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Gardening advice for the cost-conscious consumer

June 23, 2008  By Dean Fosdick The Associated Press


Gardening advice for the cost-conscious consumer
moneytreeFor gardeners trying to grow on a tight budget, there are scores of low-cost steps that they can take to keep their garden just as attractive and productive as the more expensive versions scattered around the neighbourhood.

moneytree"Prune spending and you'll harvest dollars," my farm-reared grandmother used to say, which endures as a practical approach to gardening in this period of fast-rising fuel and food costs.


There are scores of low-cost, no-cost steps you can take that will keep your garden just as attractive and productive as the more expensive versions scattered around the neighbourhood. Here are some cost-saving tips:

START FROM SEED: You might begin by raising flowers and vegetables from seed, which will run anywhere from one-tenth to one-quarter the price of store-bought starter plants.

"Use an heirloom seed … an annual that will self-sow and weave its way into your garden next year,'' said Rebecca Kolls, who hosts a nationally syndicated TV series on gardening and is a spokeswoman for Scotts Miracle-Gro.

She suggested self-seeders including Johnny-jump up, Dahlberg daisy, nigella (Love-in-a-mist) and cleome (spider flower). Or go for perennials such as iris, peony, hosta, astilbe, daylily and delphinium.

GATHER YOUR OWN: Why buy any seed at all when you can gather your own? Some of the easiest-to-collect varieties come from the pumpkins you carve into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween or from such common annual vegetables as the peas, beans, corn and squash already growing in your garden.

SHARE: Invite a few friends and family members over for a plant-sharing party, where you can swap seeds, sprouts, cuttings, surplus yard gear and frugal gardening ideas. This is a great way to get a variety of colours and new types of plants without spending a lot of money, Kolls said.

"You can also encourage friends to bring pots they'd like to exchange."

SHOP WISELY: Look around for some inexpensive annuals as the spring planting season starts winding down. Marigolds, impatiens and begonias are among the flowers that generally carry the cheaper price tags.

And shop the sales, especially for perennials or woody ornamentals. You'll be able to spread the wealth after a few years by dividing the mature plants for wider display around the yard or in exchange for other varieties on your wish list.

THINK SMALL: Bigger isn't necessarily better when shopping for plants at your favourite garden centre. Smaller trees and shrubs are less expensive and eventually will mature to the size of their display table siblings. "It will just take a bit longer," Kolls said.

TAKE CARE: Over-winter your potted geraniums (pelargoniums), succulents and hibiscus, to name just a tender few. That saves buying an altogether new containerized collection the following spring.

And order bare-root perennials rather than potted versions when buying via mail order or the Internet. That will mean more plant varieties from which to choose while saving a bundle on shipping costs.

CATCH WATER: Water is becoming a precious commodity in many areas. Dig a catch basin or place barrels under downspouts so you can direct all that reclaimed rainwater to different areas or for other uses as needed.

COMPOST: Forget about buying pricey fertilizers. Turn kitchen and yard wastes into compost. Water and stir the decomposing piles regularly and then use the nutrient-laden "brown gold" to loosen and enrich the tired soil in your planting beds.

"Mulch with newspaper and make the (plant) rows as wide as the sections,'' said Susan McCoy, owner of Garden Media Group in Chadds Ford, Pa. "Remember: Don't use glossy, coloured paper (which may carry toxic chemicals in their chemicals and inks).''

RECYCLE: Use gravel or leftover Styrofoam "packing peanuts" to line the bottoms of hanging baskets and plant containers so you don't need as much potting soil. "Some packing material is made from corn starch, so you'll be feeding your plants as well," McCoy said.

And get creative with your "yard art" or garden decorations. Recycled bikes, boots, bushel baskets and barrels make interesting planters and creative points of interest when placed around the landscape. Rocks and driftwood also provide pleasing backdrops in natural settings.

MULTI-TASK: Select plants that do triple duty by producing blooms, colourful foliage and fruit. That would include ornamental peppers, grapes and blueberries. Many herbs also yield edible flowers.

GO NATIVE: Nurture native plant varieties, which require little or no maintenance. They also tend to resist drought, disease, pests and wandering wildlife.

PLAN WISELY: Plant your garden in phases rather than all at once. It may take several seasons before you get the look you like but that kind of planning paces your pocketbook and helps you make for more considered purchases.

The same goes for herbicides and insecticides. If you're still heavy into garden chemicals, then consider spot treating bothersome weeds rather than broadcasting sprays all over your property and beyond. That not only saves money but it also saves foraging flights of beneficial insects and other helpful critters.

UNPLUG: Use manually operated tools and equipment rather than those powered by fossil fuels. They're not only cheaper to buy and cheaper to run, but they're quieter. Your neighbours will thank you for it.


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