Gardening doesn't have to be expensive

May 23, 2009|By DOUG OSTER / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Growing up with parents who lived through the Great Depression instilled in me a sense of cheapness.

There's a thrill to getting a bargain or, better yet, something for free. Gardening doesn't have to be expensive; there are lots of ways to have a beautiful garden without draining the savings account.

o Seeds - One of the cheapest ways to grow plants is from seed. Sunflowers, larkspur, amaranthus, Mexican sunflower, marigolds and lots of other flowers can be directly sown in the garden for blooms later in the season.

In the vegetable garden, instead of buying transplants of cucumbers, squash and other vine crops, just buy a pack of seeds and plant right now. They'll be ready as soon or sooner than their counterparts in six packs. Beans, beets, spinach, lettuce and many other veggies can be grown from seed for a fraction of the cost of transplants.


Good seed is important, but you'd be surprised how good some of the discount seed fares. I grew "black-seeded Simpson" lettuce from a 19-cent package that rivaled anything I bought mail-order for five times the price.

o Compost - The No. 1 job for growing great plants is to improve the soil. To help do that, check around for free compost. Call your municipality to find out if it has some.

Also, start your own compost pile. Everything that once was living becomes compost. It's a great way to recycle and it's the best plant food on the planet.

o Tomato cages - Build your own tomato cages out of concrete reinforcing wire. It's sold in rolls. Cut it to 6-foot lengths, and make a cylinder by attaching each end. These are 5-feet high, will last for decades and will actually support the plant. Those little cages in the store are good until about June when the tomatoes start flopping over the edges.

o Perennials - Buying perennial flowers in small containers saves money, too. By starting smaller, the plants are cheaper. Find plants that have long bloom times and you'll reduce the need for annuals. Corydalis lutea, which blooms from April until September, produces pretty but tiny yellow flowers. It's deer-resistant, drought-tolerant and spreads by throwing its own seeds. Gaillardia (blanket flower), coreopsis, repeat blooming daylilies and malva are just some of the plants that stay in bloom longer than most.

o Swaps - Most perennials can be divided and shared with friends. Plant swaps are a great way to add to the garden. Find some friends who share your love of gardening, and you won't buy another perennial for a while. That way you can save up for just the right one.

Doug Oster can be reached at

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