Frugal Gardening

Posted by on Mar 8, 2015 in Frugal For Everyone | 57 comments


Early Spring Gardening – something to look forward to.

Our brutal winter was spent armchair gardening – going through seed catalogs, gardening magazines. making plans and dreaming, but then I realized something.

Gardening magazines are, for the most part, aimed at people with oodles of money. With many of the people I know, myself included, that is not the case.

Gardening, done right, needn’t be a costly affair. It can, and should be, enjoyable, relaxing and well within the means of frugal budgets. Below are some of my favourite gardening practices that will not only save money, they are also good for the environment and often therapeutic for the gardener.

gardening1. Take care of what you own. This is a biggie. Gardening tools are expensive but with proper maintenance they can last for years. This, of course,  means no replacement expense plus there’s an environmental bonus: less garbage added to our overflowing landfills. The pruning shears shown are at least 20 years old. Giving them and other gardening tools a wipe-down with WD-40 every Fall and Spring keeps them rust-free and in perfect working condition.

2. Equipment. It has been mentioned before that buying at the right time can save a lot of money. For garden equipment, March is the right time to buy. This is an in-between time for Retailers. It therefore makes sense that they offer great bargains in order to get customers into the store and keep inventory moving. Keep in mind though that you don’t need a different tool for every different job. We have 4 acres of lawn to cut and maintain and our equipment is minimal. My husband has a riding mower to cut the grass and a lopper to keep the fruit trees pruned. Other than that, we have:

  • A good wheelbarrow;
  • A really good pointed garden spade – this is invaluable and something that is used all the time;
  • A garden fork – to loosen soil, break up clods and lift plants;
  • A multipurpose rake.

Small garden hand tools include:

  • Pruning shears and a small handsaw. If my shears won’t cut through something, the handsaw will;
  • A hand trowel and hand cultivator;
  • and, that’s it.

3. Recycle: Make use of what you already own. Before throwing anything in the blue box or the garbage, consider how it could be used in the garden.gardening This isn’t only good for the environment, it’s great for the pocket book.

Some Suggestions:

  • Old slatted blinds make terrific strong, weather-proof plant labels. The slats are taken apart and cut to the size that works best. A permanent marker is used to label them. These will really be appreciated when putting out new plants.
  •  A plastic meat tray plus a clear plastic lid (part of a bake and carry tray) makes a great little no-cost greenhouse for starting new plants:
  • The plastic boxes that prepared salad greens come in could also be used for the same purpose. As a matter of fact, any clear plastic container that has a base and a top will work;
  • Old pantyhose cut into strips can be used to tie plants to stakes. The elastic in the hose has enough give that it won’t cut into the plants like string would – no need to buy plastic clips;
  • When cleaning up the Spring garden, save any good sized branches that you find – these can be used for natural looking plant stakes;
  • If you grow tomatoes, start saving egg shells now, you’ll need lots. Let them dry, then crush and freeze until needed. These are put into the planting hole before planting the tomato plants (12 crushed egg shells for each tomato plant). They’ll do wonders for your tomatoes.

 4. Starting seeds – huge money saver:

Most flowergardenings, herbs and vegetables are easy to start from seed, no special equipment needed, and this can save a ton of money. I prefer to use small peat pots, rather than planting trays, to start seeds – this disturbs plants the least during transplanting and gives them a better start. And the cost is minimal – these were purchased at the dollar store, 26 pots for $1.00.

The Aster description below shows how much can be saved by starting your own seeds:

Aster – Dwarf Border Type (attracts pollinators) – flowers from mid July to frost – easy to start indoors six weeks before last frost. Cost of a packet containing 175-275 seeds is $2.25. If you were to buy a flat of 12 plants, you would easily pay $5.00.  Tip: Plant more than you need and swap with gardening friends and neighbours. Great way to get a selection of plants at very little cost.

This is just one example. There are many more plants that are easy to start (and to swap). Leftover seeds can be kept for at least one year if placed in a well-sealed container and stored in the refrigerator.

