How to Save Money If You're a New Gardener

Some professional advice on where to scrimp and save most effectively.

gardener at her allotment

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New gardeners often worry about the cost of creating a new garden. But growing your own food at home is not something that needs to cost the earth. In fact, if you take the right approach, you can get started on a small scale with even the most limited of budgets.

Many people are struggling financially right now. But if you are lucky enough to have a garden, you can use what you have to cut costs, limit consumption, and start to live in a more eco-friendly way. You don't need to have a huge amount of seed capital to get growing.

Look Closely at What You Already Have

My first tip is to take a good look around and really think about what you already have. You may have more available to help you get started than you imagine. And as you observe the space, you will get a range of clues that will help you avoid making mistakes that could be costly down the line.

Think about sunshine, water, wind, and soil. The cycles and flows of the natural world around us are already in place. We need only think how best to harness and work with them to achieve our own goals in our gardens.

Even if you want to make big changes in your garden, take things a step at a time. Make sure that, as the saying goes, you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

In other words, think carefully about the plants already growing in your garden or features already in place. Starting a new food-producing garden does not need to mean starting from scratch. Even a weed-filled wasteland of a garden could have many existing yields to obtain. And if you have an ornamental garden, you might be able to incorporate edibles into existing areas, rather than creating whole new areas.

Make the Most of Natural Resources

Build soil and compost; don't buy it. If you are making new growing areas, such as a new vegetable plot, don't dig up the lawn or disturb the soil. Instead, take a no-dig approach. Layer cardboard over an area and then layer organic materials to compost in place.

One of the most important resources in any garden is compost. However you choose to create it, setting up a composting system of some kind should be one of the very first steps you take when creating a new garden, if you do not have one already.

Creating compost takes time, of course. But the sooner you begin, the sooner you will have some of this valuable material to help you fill pots or to top new growing areas in your garden—and all entirely for free.

Other organic materials can be gathered at no cost. You might have things like grass clippings and leafy growth, hedge prunings, and dried leaves on your property. Other sources can be found in your area. For example, manures can often be obtained for free from local farmers, stables, or even pet shops or zoos. Arborists often have wood chips to give away. In some areas, free materials are offered by the local municipality or community gardening groups. So, keep your eyes open and seek out free sources of organic matter in your area to get started.

compost heap with food scraps

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Think About Water From the Very Beginning

As well as thinking about fertility and the natural materials that you can use to improve the soil and maintain fertility over time, you should also think about water from the outset. 

If you have a metered water supply, then catching and storing water on your property is not only an eco-friendly thing to do, but will save you money, too.

Harvest rainwater from your roof to use in your garden. And also think about how you can catch and slow water in the soil and plants throughout your space.

If irrigation would ordinarily be required in your area, thinking about earthworks like on-contour swales, basins, and ponds can help you set up systems that won't require investment other than your time and effort.

On a small scale, you can think about using low- or no-cost methods to keep plants watered in pots, containers, or raised beds. For example, you can use plastic beverage bottles or glass bottles upended in the soil as DIY alternatives to watering globes.

Rescue, Reuse, Reclaim, Repair, Recycle

Speaking of using plastic or glass bottles, this is just one example of many ways in which items that would otherwise be recycled commercially or end up in landfill can be used to solve problems in your garden and help you get started for free.

Using household waste, upcycled items, and reclaimed materials is a key practice in a low-cost garden. From using food packaging or toilet roll tubes to grow seeds, to making bed edging, pathways, garden structures (even vertical gardens or greenhouses) from old materials, there are almost endless ways to rescue waste and reuse, reclaim, repair, and recycle rather than buying anything new.

Take a DIY Approach

The more you do yourself, the more money you will save. So, taking a DIY approach is key to cutting costs in creating a new garden. 

One key piece of advice I would give to new gardeners is that, in order to create a wonderful garden, you require more than just gardening skills. Learning a range of other traditional skills can help you to go beyond the basics and really make the most of your space and the things that you grow. 

Sowing seeds from scratch, growing vegetables from scraps, taking cuttings and dividing plants are some core strategies in plant propagation that will save you money. The more you can do yourself, the less your garden will cost.

tomato seedlings in plastic cups

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Share and Cooperate

Another thing to remember is that you certainly don't have to go it alone. Seed swaps and shared community garden resources (tool banks, etc.) are just two of the ways that gardeners can come together to save money and achieve great things together.

Of course, recognizing that we humans are not the only "gardeners" in a space can also save us money. By boosting biodiversity as much as we can, we enlist an army of wildlife helpers above and below the soil that help make a system more resilient and less reliant on outside resources that you might have to buy in.

Choose Plants Carefully

By choosing plants with care, we provide ourselves not only with food to cut our food bills, but also a range of other yields to keep us healthy and enrich our lives. To avoid losses and achieve the best results, we need to select the right plants for the right places. Think about how the plants will aid each other and contribute to the garden as a whole. If you make the proper choices, planting can provide many of the resources you need not only to get started, but to keep your garden going over time.