Friday, May 2, 2008

Minimizing gardening costs

I have talked various times about my gardening plans, from landscaping to edibles. However, buying all the mulch, topsoil, compost, seeds and plants for gardening can get expensive. I love cocoa bean mulch, but it tends to be more expensive than other choices. What are some ways to trim startup and maintenance costs?

Find a source of free or low-cost compost.
One easy source of free compost: start your own compost pile. The rich soil additive will not be available right away, but once started, is a continuous source of compost.

If self-generated compost is not enough for your needs, consult with your local city or county. My county has two composting sites available where residents can fill up small and large receptacles for free (unscreened compost) or a small fee (screened compost). The added advantage is the compost is generated locally so fees for fuel and shipping are not added to the price (or the environment).

I have also found listings on craigslist for free composted manure. My weekend will be spent visiting a local farm to remove some composted horse manure to use in my new raised garden pyramid for strawberries.

Locate a source of free or low-cost mulch.
Many cities including my own collect tree branches and bush trimmings at curbside. Ever wonder where this material goes? If you are lucky, your municipality makes it available to interested citizens. I can go to five locations around the larger city I work in and shovel free shredded bark mulch into containers or my trunk for use at home. Free is great, just some time and fuel on my part, but the locations may or may not be stocked.

Another possibility is a tree-removal company or homeowner that had several large woody items removed from his property. I have seen postings on craigslist for free shredded mulch, sometimes with delivery included. Many tree removal companies take tree limbs and other bits they trim and shred it, removing it as part of their service. However, that means they have to dispose of all the plant material they collect. The company may be amenable to having you pick some up from them for a minimal fee.

Find free or low-cost plants.
Ask neighbors or people at work or church if they are dividing plants. Perennials tend to grow and divide until they exceed their space. Many people are glad to have someone take their excess hostas, daylilies and other plants for cheap or free. I posted on the free section of craigslist for someone to dig up my unwanted irises and excess daylilies. I had three people interested and coming over and digging in my yard.

Craigslist is another source where people give away or sell their plants. This could be from mature landscaping (e.g., someone does not want the landscaping in their yard anymore) or started plants from seed and cannot use all of them so they sell the excess.

I have seen some pretty flowers blooming next to fields and intend on asking the owners if I can dig them up. I would recommend asking for permission before taking plants or seeds from an area.

To buy plants at a reduced costs, wait until later in the growing season, August and September in the Midwest. Many garden centers put their remaining stock on sale since it is the end of the gardening season and you may find good deals on plants you want.

Regardless of what you choose to do in your garden, there are sources of each item that can reduce the out-of-pocket costs. It may take a bit of effort, but you can be proud of the produce from your garden and lovely plants in your yard. Happy gardening!

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  1. Gardens today have to be mulched, and composted or at least soul additives, rain water is not what it used to be. To help water your garden after you plant it you should look into rain collection systems or using grey water.

  2. I absolutely agree about using rain water and gray water. In fact, I have two rain barrels which collect rain water for watering all my plants including trees, shrubs and vegetables. See an earlier post about green living.