5. Soil: There are times when frugal means paying more and buying soil is one such time. If it’s necessary to buy soil (or soil amendments), get the very best quality you can afford. Poor soil will create all kinds of  problems with pests and plant diseases and end up costing more in the long run. Good, healthy soil will produce strong plants better able to fight off disease and pests.

Taking care of the environment goes hand and hand with frugal gardening. Proper equipment maintenance and recycling wherever possible means less cost for the gardener and less garbage for the landfill. Works for me.

Do you have any frugal gardening tips? How about ways to combine gardening with improving the environment. Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Talk to you again next week,



  1. Lenie, your blog has encouraged me to go buy some peat pots (at a dollar store, no less) and tomato seeds. I used to grow tomatoes like that years ago and simply drifted away from the practice. And now is the time! Thanks for all these great tips!
    🙂 Ramona

    • Ramona, I’m pretty sure that you’ll be awful glad that you’re back to growing them the day you taste that first tomato right off the plant. There’s nothing like it. Once all danger of frost is past, add a few basil plants close to the tomato area – they’ll help keep bugs away and of course, basil and tomatoes taste great together.

      • Lenie, I’ve been buying tomato plants in pots, already well started. Last year, a few weeks after re-potting them in commercially bought potting soil mixed with compost, almost all developed some weird blackening problem–i.e., the leaves got “weird” looking and the tomatoes themselves blackened from the bottom up. A huge waste of time and money. This year I’ll likely stay clear of compost and buy a better quality soil than I did last year. Any idea of what the problem may have been?

        • Hi Ramona, your soil was probably part of the problem – not enough calcium. Buy a cheap soil tester to check the Ph level of the soil – should be between 6.5 and 6.8 for tomatoes. Then use the crushed egg shells – 1. Dig the hole, 2. Use 3/4 of the egg shells, 3. Plant the tomato and 4. Sprinkle the rest of the egg shell over top of the roots. Finally watch the watering – especially in pots. Tomatoes don’t like too much water or uneven watering. Also make sure the pot is big enough for the size of the tomato. Ask at the gardening centre, they’ll be able to help. (I know lots of supermarkets and DIY stores sell plants but you can’t beat an actual garden centre if you want to get really good advice). This sounds like more work than it really is so don’t let that put you off. There’s nothing like taking a bite out of a just picked tomato. Yum.

          • Thank you! Will give all a try. 🙂

          • All the best.

  2. I wish I wish I had read this back in the day when I did so much gardening. Taking care of my tools was always high on my list. But it never dawned on me to use meat trays and old panty hose! Brilliant! My last year with a garden, I started all of my impatiens from seed. I used a ton of them, so this saved me so much money! Great tips!

    • Hi Jacquie, starting plants from seeds has to be the biggest money saver and it really is so easy to do. I think so many people are brainwashed into thinking they need heat mats and gro-lights etc. which isn’t so at all. What they need are dirt, light (a sunny spot in a south facing window) air and a bit of water. Anyone taking a little care can do it. I’ll bet you felt really good planting all those impatiens you started, right? Did you give them all a little extra pat when you planted them?

  3. Oh dear Lenie. I have to admit, we are not frugal gardeners at all. We’ve worked hard to be able to hire a landscaping service throughout the year and truthfully I don’t know what we would do without them. What this DOES save me, is looking at all those gardening magazines and wanting for more. So within our budget, we have lovely colors throughout the year, people who we can call and say, “guess what you planted that did not make it through the winter” and they come to pull it out and put in something new. I admit; if my husband and I were the gardeners we’d be on some kind of watch list on our street!

    • Hi Pat – I love reading your comments. You always say what you say with such a humorous twist. The older I get, the more I would appreciate some help but to give the whole lot away to some landscaping company defeats the purpose (not necessarily the result) of gardening. I find going out in the garden and getting dirty a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Very relaxing, at least to me.

  4. Back when I lived in New Zealand, a nation of gardners, these were all relevant rules and bear reminding. Nothing is worse than getting all set to do a job and finding that the right tool is not in the right place or has begun the disintegration process.

    • Tim, you’re right about the tools – I have a nice little basket that my husband made for me that I keep everything in and carry around with me. I also find it very frustrating to go do something and find I haven’t got the right products, hence the recycled stuff. It’s so much easier and less costly to look around for something that will work than take an hour or two to drive to a garden centre.

