How to Save Money Gardening

There are many great reasons to start a garden, but one of the most common is to save money on food costs.

gardening tools in soil

Unfortunately a lot of first time gardeners quickly become overwhelmed with the initial costs of gardening — building raised bed, filling them with soil, buying all the pots and tools, and then buying seeds and new plants. It can quickly become a very expensive hobby, costing far more than your grocery bill.

But it IS possible to have a garden and save money. We’ve got some important tips below to help you keep costs down and maximize your investment for a bountiful harvest.

Start Small to Save Money

The best way to save money gardening is to start out small.

If this is your first garden, it might be tempting to go all in building beautiful raised beds for all your favorite vegetables. Even if you can afford the materials to build the beds, keep in mind that growing a lot of different kinds of vegetables in a large space can be overwhelming for new gardeners. Each plant has different needs, and it’s easy to get behind on tasks when life gets busy with summer activities. Before you know it, your lovely beds are choked with weeds and half dead plants.

It’s better to start out small until you get an idea of what you can handle. That way, you can build your confidence and your garden as you go.

raised bed gardens with greens and other vegetables growing
Plan Ahead to Save Money

It’s easy to go overboard buying seeds before you’re even ready to plant. And who among us hasn’t been known to leave the garden center with more plants than we had room for?

With a garden plan, you know exactly what you need to buy and when you need to plant it. Whether you’re buying seed or starts, you can plan ahead and look for plant sales and seed swaps to save money.

And you’ll know the right time to plant for the best harvest. One of the most common mistakes new gardeners make is planting at the wrong time for their climate. They plant summer plants too early and lose them to frost, or plant cool season plants too late and they die in the heat.

Grow the Right Things to Save Money

To save money gardening, maximize your space, time, and money by focusing on growing things that will give you the most bang for your buck. Growing vegetables that are expensive to buy, like melons and tomatoes, will help you cut your grocery bill for very little investment. So will growing some of the vegetables you regularly buy, like green beans, broccoli, and zucchini.

Growing vegetables that can be harvested over the course of the season can help you save money gardening. Cut-and-come-again harvesting means you take a small part of the plant while leaving it to continue growing. Lettuce and other leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard are great garden plants for this. As are many herbs like basil and oregano.

Perhaps the most obvious way to save money gardening is to grow vegetables that can be stored, canned or frozen. Potatoes and winter squash can easily last several months when stored properly. Vegetables like tomatoes, beets, and cucumbers can be preserved by canning. And if you have a larger freezer, you can save almost anything to stretch your savings all year long.

garden bed with different plants growing in rows
Reuse and Recycle to Save Money

Starting your own seeds can help you save money, but you will still need to invest in a few tools and materials to get started planting seeds. If you’re careful, you can turn that investment into big savings down the road. You can often find grow lights on sale in the off season, or buy them used from gardeners who are upgrading their equipment.

Whether you’re using planting trays or soil blocks, you can reuse them for years to come. If you’re really frugal, you can even use items you may already have. Sprouting seeds in egg cartons, or in compostable trays made from toilet paper rolls or rolled up newspaper, is a great way to save money. You can also use containers that you would otherwise throw out, like milk cartons, yogurt containers, and takeout boxes. Make sure they’re clean, and poke a few holes in the bottom, and voila! Free planting tray!

When it comes to building your raised beds, you don’t have to use brand new lumber. You can find scrap wood from hardware stores, get old lumber from houses being remodeled, and even use old pallets. Just make sure the wood isn’t pressure treated, and you’re good to go.

And you don’t need to fill the whole thing with top quality soil. The bottom of deep beds can be filled with limbs, leaves, grass clippings and other natural materials that will break down over time. In fact, the entire hugelkulture movement is based on this method. You will just need to top off the last foot with good soil and compost for planting.

You can even skip building raised beds, and either grow your garden directly in the soil in your yard, in strawbales, or in containers. Many frugal gardeners grow in all kinds of containers. You can buy special grow bags or pots from the garden center, but some gardeners simply use five-gallon buckets. And some have even been known to use a kiddie pool.

Combine Your Efforts to Save Money

One of the easiest ways to save money gardening is to share the costs with other gardeners in your area. If your neighbor is also building a garden, consider going in together to buy soil, compost, and mulch in bulk. You may even be able to share the fee for delivery.

Some garden tools only need to be used once in a while, so consider forming a gardening group with friends and neighbors to share equipment. Or find a tool library where you can rent or ‘check out’ items.

