How to Garden on a Budget

Growing a garden on a budget seems a bit “duh”, doesn’t it? Isn’t gardening an automatic money-saver, grow your own produce and all that? Well, not always…

When I quit my job to focus solely on Thrifty Guardian, our already-tight budgets were tightened a bit more to ensure we could maintain our savings and allow for a cushion should the momentum on my site slow.

One thing I cut (much to my husband’s dismay) was our previously robust gardening budget from previous years. Normally our gardening budget allotted for more than just vegetables and included landscaping – that we of course did ourselves but nevertheless could get pricey as we worked to turn our backyard into a sanctuary.

As I considered the cost of our garden versus what we’d end up spending at the Farmer’s Market for produce, I realized we still needed to allot something for the garden lest we go over-budget on food. We do almost all of our home shopping at Lowe’s and while I do love their prices (especially if you have their credit card and get 5% back!), we still had to find a way to cut back a bit.

So what are your options? Can you have a beautiful, bountiful yard on a budget?

Well, of course!

Gardens on a shoestring budget are how our grandparents and great-grandparents survived the Great Depression, and there are certainly some modern and some not-so-modern ways to get back to truly enjoying a gardening hobby without spending an absurd amount of money.

You might find the ingenuity needed to cheaply garden can be as rewarding as biting into a juicy tomato or the crisp green beans you grew yourself.

Getting Started – Garden Beds, Containers, and Soil

Gardening on a Budget

Raised beds made from store-bought lumber look beautiful and they’re quite useful (especially if you have a male dog who likes to “mark his territory”…), but fresh lumber is expensive.

There are a few other options that are readily available in most places that won’t cost you an arm and a leg:

  • Palettes – chances are good you know someone who is always making insanely cool stuff from palettes. Well, that’s because once you’re comfortable with it, they’re a cheap source of lumber that has a rustic appeal to it. Check out your local Facebook re-sale groups or Craigslist and you’re sure to find some at a low cost. Picking apart some decently fresh palettes and reassembling them into garden boxes of various sizes is a great way to cut out the price of raw materials, and it also allows you to be one of those people. Ya know… those people; Pinterest palette people.
  • Cinder blocks – these guys. LOVE them. They’re everywhere, and even brand new, they’re only about a dollar at Lowe’s. They’re great for many reasons, but here’s two: you can use them as the border of a raised bed, then use pond liner or tarp as a liner for the inside, creating a pretty easily constructed garden bed. OR you can use them as individual double-planters. We did this last year; I used some painter’s tape and spray paint to stencil on a cute little design. They’re great for planting in your front yard and can add a nice POP of color!
  • Containers for individual plants – those great little greenhouses with the individual cells are nice but of course cost money we don’t want to spend. A great way to start plants is in cardboard egg containers, just make sure you poke a hole in each bottom for drainage. Once you’ve got your young seedlings, you can widen the hole and then plant the entire carton in the ground. Cat litter containers are also great for individual plants that like space, like tomatoes, and are easy to move around as needed. Upcycle!

    Gardening on a Budget

  • Get dirty with me – Soil is often easy to get ahold of if you look on Craigslist or Facebook resale groups. People are always moving tons of dirt when building, and will often welcome someone willing to come by and take it off their hands. While I don’t recommend using this soil when starting your seeds, it can be great to fill in beds, flesh out your lawn when re-seeding, or used to help landscape.

Frugal Seeds and Starts

Again, since quality seed packs can sometimes be expensive, finding other ways to get seeds and starts is essential.

Gardening on a Budget

A few options are:

  • Joining a seed bank or trading group. Again, Craigslist or Facebook are great for this!
  • Better yet – talk to your neighbors! We have all sorts of plants, particularly hostas, that we gladly divide up and share with friends or neighbors. Let your friends and neighbors know you’re looking to flesh out your garden and they might have some plants they’d gladly give you starts of.
  • Use discarded food scraps. We got all of our tomato plants this year from a mushy tomato in the fridge. I literally tossed it into a pot of soil and about three weeks later we had a dozen healthy tomato starts to separate and transplant. Any fruit or veggie with seeds would work (in theory).
  • Some plants, like green onions, will grow back quickly if you just put the remaining roots in water after you’ve cut the green off.
  • Fresh basil (and other herbs for that matter) will often root easily when the bottoms are cut diagonally and placed in water. We have a few herbs outside this year that are remnants from store-bought herbs we had this winter, that we put in water, grew roots, and then transplanted.
  • Potatoes are great because they do the work for you. The “eyes” they grow are basically starts. Chop them into cubes and plant them (as long as they have eyes). You’ll have more stalks than you know what to do with.
  • Though a much more extensive topic than can be covered here, harvesting, drying, and storing seeds from your produce is a great way to ensure you have seeds for the next year, particularly if you’re growing heirloom varieties in their original forms.

Gardening on a Budget

Once you’ve gotten your containers and your seeds, it’s simply a matter of the day-to-day tending of your garden. Soon you’ll have bountiful crop of cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and all sorts of delicious goodies, allowing you to trade or sell your the excess of your bounty.

The simple act of gardening is a great way to get exercise (just make sure you wear some sunscreen!) and it provides a great return on a minimal investment, while allowing you to recycle things you were probably going to throw out anyway.

