far cheaper than those beautiful, giant plants you can get at the nursery (usually $2-6!). While time is money, the great thing about growing from seed is that the time invested can pay off big time come planting season. Consider it if your budget is tight, or you want to have more control over the conditions your little plants are raised in.

Swap ‘Em

Last year, I bought several heirloom seed packets (watermelons, tomatoes, etc), but had room to plant just a few seeds per packets. What did I do with the other 20 per packet? I traded with my mom. While seeds can be stored in cool and dry conditions for a year or two beyond the season you purchase them in (this can vary per species), why not spice up your garden with a seed swap? Have friends bring all their seed packets and trade out a few per packet for a free way to expand your gardening options. (Have the directions for each seed packet photocopied onto a sheet of paper for future reference.)

Buy Little Plants

Sometimes, even our best intentions will leave you seedless (or your dog may knock over all your tiny seedlings!). In the case of springtime approaching without having started anything, buying a plant is an OK alternative. Just go small. Those beautiful, arm-length plants with fruit already starting will cost you! If you can find small-rooted 4-packs that are less than 6 inches tall, you’ll usually get a greater discount per plant.

Go Garage!

Garage sales and flea markets are the perfect place to stock up on supplies for growing. The best finds are usually clay pots, which can cost a pretty penny new from the store. Remember that some of the best finds may not look the greatest at the sale, so be prepared to dig through broken and dirty pots and accessories to get to the good stuff. It’s worth it!

Set Up Your Subscriptions

Subscribing to several mail-order catalogs is a great way to grow your garden. Not only can you learn a lot about planting and harvesting techniques, but you can also find out about new varieties you may not have heard of before. When you sign up, you’ll also get access to exclusive discounts and shipping offers. It’s the perfect way to save a bundle on some exotic plants or organic varieties. (Those who don’t want the paper waste may go ahead and search out the same companies online — but many of the colorful photos and charts may not be accessible this way.)

There are a few other tips you will want to know before you plan out that dream garden:

  • Get the dirt on your supplier. To know if you’re working with a reputable company before you order, check out The Garden Watchdog, which is a free directory of over 7,000 mail-order companies, with ratings and comments from customers to help you get an unbiased review.
     
  • Go Green! Organic and heirloom varieties are not only super-tasty, but they are great for reintroducing long-forgotten species of plants back into our environment. Consider getting these kinds of plants from a special supplier. A good list to start with is located at Green Promise.
     
  • Hit the dollar store. Seriously. I got most of my potting soil, accessories, and even a few seed packets from my local store, for far less than what I would have gotten from a gardening retailer. (Many of the brands are exactly the same.) You’ll also want to check out retailers like Walmart, Target, and Home Depot after the summer season, to see what clearance items you can buy for next year!
     
  • Get online codes. RetailMeNot.com continues to offer codes for big suppliers like Johnny Seeds and Spring Hill Nurseries. Try Googling your favorite seed company to see what codes may be available for your next phone or online order. (We’ve seen them as generous as 50% off an order, or free shipping plus gifts!)

How does your frugal garden grow?

Dealista is a collaboration between Wise Bread and Quick and Dirty Tips, the producer of popular podcasts such as Grammar Girl, Money Girl, Winning Investor, and Mighty Mommy.

If you enjoyed these tips you can find more in our show's archive.

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Andrea Karim's picture

I'm ordering my seeds for the heirloom tomatoes that I plan to grow in pots this year (hopefully it won't be a stupid, cold, rainy summer like last year) and having to seriously restrain myself when it comes to choosing what to grow. How badly do I want to plant giant red tomatoes? Badly. But we can only really grow cherry and grape tomatoes in our pots, given the limited light.

Starting our seedlings now, though!

Guest's picture
valletta

I am a huge gardener and have had great success with the following tips:

Use TP cardboard tubs as seed starters. Cut them in two, fill with seed starting mixture and place in plastic shoe boxes (or use old cookies sheets, wooden flats, whatever you have). When the seeds have emerged and you are ready to plant place the entire cardboard thingy in the ground!

Start an informal neighborhood seed or seedling swap. Everyone buys a couple of seed packets, plants all the seeds and then choose a "garden swap" day where everyone brings their 1-2 varieties (or more) and take home seedlings from everyone else! You end up with tons of varieties for the cost of
1-2 packets! I did this with an Italian heirloom theme, it was great!

Use chic wooden wine boxes (you can get them at high end wine shops, just ask), fill with soil and use as small "rasied beds". I make herb boxes, flower boxes, lettuce boxes. They look gorgeous and at the end of the season I just burn/compost the whole thing.

Guest's picture
Guest

Can anyone suggest specific catalogs that would include good tips and pictures as described in the "set up your subscriptions" suggestion?

Linsey Knerl's picture

I usually find great growing tips in the http://www.tomatogrowers.com/ catalog (tomato specific, but not all), as well as some of the small specialty catalogs.  Tw that I know DON'T have much for information are Jung's and Burpie (but the color photos are appealing!)

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
Guest

One good way to get cheap perennial plants for NEXT year is to buy them near the end of the season when everything is clearanced out to a fraction of the regular price. Even if the flowers are mostly spent, as long as the rest of the plant is still relatively healthy, it is still good. (If you don't mind too much that they might not be as pretty for now, I did get some weird glances into my cart that day I went plant shopping.)

It can be planted while it is still warm out and get established in your yard, before the fall frost. With a little patience and luck, the perennial will likely come back to life again in the spring when everyone else is paying full price again at the garden centers for the same plants.

Marla Walters's picture

This year, my husband sent off a soil sample to our local university for testing.  They sent back a print-out, suggesting we add some nitrogen and gypsum (and the quantities to add).  I think some Ag Extensions do this testing, too.  We're pretty curious to see what will happen size and quantity-wise with the plants.  Linsey, thanks for the tips!