Monday, March 28, 2011

Pinching Garden Pennies: Plants On A Budget

Tis the season:  I've been bitten by the spring gardening bug, and I'm jonesing to get my hands in the soil and start working on my little Square Foot Garden.

Alas, the weather is freezing cold and planting is still a ways off here because of frost through most of April.  Our little microclimate area is a wee bit unpredictable, and I'd rather not plant early only to lose everything with a hard freeze.

So, what's a girl to do?  Lots of planning and looking at garden articles and magazines and books. 

One thing I've been especially interested in this year is stretching my garden dollars -- in a still tight economy this is really important for most folks.  That's especially true with our family as we are also currently thinking about ways to be more careful with our money so that we can teach our daughter the value of thrift as a means to help others by using the money more wisely and for better purposes.

We want to give more of our disposable income to charity, and in order to do that, we need to save more of our disposable income.  We talked a lot about ways to do that over the weekend and we are nibbling around the edges on a project that I'll share much more about in the days ahead.

Let's just say that thinking about spending more wisely for the greater good is something we've been talking about a lot the last few days.

In any event, I've been re-reading some of my gardening books to pull ideas from them on wiser use of my gardening resources.  I've also been doing a bit of research and reading online.  And I want to share some of that with all of you.

I found this from The Telegraph particularly useful as back-up for things I've already been doing:
I am a huge believer in phasing the development of your space rather than trying to get everything done in the first season. Have a master plan in mind and then work on sections each season as time and funds permit. I am convinced the best gardens come to fruition this way. Plan your paved area to be sizeable if you want it, but just put gravel in to start with and get ahead with the less expensive elements, such as planting, first. The paving proper can come later.

Another great money-saver is to get into propagation. You can grow large numbers of plants and you will be surprised how quickly they start to bulk up.
Last spring, I bought several tiny pots of daylillies for between $1 and $1.50 each. I could have gotten them in a much larger size, fully matured and ready to bulk up my perennial border -- but for the cost of a single larger pot of daylillies, I managed to get 4 smaller plants.  For the cost of a full-sized one?  I got 10 plants.

And you know what?  By planting them last year and then being patient, this year they are coming up looking super healthy and fully matured, and my border will be much more lush this year for a quarter of what it would have cost me in initial outlay.

What's even better is that I'll be able to divide these by next year, and double my number of plants again without having to pay a dime for them.  Woo hoo!

Early in the season is when most garden centers and local greenhouses have smaller plants as starters that you can pick up much more economically than you can fully grown and matured large pots.  If you need yard in an instant, the smaller plants are not going to do it for you -- but it will cost you dearly to make everything happen at once in your yard.

The wiser course is almost always starting small and exercising a bit of patience, filling in the holes in your perennials while they are growing with some colorful annuals -- like marigolds and petunias, which grow like crazy here in WV, for example.

The other thing is to start your plants from seed.  I'm not as good with that as planting out something some more adept person has started for me, honestly, but this year I am going to give it a try with my veggies.  Lettuce and radishes are easy veggies for newbies, and The Peanut always loves to watch her sprouts come up as the weather warms and cooperates with our little garden plans.

If folks have favorite varieties of veggies or flowers that they have started happily from seed, please share with the rest of us.  I'm on the hunt for veggies that will start well but will also survive our hot, humid nastiness in the summer -- which for us usually means a lot of herbs and tomatoes this year and trips to the farmer's market for most of the rest, since our plot is small and my patience has not been vast the last couple of years.

But this year?  I'm working on it.  Tell me about your plans for summer gardening - let's all pretend it is sunshiny, warm and glorious today, whether it is or not.  I don't know about you, but I could really use a little summer today...

(Photo of last year's Spring veggie garden by Christy Hardin Smith.)

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