Gardening can be as expensive an activity as you’d like. Whatever your budget it’s important to spend your money wisely on items you’ll find useful, indispensable or wonderful!
Village fetes, open garden days and gardening society plant sales are all great places to buy plants at fantastic prices. At the Compton fete I have sold everything from full size flowering cherry trees, fruit trees and rhododendrons, to vegetable plants, bedding, herbaceous perennials, seeds, tools, and preserves. Each year is different, as we are dependent on donations, but a bargain is guaranteed! Seed and plant swaps are excellent ways to save money.
Some varieties of tomato seeds can be surprisingly expensive; you may only receive six seeds in a pack. To increase your stock at no extra cost, you could grow new tomato plants from the side shoots you remove when growing tomatoes as cordons. Just pop the side shoots in a glass of water on a windowsill and pot up when the roots have developed. Once your tomato plants have fruited, if there’s time left in the growing season, you can achieve an additional harvest by allowing a low growing side shoot to grow on and become the main leader for the tomato plant, training it up to extend your harvest.
Propagating plants is so much fun, it can also save you a lot of money! African violets can be propagated from their leaves; herbaceous perennials divided to create new plants and deciduous shrubs can be propagated from softwood cuttings. You could grow an array of new plants for free this weekend!
When harvesting spring and summer cabbages, cut your cabbage, then make a cross in the stem left in the soil and you’ll grow additional crop of small cabbages or delicious greens. Lettuces readily re-grow after harvesting, there’s no need to make a cross. The cut and come again method of growing lettuce takes up very little room. Simply cut the young lettuce leaves at the base, and within a week or two, more leaves are ready for harvesting. It’s a great use of a patio container, providing you with salad all summer long.
Have you tried growing your own herbal tea? Chamomile, mint and herbs make delicious teas or tisanes; my favourite is chocolate mint tea made from a variety of mint with a chocolate flavour! There are many different varieties of mint available: lime mint, lemon mint, and lavender mint, to name a few, but beware that all types of mint are invasive and are best grown in a pot. Growing herbs is a great way for keen cooks to save money; herbs take up little room and can easily be grown successfully in containers in a small space on a balcony or patio.
Choosing varieties of gourmet fruit and vegetables that are expensive or unavailable in the shops to grow is a great way to save money. It’s just as easy to grow a purple, white or yellow carrot, as it is to grow an orange one. Pea shoots, courgette flowers, elephant garlic and kohlrabi are both expensive and difficult to find, even at specialist delis and grocers; yet they couldn’t be easier to grow.
Joining a gardening club is a great way to make friends and learn about horticulture; there are many local gardening clubs and societies, offering meetings, outings, even holidays, at a lower price than if you went alone. Gardening club members often receive discounts at local nurseries and garden centres and can join a bulk, club order of seeds at a greatly reduced price.
It’s not always economic to order more seeds than you’ll grow this season and not always wise to order too far in advance. Some seeds, like parsnips, have very limited viability and won’t germinate the following year; it’s lovely to share your parsnip seeds with friends or to split the cost of a pack. Onion seeds benefit from being sown relatively soon after purchase, they are viable for one to two years. Hellebore seeds need to be sown promptly, often immediately after collection. Other seeds remain viable for amazingly long periods of time; Canna seeds can still be viable after 500 years! Store your seeds in a dry, cool place; away from humidity and mice, a sealed container in the fridge is ideal. Collecting seeds from friends and neighbours’ gardens is a wonderful way to increase your plant selection.
I have always found horticultural fleece to be a useless purchase, fleece doesn’t last longer than a few weeks if you’re lucky; it’s a waste of time. Enviromesh is more expensive than fleece, but it’s a robust, durable material that lasts. For a cheaper alternative to Enviromesh, try asking scaffolders if they have any of the white or clear nylon type material they use going spare.
Another false economy is cheap peat free compost; so far I haven’t found any low-price, peat free compost that is useable for anything other than a mulch. Excellent peat free composts are available, Dalefoot Composts and SylvaGrow® produce great quality composts; these are worth spending a little more on, as you will achieve quality plants in a good growing medium. I am passionate about protecting the environment, I want to help you to discover the best peat free compost, so every year I have run Compost Trials to find the best composts available.
- To read the results of my 2016 Compost Trial: Growing French Beans, please click here.
- To read the results of my 2017 Compost Trial: Growing Calendula, please click here.
- To read the results of my 2017 Compost Trial: Growing Broad Beans, please click here.