  5. My husband is the gardening lover and I’m so glad because he does all the things you mention, whereas I have been known in the past to waste perfectly good tools by not being careful with them. I love the results of gardening but not the process. I do appreciate those who are frugal gardeners.

    • Hi Beth . Good there’s one gardener in the family – you get to enjoy the results without the work. Not a bad deal, unless like me it’s the getting dirty part that’s the most enjoyable. That and picking the fresh produce. I love going out and grabbing fresh lettuce and herbs for supper. But my favourite time in the garden is first thing in the morning – like 7 o’clock. Everything is quiet, smells wonderful and is such an amazing start to the day.

  6. I’ve lately thought of starting a little garden on my balcony. I’ve never had a garden before as this is the first time in my adult life when I even have a balcony, let alone a yard. Thanks for the great gardening tips. My biggest concern is making sure I get pots that are made of some sort of natural material. Since I can’t ever plant anything, I want to make sure I’m not growing my plants with chemicals. You’ve encouraged me to dive in and at least give things a try. Will see how it goes.

    • Hi Erica, a balcony is a great place to grow things – my mom and dad retired to an apartment and mom had all kinds of plants growing there – both in standing pots and hanging ones. You can use clay pots and for the hanging ones the moss-lines ones are good but will require lots of water. Good luck, hope you’re very successful and gives you lots of enjoyment.

  7. Great gardening tips, Lenie! I beer in the colder weather areas everyone can’t wait to get out of those armchairs and into the garden and hands in the dirt. It is so much less expensive to grow your own fruits and vegetables than buying them. Plus you know no pesticides because you grew them yourself. :). Plus it can be very stress relieving to get out and work in the sunshine and soil.

    • Hi Susan, You are right. For the first time we are actually experiencing plus temperatures of +4C (about 40F) and I got the gardening bug. May have to put it on hold for a day or two since there has to be two feet of snow on my gardens yet. But as soon as that’s gone, I’ll be out there. I think working in the sunshine is one of the things that makes us feel so much better in the summer – vitamin D can’t compete with the real thing.

  8. Now that we’ve got the daylight, let’s get rid of all this snow so we can take a look at the ground where some gardening might take place. A timely post. Many tips here that I never would have thought of.

    • Hi Ken, glad you find new information, always like to hear that. We still have a pile of snow but I couldn’t wait. I am so sick of winter that I am just waiting for that first patch of green. But this week above normal temperatures will help.

  9. Gardening is not for me Lenie, never has been and never will be.

    The only time of my life when I did a bit was when I was a teenager and I told daddy I wanted something and he told me to clear away weeds from quite a large section of a flowerbed in order to get it. We lived in a huge house with an almost palace like garden. Daddy wanted me to understand that if you want something in life you have to do something in return.

    • Catarina, I’m not at all surprised that you aren’t into gardening. Reading your posts you just don’t sound the type. I can see you more attending cultural events, right? Sounds like your daddy was a smart man and taught you a valuable lesson. Nothing worthwhile comes without effort.

  10. We got 21 feet of snow this winter, and I am still unable to see anything but feet of snow on the ground. Spring still looks really far off. I will begin my growing inside my house using peat pots, gives you an extra month of growing where I live.
    I have a small garden, but have to rototill it in the spring. Instead of spending money on a rototiller, I bought an attachment for my grass trimmer. It works quit well if you have a small area needing planting.

    • William, aren’t you getting tired of all that snow. I know I keep looking out the window to see if any bare patches have appeared. Nothing yet but as soon as there are some, I’ll be out there cleaning up. I can just imagine the branches laying around after the strong winds we’ve had. That attachment sounds like a great idea – bet you saved a pile of money on that. I have to start plants indoors because I think we’re probably in the same zone – 5a.

  11. Lenie, this is the year I grow a little herb garden. Hopefully, my little-potted seedlings will have a yard to be planted in. I figure we will see the ground here in Boston around mid-May.

