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How to garden on a budget: 10 simple tips to follow

minimalist garden

Interested in learning how to garden on a budget? You’ve come to the right place.

If you’re like many people, you may have put aside your dreams of starting a garden because you are afraid of how much it will cost. 

From seed starting trays to soil mixtures, self-watering containers to quick-germinating seeds, it seems as though there is no shortage of products that companies will try to sell you in order to make a buck. 

The good news is that you can easily start a garden if you’re on a tight budget. Many of these items just aren’t required! There are other ways you can pinch pennies when gardening, too. After all, starting a garden is one of the best ways to cut down on your monthly grocery bill. 

Homesteading Guide 2020

1. Start small, and start from seed

woman planting and tending her garden

If it’s your first year starting a garden, don’t go big or go home.” Start small – this will save your sanity as well as your budget. 

Pick a few plants you want to grow and go from there. Then, start from seed. Growing plants from seedlings are easier than growing from seed, but it’s much more expensive. A packet of 100 to 500 seeds is usually no more than $5 while you’ll pay that (or even more) for just a six-pack of seedlings.

Bonus points if you can skip seed costs altogether and check with local gardeners who want to give away their extra seeds!

2. Recycle and upcycle whenever possible

Look around your home. What can be repurposed to help you start your garden on a budget? You can use just about anything if you’re creative enough. 

Need a planter? Use an old pallet or a tire. Plant markers? Simply write the name of the plant on a rock or popsicle stick with a permanent marker. You don’t need expensive gear in order to plant a garden – you just need a little ingenuity. 

3. Make your own fertilizer

Learn how to garden using DIY food compost

Quit paying for expensive synthetic fertilizers! Not only are these chemical-based fertilizers price, but they’re also terrible for the soil. They often contain only nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, while homemade organic fertilizers contain micronutrients that soil tends to be deficient in, too, like copper and calcium. 

Plus, expensive storebought fertilizers tend to deplete soil by killing beneficial microorganisms and destroying soil structure. Make your own to save money – and save the planet! – instead. Starting a compost bin is a great first place to start.

4. Go all-natural and DIY for your soil needs

Skip the expensive and potentially toxic fertilizers and herbicides. Instead, pull weeds by hand or spread them with mulch. Use cover crops to improve soil structure and kill weeds.

These options are not only better for your wallet, but they’re better for the environment, too.

Oh, and one more thing? Don’t pay for dirt! Dirt should be dirt cheap, as they say, and it shouldn’t cost you your life savings. 

Ask your nursery about buying bulk bags of soil, if you absolutely must purchase prepared soil for seed starting. Check with your local cooperative extension to see if they are giving away any soil or check with local farmers for free compost or composted manure. 

5. Flex those muscles

old tools and wrenches hanging

While it sometimes makes sense to rent or purchase heavy equipment like tractors or tillers to work your garden, often those tasks can be accomplished by hand. Sure, it won’t be as easy, and you’re definitely going to break a sweat, but maybe you’ll be able to cancel your gym membership to save a few dollars there, too, while you’re at it!

Invest in some cheap tools (or get them for free by checking places like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace) like spades, hoes, and rakes. This will help make lighter work of your chores and will save you a lot of money on expensive machinery, too. It will also help you save on home maintenance costs, as you can often re-use basic tools for building and tending your garden. 

6. Harvest rainwater and greywater

If you live in a dry climate, water is often sold at a premium. Even if you have a well, it can be tough to afford the expense of watering your garden as often as it needs to be watered. 

An easy solution? Harvest rainwater and greywater! Harvesting rainwater is as simple as setting up a few barrels beneath the down spigots of your gutters. You can plumb the barrel to irrigate your garden or simply scoop some out with buckets whenever your plants are thirsty. 

When it comes to greywater, look around your house and consider ways you can save water for later use in the garden. Put a bucket in the shower to collect excess during your morning routine, or save the water after you boil pasta to water your container plants. Some people even save the water from hard-boiling eggs, which performs double duty as it also provides necessary calcium to the soil.

7. Make some friends

minimalist garden

If you’re new to gardening, it can be tempting to buy every gardening book in the store to help you learn the ropes. There’s really no need – and in fact, it’s better to seek advice from friends and family who garden in the same area as you.

You’ll get the best advice from people who are actually “in the trenches,” so to speak, and know exactly what struggles and benefits are presented by gardening in your local area. Make some friends in your local community. Not only will they offer invaluable advice, but you may be able to engage in seed swaps, equipment sharing, and other cost-cutting activities with them, too.

8. Take care of your gear

Don’t leave your tools out in the rain to rust! You’ll just have to replace them, which will cost you more money. You don’t need a lot of gear in order to start gardening on a budget – usually, a shovel, a spade, and a good pair of gloves will suffice. 

However, if you don’t care for your equipment properly, you’re going to have to replace it every year. So make sure you’re stashing your equipment indoors and both cleaning and repairing it on a regular basis to help it last. 

Don’t forget about storing your seeds, either. Lots of gardeners overlook one easy way to help them save money on a garden long into the future – saving seeds. Collecting and saving seeds from your plants is easy, and it will help you start a garden with virtually no expense next year. 

9. Don’t underestimate the power of containers and raised beds

Small garden - child plays among garden containers

When you’re able to grow vegetables in a container or a raised bed (in other words, not directly in the ground) you can maximize the amount of space you have available. You’ll be able to spend less money and time on killing weeds and fertilizing your garden because you’ll only need to work with a small, pre-planned portion of your property. 

Plus, containers and raised beds tend to be easier to care for. If your schedule constraints look a lot like your budget constraints, this is an essential feature.

10. Plan religiously

There is such a thing as too much planning, but not when it comes to gardening. You can’t be too organized! Start by making a detailed list of the plants you want to grow each season. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you need to grow everything, either. Instead, just pick a few varieties that you really want to try (and that your family will actually eat!) and go from there.

Once you know what you want to plant, figure out where and when you will plant them. Often, it’s easy to get caught up in “garden daydreaming” and shop indiscriminately for seeds and plants. It’s all fun and games until you get those plants home and realize you have no place to put them.

What a waste of money! Instead, plan ahead of time, and you won’t have to worry about anything going to waste.

Don’t be afraid to splurge a little…

…but only a little!

In most cases, you can start a garden for very little initial expense. You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg in order to grow all of your own food! 

However, you should be willing to spend a little bit, especially where it counts. Don’t step over a dollar just to make a dime, as they say. 

For example, if you’re starting seeds indoors, investing in a high-quality grow light and some heat germination mats really make sense. You’ll be able to grow thousands of seedlings where before, you could only grow a handful. You can always make back some of the money you spent by selling those extra seeds to others! 

If you want to grow a healthy, productive garden but don’t want to spend a tonne of money, start by closely evaluating what your budget actually is. And be realistic and honest with yourself when you do!

Hopefully, these tips for starting a garden on a  budget will help you stretch your dollar so that you can start the garden of your dreams – and on mere pennies.