- To read the results of my 2017 Compost Trial: Growing Carrots, please click here.
I always make room to compost, however small my outside area, if you really don’t have room to compost, you could try creating a wormery. Composting provides a free source of wonderful organic material, you don’t need to pay for it, wait in for it to be delivered or struggle to carry it home. You could make your own free compost bin from wooden pallets.
Some plants and bulbs are longer lasting in our British growing conditions than others. If you have a limited budget to purchase spring bulbs and you’re just as fond of daffodils as tulips, I would recommend growing daffodils and forgetting tulips. The glamorous, large flowered tulips are not reliable at re-flowering, whereas daffodil bulbs can outlive us humans if grown well. The smaller, species tulips are more reliable at re-flowering, so choose these varieties over the larger bedding types if you’re planting tulips.
If you’re considering planting daffodils, you may be interested in the results of my 2017 Scented Daffodil Trial, in my Trial I looked for the most floriferous and most beautifully scented daffodils.
Leaf mould is a great soil conditioner, you can’t buy it in the shops, but collect leaves for free and you can make your own. Run a lawn mower over your collected leaves, then moisten – both the shredding and the addition of water will help to speed up the rotting process; bag them up and keep for at least a couple of years, until they are fully broken down. Leaf mould is a wonderful mulch, soil improver, or compost for sowing seeds. Pine needles take longer to break down; they make an excellent acidic leaf mould, ideal for acid loving plants requiring ericaceous compost. Pine needles are shed throughout the year; you could collect some this month, keep them separate from your other leaf mould.
Wood ash from the fire is a free source of potassium. The nutrients in wood ash are soluble and easily washed away, so keep your ash in a dry place – a sealed container is ideal. The ash can be applied sparingly to compost heaps and as a dressing for daffodils in early springtime. If your brassicas are suffering from club root, regular dressings of wood ash, with its liming qualities can raise the soil’s pH, this together with growing a less susceptible brassica, such as kohlrabi or Swede ‘Marian’ can help alleviate the problem.
Wood ash or soot, sprinkled around your plants, is a fantastic slug and snail deterrent. The slugs and snails don’t want to cross the ash or soot; it will dry out their protective slimy coating. Human hair is another effective slug control; ask at your local hairdressers if they can give you any sweepings. Crushed eggshells, sharp grit, garlic granules – used for horses and bought cheaply from pet suppliers, provide effective slug protection.
Another effective slug deterrent is garlic wash. To make garlic wash; take two bulbs of garlic and crush the cloves, place the crushed garlic in two pints of boiling water and boil for a few minutes. Leave the mixture to cool, then strain it and bottle. To use garlic wash: dilute one tablespoon of garlic wash to a gallon of water; apply by watering over your plant’s leaves on a dry day. Garlic wash is very effective, but only in dry weather, once it rains you’ll need to reapply. It’s important to use fresh garlic, older garlic will be far less effective. You may be interested to read the results of my Slug and Snail Trial, where I tested all of my recommended slug and snail protection ideas, here’s a link.
Nettles and comfrey both make unpleasantly fragranced, but very effective, natural fertilisers. If you’d like to grow comfrey to provide you with a supply of natural fertiliser, ensure you order the variety ‘Bocking 14’, a sterile type, which is propagated by root cuttings. ‘Bocking 14’ won’t set seed and spread around your garden, which is a huge bonus as comfrey is a very deep rooted plant and tricky to dig up and remove.
Many garden centres or nurseries have a marked area where they leave unwanted pots for their customers to re-use. Biodegradable pots can be made from newspaper or empty lavatory rolls; these are ideal for sowing seeds and then planting directly out into the garden.
This article was first published in the April 2015 edition of VantagePoint Magazine.
Other articles and links that may interest you……………..
If you’re looking for ideas on how to garden sustainably, I hope this article will help you.
If you’re interested in growing vegetables, have you thought of joining The National Vegetable Society? To find out more about The National Vegetable Society, please click here.
To see the results of my Slug and Snail Trial and discover the most effective methods to protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.
To read about growing gourmet vegetables, please click here.
For details of beautiful and historic gardens in Surrey, Hampshire and West Sussex to visit or join as a member or friend, please click here.
For details of wonderful places to see carpets of bluebells, please click here.
For gardening advice for Mid-April to Mid-May, please click here.
For information on terrariums and bottle gardens, please click here.
To see my long term review of my BiOrbAir terrarium, please click here.
For ideas on how to make gardening easier, please click here.
For ideas on protecting your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.