    • Hi Kyre – you guys really did get dumped on, didn’t you. We saw pictures on the news the other night where you’re still digging out and this has cost the Boston economy billions. Wasn’t is good to see the sun. I know here we still have a pile of snow on the ground but nothing like you have. Good luck with your herb garden. It is so nice to go out and pick some fresh organic herbs for that salad or sandwich, nothing beats it.

  12. My cousin has a beautiful garden that I just love. It looks very unmaintained as she has nature flowers (is that a word?) growing in there. She told me how much time it takes to maintain it. I admire people with gardens, but at that point I was like, “OK, now I’m happy to have just a balcony!” Some years ago I had flowers there, but it appears to be that if we have a proper summer, it gets so hot that they don’t really bloom. I also had cherry tomatoes a couple of times. First time, I picked the last ones in December. Second time, I picked the ones there were when we came home from the store with the plant and that was that.
    Now my balcony has a flowery bench blanket and a collection of colorful kettlebells, LOL

    But I’m looking forward watching your garden blooming over the next few months!

    • Hi Eve, It’s quite an eye opener isn’t it, to learn how much time it takes a maintain a natural or wild garden. You would think once it got started it could just grow on it’s own like weeds. I will bet though her place is loaded with bees and butterflied. Terrific. I will keep you informed about what’s happening in my garden. Have a few ideas I want to try out.

  13. Lenie I love these tips! I’ve always admired people who gardened but never attempted it because I’ve always traveled so much it wasn’t realistic – heck, I couldn’t even keep a house plant alive when I’d be gone 3 weeks at a pop! Now I’m staying at home most of the time but I live close to the ocean and between the heavy trade winds and salt air haven’t had much luck even with container gardening on the deck. Since my home is pretty much wall to wall windows I’ve decided to give indoor gardening a try this spring so your tips are really going to come in handy. 🙂

    • Hi Marquita, how lucky you are, first to live where you do and then to have all those windows. I somehow thought all of Hawaii was one big garden – whenever you see pictures of the Island, that’s what is shown. Course that is similar to thinking that we in Canada all live in igloos watching out for polar bears. LOL. I think an indoor garden would be fantastic. With your windows it would look beautiful from both sides. Good luck.

  14. Fantastic hints you’ve given us here Lenie. And I love all the recycling uses, especially reusing pantyhose!! Actually my favorite was the tip about egg cartons and eggshells in the tomato plant soil. Brilliant. Much appreciated.

    • Hi A.K. that egg shell thing really works – it provides the tomato with needed nutrients. Recycling has become a big of a personal challenge. I have two large soda bottles here and I’m trying to think of ways to turn them into water stations for the birds and butterflies. Since I’m going to be working on attracting them, I will need water for them.

  15. Hi Lenie

    The only time I ever came across gardening was in my school days and that was because we took Agriculture as a hobby. Besides I stay in the city and buildings are quite crowded and it is not gardening friendly but I did learn two things today.

    1. Nothing is useless and can be recycled for something else
    2. Having equipment is one thing, maintaining it is another. Equipment need to be maintained.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • I’m glad I was able to pass on useful information to you – with all the ‘things’ we want today it is a good thing that much can be recycled or we would have even bigger garbage problems than we do.

  16. Lenie – I wish you lived near me as I could do with lots of gardening tips. All my neighbours have lovely gardens and I have to work really hard to maintain ours. In fact I am almost thinking of finding a gardener to take over the work.

    • Hi Mina – maybe you should cut back on the flowers, add pretty shrubs and trees and use lots of mulch. You can add a few flowers in pots to brighten certain areas. That will probably cut way back on the work upkeep.

  17. Thank you for simple tips especially that spring is coming up and this is a great way to prepare for the season. With the high cost of supplying our hobby, you gave us an alternative to be frugal – especially for gardening.

    • Hi Mahal – glad you like the tips. It’s easy to get carried away spending money when you’re gardening. If you always look for alternatives, not only do you usually find them, it reminds you that you’re working with a budget.

  18. Great tips! I love gardening and am also annoyed about how expensive everything is in the gardening catalogs. So, at the end of each season, I restock things I used and need to replace the next season. I save a ton that way. I usually have to replace a UV mess so the birds don’t eat my grapes. I will be bookmarking this post and reviewing closer to vegetable planting season. Thanks for sharing your tips.