Seed and plant swap meets are a great way to save money. Most seed packages come with far more seeds than you can use, so swapping your extras with someone else helps spread the cost out. Or maybe you have more tomato seedlings than you need? Swap with a friend for one of her extra cucumber starts.

close up of homemade potting soil
Make Your Own to Save Money

Buying compost can be expensive. But it’s very easy to make at home from you kitchen scraps, garden cuttings, and shredded paper. If you have the space, building a compost system is a great way to save money when it comes time to add compost to your garden. And it helps reduce the amount of green waste that gets sent to the landfill.

You can also make your own fertilizer mix, saving yourself quite a bit of money! And making your own gives you greater flexibility to customize your mix to fit your garden’s specific needs.

And finally, saving seeds from your garden this year will help save money on next year’s garden.

Smart Gardener Can Help You Save Money

Smart Gardener makes it easy to start a garden. We can help you decide which plants will work best in your garden, give you the advice you need to get started, and send you weekly reminders to keep you on track all season long!

How to Make Your Own Potting Soil

Making your own potting soil is easy and can save you a ton of money! Here are several of our favorite recipes for you to help you get started with your spring planting!

Despite having soil in its name, potting soil is actually a soil-less mixture crafted for growing plants in pots. Also referred to as potting mix, most commercial mixes generally contain a blend of lightweight and fast draining materials that can include things like peat moss, sand, perlite, vermiculite, limestone, compost, wood chips, and fertilizers, depending on what they’re being used for.

close up of potting soil with vermiculite and compost

Potting soil is ideal for all the stages of growing plants in pots, whether its starting seeds, transplanting seedlings, or growing vegetables on your patio. Each application can have a slight variation in mixture, but they all have the same basic characteristics. High quality potting soil should be light, loose, and have a consistent mixture of materials.

The good news is that it is very easy to make your own potting soil for each stage of growing.

Basic Potting Soil Ingredients
  • Coconut coir or other peat moss alternatives
  • Sand
  • Perlite
  • Vermiculite
  • Limestone
  • Compost
  • Composted wood chips
  • Fertilizer
close up of coconut coir used as an ingredient in potting soil
Peat Moss or Coconut Coir?

Peat moss is harvested from peat bogs, and while it is an excellent growing medium, it is environmentally destructive. These ancient peat bogs have captured large amounts of greenhouse gasses, and the harvesting process involves not only draining the bogs (which is terrible for the wildlife that rely on it), but releases tons of that carbon into the atmosphere. Countries like England and Wales are in the process of banning sales of peat, with other countries set to follow suit.

We recommend using coconut coir, or coco peat, in your homemade potting soil instead. Made from the fibers between the shell and outer covering of coconuts, coconut coir has excellent water-retention, has an ideal pH of 6.0, and has natural antifungal properties.

close up of vermiculite granules
Perlite or Vermiculite?

Perlite is made from mined volcanic rock, and is mostly silicon dioxide, while vermiculite is made from aluminum-silicate. Both are heated to high temperatures to create a light porous material ideal for improving aeration and water retention.

Both have neutral pH levels and retain water well, but work better in different applications. Perlite is more commonly used for succulents and other dry-climate plants, as it doesn’t hold as much water as vermiculite.

We generally recommend vermiculite for vegetable seed starting and seedlings because of its ability to hold more water, but perlite will work well in larger containers with established plants.

compostable pots for seed starting, with potting soil
Potting Soil for Seed Starting

A common mistake new gardeners make is trying to start seeds indoors using regular garden soil, which is often full of weed seeds, insect larva, and fugal spores. All of which can damage the fragile seedlings as they emerge.

Instead, look for a light, finely textured potting mix comprised mainly of coconut coir, sand, and vermiculite. Or you can make your own:

  • 2 parts coconut coir fiber (or other peat alternative)
  • 2 parts vermiculite
  • 1 part coarse sand
Potting Soil for Transplanting

Once your seedlings are established and have grown enough to need transplanting, it is time to switch to a potting mix with a little organic compost and a small amount of fertilizer to help them continue growing strong. A good recipe to make your own:

  • 2 parts coconut coir fiber (or other peat alternative)
  • 2 parts vermiculite
  • 1 part finely screened compost
  • fertilizer
Potting Soil for Container Growing

For smaller containers, and especially those placed indoors, potting soil is still preferred as it is less likely to contain insect larva or other microorganisms that can harm your plants. You can make a large batch of your own:

  • 3 parts coconut coir fiber
  • 2 parts perlite or vermiculite
  • 3 parts compost
  • fertilizer

For very larger containers, it may be more economical to use a blend of potting soil and garden soil to get the benefits of water retention and aeration from the vermiculite and coconut fiber.