15 Sustainable Ways to Save Money in the Garden

Keep your costs down without sacrificing your gardening plans.

Man planting flowers in his garden
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Think green living is expensive? Think again. You don't have to sacrifice sustainability if you want to save money. Particularly in the garden, keeping your costs down and reducing your environmental footprint go hand-in-hand. Many of the following tips also come with added benefits to local wildlife, farmers' markets, and families interested in easy gardening projects for kids.

Here are 15 sustainable ways to save money in the garden while still achieving your gardening goals.

1
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Plan Ahead

Garden design sketch

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If you live in an area that experiences winter, spend that time planning next spring's garden. If you're planning a flower garden, have a wish list with you before you head to the garden center; it's all too easy to buy more plants than you have room for.

If you're growing vegetables, consider what your family eats, how much space you have, and how much you need to grow to feed your family before you start buying seeds or seedlings.

2
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Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

Canning jars filled with produce

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Nearly one-third of all food is wasted both in the U.S. and globally. Don't let your zucchinis or cherry tomatoes rot on the vine. It's easy to over-plant, so grow only what you can reasonably be expected to consume. If you end up growing more than you can eat, learn how to preserve food.

3
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Right Plant, Right Place

A xeriscaped garden
A xeriscaped garden can save water and money.

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You'll have to replace your plants less frequently if you plant in the right place. For example, if you live in a dry climate, try xeriscaping with plants that thrive there.

Go for native plants that are the most capable of surviving in your environment. They're likely to last and not require much extra spending on maintenance.

4
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Plant Perennials

A perennial garden in full bloom

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Annual flowers have one year to live, so they put out an abundance of flowers in order to get pollinated and produce seeds. Their downside, however, is that they need replacing each year. Perennials last longer and can save you money over time. Choosing a mix of perennials that bloom at different times of year can give you a fresh-looking garden throughout the growing season.

5
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Shop in the Fall

Shrubs on sale at a garden center
Fall is a great (and less expensive) time to plant trees and shrubs.

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Many garden centers put their plants on sale in late summer and early fall. Most plants at that point have already bloomed, so you'll have to wait until the next year to enjoy their full glory. Fall is just as good a time as spring to plant trees and shrubs, so you can save a bundle if you plan ahead.

6
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Buy Local

Hand-made plant price tag

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Local plant sales and farmers markets can offer significant savings over big-box garden centers, whose plants are often shipped in from nurseries on the other side of the continent, adding to their cost.

7
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Get Free Plants

Tradescantia cutting in a jar of water
Flowering plants like tradescantia can be propagated through cuttings.

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Many plants like hostas, baptisia, or beebalm can easily outgrow their space and need dividing. Others, like lavender and rosemary, are easy to propagate by taking cuttings. Relocate these plants rather than purchasing new ones, or trade them with a neighbor or at a plant swap.

8
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Start From Seeds

Seedlings growing in pots

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Some plants are embarrassingly easy to start from seed, especially annual flowers and herbs, and they are orders of magnitude cheaper than the same number of plants. Starting seeds takes no more resources than a light source, soil, some DIY seed pots, and seeds.

9
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Save Seeds

Tomato seeds saved in an envelope

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Collect the seeds of your flowers and vegetables, store them in a cool, dry place, then plant them in the spring. For perennials that readily self-sow (like columbine or black-eyed Susans), collect the seed heads and distribute them around your garden.

If you do buy your seeds, read the packets, which often come with far more seeds than you can ever plant in a season. Many seeds will still germinate after two or three years, so only plant as many vegetable seeds to suit this year's needs. Save the rest for a subsequent year—or swap them with a neighbor or at a seed swap.

10
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Get (or Make) a Rain Barrel

A rain barrel next to a brick house

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An average rain barrel can collect and store 55 gallons of water, enough to quench the thirst of a host of plants and reduce your water bill. You can even save more by creating your own DIY rain barrel.

11
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Water Before 10 A.M.

Watering can in early morning light

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If you wait until mid-day to water, you'll lose a lot of that water to surface evaporation. Watering in the evening increases the risk of molds and mildews growing, as they thrive in the dark, so water before 10 a.m. to maximize your water use and lower your water bill.

12
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Use Drip Irrigation

Rows of plants watered through drip irrigation

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Rather than broadcasting water onto sidewalks, driveways, and areas of the garden where no plants are growing, a drip irrigation system can reduce your garden water use by 25% to 50%.

13
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Make Your Own Mulch

Kohlrabi growing in a leaf mulch
Leaves make a nice blanket for cool-season crops.

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Each year, deciduous trees and plants make their own mulch. Rather than bagging up leaves or grass clippings, save money by using them as mulch around your plants.

14
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Make Your Own Compost

A home-made compost bin made of reclaimed wood.

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A DIY composting system will spare you from having to purchase plant food. Use reclaimed pallets, cinder blocks, scrap wood, trash cans, and other materials to create your own compost bin at virtually no cost.

15
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Grow Shade

A home shaded by trees.
Shade is a key concept in green building design.

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Planting a shade tree or shrub can pay for itself by reducing your home energy costs if the plant keeps your house cool in the summer. If it's a deciduous tree or shrub, it will also let the sun in during the winter, potentially reducing your winter heating costs.

A well-planned, sustainable garden can last for years with little cost and little maintenance. Choosing plants wisely, shopping at the right place and time, and using some DIY ingenuity can save you money without sacrificing your gardening goals.