    • Hi Sabrina – you are smart to restock things at the end of the season when they have all the clearance sales. I never seem to need a lot other than some good compost and seeds. I don’t have grapes although I have thought of starting some but that’s for another year = this year my focus will be on pollinator plants.

  19. Starting things from seed is definitely an area I fall down in, but as I am in getting on a budget mode, I think I might try to start my tomato plants that way this year. My sister has for years and she has great luck (though probably a greener thumb than me…)

    • Hi Jeri, I hope you do start your tomato plants – nothing tastes as good as a homegrown tomato right out of the garden. You’re right about the budget, starting plants saves piles of money. Good luck.

  20. Too bad I live in an apartment. I eventually want to start growing some of my own food. That way I will know that its not full of pesticides.

    • Hi Jason – if you have any kind of balcony you could grow a small salad garden. That’s one part I really enjoy – walking out my backdoor and choosing what I want to throw in the salad that night. And you’re right – no pesticides.

  21. Great tips as always Lenie. The last time I did a bit of gardening was when I was a teenager and I really enjoyed it. Now where we live now is a flat and we don’t have a garden. Maybe in the future when I win the lottery, I will be able to afford a house and garden. I will forward this link to my friend who adores gardening.


    • Hi ChinWe – here’s hoping you win the lottery and get that house and garden. Gardening really is a relaxing hobby. There is always something more to plan and dream about. Thanks for sharing with your friend.

  22. Loved this–shared it on Facebook because I have so many gardening friends–including a cousin who works at Home Depot and has a master garden every year!

    • Hi Rose – thanks for sharing to Facebook. I hope your gardening cousin reads this and leaves a comment. It would be interesting to hear what a master gardener thinks of it all. Maybe he/she might even leave a tip or two.

  23. Thanks for this nice article. Keep it up. 🙂

  24. Lenie- I have three Areogardens going. My tomato plants looks like a jungle. One of the plants we are getting red tomatoes off of and others are flowering like crazy with little green tomatoes. The one in my office where my computers are located are loving it. It is like having a hot house. Now my husband wants to try to grow them as starters and put them in the ground in May. I love to watch plants grow.

    • Hi Arleen – Late next summer I may approach you to write a post about Areogardens. That is somethimg I know nothing about and I think it would be a really cheerful hobby for the winter. I’ve got microgreens growing in my window but when it comes to gardening and growing things you can never know too much. Thanks for sharing that.

  25. Like Catarina above, I am not a gardener. Nevertheless, a sprawling empire of unmown lawn currently demands my attention. Father Time has sprung forward, thereby removing one last obstacle to the application of rotating blades to Mother Nature’s bounty. Do excuse me while I get to work, won’t you?

    • Hi Andy – you have been excused to get on with the work. I will say however, that you are fortunate to be able to see that sprawling lawn. Ours is still covered with snow which brings with it a totally different set of chores – not nearly as pleasant as riding on a lawn mower. BTW – you have quite a gift for words – Father Time and Mother Nature? Never would have thought of putting those two together.

  26. I’ve been thinking of buying a wheelbarrow for years. Maybe this year I will. Need to order some seeds – yesterday I finally saw some ground in our backyard (after months of snow and ice).

    • Hi Leora, you’re lucky you can see some ground. Ours is still all buried under snow – I’ve been itching to get out and clean up the yard but have to wait a little bit longer. As for the wheelbarrow, I couldn’t get along without ours – saves a lot of heavy work.

  27. You immediately back to my mother poring over the Stokes catalogue during winter and dreaming of the garden she would grow come spring. I don’t have space to garden where I live now but think it sad so few people garden anymore while at the same time more people go to bed hungry than before.

    • Pat, you’ll laugh when I tell you Stokes is one of the catalogs I browse through. They have been a favourite of ours since the early 80’s. I don’t truly understand how, in a country like Canada, we can have anyone going to bed hungry not to mention the rest of the world. But that is an entirely different topic, one that seems to have no quick solution.