Christine Koh


I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

9 Tips for Gardening on a Budget

Today, Katy shares tips for gardening on a budget:

Flowers and plants offer a visual reward, and my best friend (an organic farmer) posits that there's an alchemy that occurs when your hands touch the soil. I couldn't agree more, whether you have a lush garden (as my mother did) or a tiny suburban handkerchief plot (as I do!). I also happen to have a postage size budget and wanted to share these 9 tips for gardening on a budget:

1. Grow from seed. It's easy to get a lot for a little by growing from seed. When we manage to plan ahead of time, we start in February or March. We've tried morning glories, calendula, zinnias, and marigolds from seed in a condo with very limited space near windows with full sun (morning glories were especially successful!).

2. Use what you've got. If you're planting seeds, use yogurt cups, eggshells, and plastic bottles for growing containers. Kids love to plant seeds and see the results develop on the counter or windowsill. It's very exciting to wake up in the morning and see how much changes overnight, and it gives older kids a special sense of stewardship to watch over "their" babies and help care for them.

3. Consider a seedling/success tradeoff. If growing from seed isn't in the cards, the tradeoff of spending a bit more money on established plants is better odds of success that come with professionally grown seeds.

4. Build your knowledge for free. Don't be intimidated if your gardening experience is limited (or nonexistent!) -- the internet offers plenty of tips and techniques for gardening and plant selection. Local farms offer outreach programs and classes, and garden centers are staffed by seasoned gardeners and scientists happy to share their wisdom. In short, there is a lot of free information out there for gardening newbies and experienced green thumbs alike.

5. Plant easy, prolific perennials. Make the most of your purchases by planting easy, prolific perennials that will come up year after year. I use hardy daylilies, peonies, and hostas to form the budget-friendly, reliable backdrop against which to showcase my annuals.

L to R: perennial peonies planted in 2008, pink rosebush from previous owner, daylilies in bud from previous owner, 2014 pansies, knockout rose (my one splurge from last summer), purple and white pansies all along the edge, and another legacy plant from a previous owner, a pink azalea.

6. Peruse farmers markets. Farmers markets not only offer a great way to eat local on a budget; they also can be a good source for affordable plants. Most farmers markets will have at least one vendor selling plants throughout the season.

7. Connect with your local gardening resources. Find bargains via your local gardening clubs, meetups, and networks. My town gardening club offers plant swaps, so I've been able to divide up my thriving daylilies and trade them in for some great annuals from another gardener.

8. Check out Craigslist and Freecycle. Craigslist and Freecycle aren't just for finding and selling baby gear and furniture. I've found an abundance of free plants through these online services.

9. Let your gardening passion be known! Over time, my friends and family have learned that I love flowers and am trying to limit the acquisition of more stuff, so I get a lot of flowers/plants as gifts. Yay!

Want to see how I've put these tips into action? Here's how my 2014 garden acquisitions broke down:

  • 2 morning glories (free, gift!)
  • 24 pansies (~$20 on sale, Russo's)
  • 6 perennial hostas (free, Craigslist!)
  • 12 nasturtiums ($10, Waltham Community Farms seedling sale)
  • 2 petunia patio pots (my big splurge; $30 at Russo's)
  • Hanging begonia (Mother's Day gift!)
  • 3 bags of mulch to slow down the ubiquitous weeds ($10 at Star Market)

2014 total: $70! WOO HOO!

Now, once you've got all of your supplies, there are three other things I recommend. First, map out a simple plan -- on paper, or better yet, by putting pots in the spots where you plan to dig. Second, get a second opinion if you're feeling unsure (I always count on my mom, my other gardening friends, and my neighbors for a second eye when I'm putting in a large perennial). And finally, let go of perfection! I give my little guys a lot of leeway when picking out spots for the annuals. A mistake is generally easy to fix when it comes to plants, and in Massachusetts the growing season is brief; the enjoyment of watching the kids take ownership is just as satisfying as a "perfect" planting.

Do you have other budget-friendly gardening tips? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

Image credits: Katy

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