And if you’re looking to add in some decor, sign up for programs like SnagShout and there’s a good chance you can find a bunch of cheap (if not FREE) garden decor – it’s where we got all of ours from and we didn’t pay a cent! All it took was a few minutes of reviewing the product, which is something we often do anyway.

Add in a good compost heap for your food waste and you’ll reduce your spending, your carbon footprint, and your waistline – all of which of very thrifty ways to live!

My personal favorite thing about gardening is the time spent watering. Sometimes I let my son help, but often I’ll sneak out in the evenings, using the time to reflect on the day and enjoy a few moments of peace and sunshine to myself.

Do you garden? What do you most enjoy about it?

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20 Comments

  • Beth Giusti Reply

    My husband takes care of all of our flowers/plants in our yard. However I love our garden. Such a great investment!!

    • thriftyguardian Reply

      It really is! Having a nice outdoor space can make all the difference!

  • Christina Reply

    You are so creative with your thrifty ways to still be able to garden!! Love the kitty litter planters, I could make a thousand of those!

    • thriftyguardian Reply

      They’re especially great for growing tomatoes! This year we’re going to try painting them and using them as planters for the entire season. I’m so happy it’s finally Spring! 😀

  • Silly Mummy Reply

    Good advice! & I agree – gardening is surprisingly expensive! Love the cinder block idea!

    • thriftyguardian Reply

      Thank you! We’re going to try out a “cinder block garden bed” this year for our butterfly garden! Will update once that adventure is through 😉

  • Juana Reply

    This is great information!

    We moved into a house a couple months ago that has garden beds already set up, and it also came with a bag of organic soil. I’ve been considering just using seeds from the produce we buy to eat, but wasn’t sure about it because I am a novice at anything to do with planting. We also have a compost, and I LOVE being able to throw scraps in there, bc we save trash bags and hardly have our bin full in a week. It’s so nice not to have a ton of trash every week.

    I’m researching best practices for growing food, and kinda intimidated by it, but I really want to use the garden beds soon.

    Thanks for this post, it’s awesome!

    • thriftyguardian Reply

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Juana!! Composting is fantastic for many reasons, as I’m sure you know, but less garbage is probably the biggest perk!

  • Lorie Reply

    I’m wired to be “in my head” a lot, and gardening grounds me so beautifully (pun intended). Plus, taking on projects that require digging, squatting, hoeing, pitchforking, and so on are great strength work. I feel like I’m giving my bones and muscles the chance to feel strong and get limbered up. Note: I keep epsom salts around for sure – not only to boost my veg-producing plants as they get close to fruiting, but for me to soak in afterward!

    • thriftyguardian Reply

      I’ve only just recently heard about using epsom salts for gardening, but I have a 30 lb bag near my tub so I’ll definitely be trying it out! 🙂

  • jodie Reply

    As an indoor girl…the part that I like about gardens is the shopping for the plants and eating the vegies!! LOL
    Luckily we moved into a townhouse, so we didn’t have to worry about the outside!
    We aspire to grow our own herbs, but last year we even killed the mint! Talk about a brown thumb!!
    Jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

    • thriftyguardian Reply

      Haha we killed mint, too!! 🙁 I blame our awful soil, hoping it does better this year.

  • Molly Stevens Reply

    Gardening is expensive. I tried it one year with a 4X4 raised bed and it cost a lot and unfortunately I had a pretty bad yield. It wasn’t in the best location for sun. I love your ideas, but I gave up and enjoy my trips to the farmers’ market. I fantasize about developing a green thumb but not sure it will happen in my life time.

  • Linda Hobden Reply

    I’m not a gardener but that doesn’t mean to say I don’t appreciate people’s efforts in creating their little piece of paradise. My mum is a keen gardener – she finds tending her pots and hanging baskets therapeutic 😊

  • Austin Reply

    My garden and I are constantly at odds with each other. I’m a city slicker, who doesn’t have a green thumb, so I pretty much just try to keep the lawn mowed and the bamboo cleared. A few summers ago, my neighbors asked if they could plant veggies in my garden, and I let them have at it. That was fun, but we didn’t do it again the next summer. Perhaps your post will inspire me to try something new this year.

    Then again, I could just pave it over! 🙂

  • Sharon Duerst Reply

    Gardening in the high desert of central Oregon is challenging! We can get a deep freeze any month! Has been such a long winter, but at least we have a replenished water supply. Thinking I should do something to fertilize the roses we inherited when we bought this place summer before last…It’s still really early to do much here! Had a half inch of snow this morning!

  • Shopgirl Anonymous Reply

    I love to garden, normally by this time of the year my garden is starting to really show some serious growth, and I have already had a couple of batches of strawberries. Sadly, this year, we are displaced and it is driving me nuts. We don’t have a yard when I’m used to an acre. The little bit of yard space we do have is used by our next door neighbor constantly, but we rent so I figure I’m only temporary while this is their permanent home so I will just lay back and wait until next year to garden. But I’m dying…absolutely dying.

  • Raymond Reply

    The older I get the more I seem to want to appreciate my garden. These are good tips, thanks 🙂

  • Jennifer Reply

    We just moved back to my mom’s house. Growing up, my father had luscious gardens (flowers and veggies) all around the house. They’re all overgrown now. So, this year, I’m looking forward to getting my hands into the dirt. Love your cinder block idea and I will be “stealing” it.

  • Silly Mummy Reply

    I now have a garden, which I need to decide what to do with – so it was great to be reminded of these good ideas! Especially as I don’t want to spend too much!

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