These frugal gardening ideas will help you save money in the garden.
Every time the price of groceries goes up, there is increased interest in vegetable gardening and food preservation. Unfortunately, this also means higher prices at the garden centers and difficulty finding seeds, plants and canning supplies. Sometimes it feels like you can’t win, but there are some ways to stretch your gardening dollars.
1. Start with seeds
Do you have seeds left over from last year? Most vegetable seeds will still germinate, even if they are a year or two old. If they were stored in a cool, dry place, their viability may be only minimally affected. When we find old seeds, we will plant 3 or 4 instead of one. Even if the viability has dropped to only 25%, we should see at least one seedling appear per hole. The one notable exception is parsnip seeds – their germination drops to zero after one year, so you will have to purchase new seeds every year if you want parsnip fritters this summer.
2. Time it right
If you prefer to buy plants (“starts”), you’ll see higher prices here as well. To avoid losing those expensive tomato, eggplant, or pepper plants to a late freeze, look up your last frost date in the Sunset Western Garden Book. Wait until after this date to plant those summer vegetables.
3. Lift and separate
Most vegetable pots are over-planted to make them look larger and more appealing. Look closely, and you will see two or three individual tomato, eggplant or pepper plants in each pot. Vegetables and herbs such as onions, basil, parsley, leeks and chives can contain dozens of little plants. If you are patient, these can be carefully teased apart and planted separately. Keep in mind that this process will result in loss of root material, so the baby transplants will need extra attention until they recover. I recommend trimming the top part of the plant so the roots have a chance to catch up. Too many leaves and too few roots will result in a sad or dead plant.
4. Propagate cuttings
Alternatively, tomato plants are easy to propagate by cuttings, so one good-sized plant can give you enough material for several new plants. Simply cut a 6-inch side branch and strip all but the top leaves from it. Place it in water and new roots will appear within a week or so. These can be planted outside and will grow quickly once the weather warms up.
5. Get out there
Some seeds simply aren’t available in the stores. We’ve found that zucchini and summer squash seeds have been in short supply in previous years. Start seed shopping early! Look for local gardening groups and seed exchanges that will give you an opportunity to trade goodies and make friends. Master gardeners and master food preservers are finally starting to have in-person events, so check with your local cooperative extension for classes and workshops. Spring plant sales are also coming back, so you don’t have to limit your shopping to garden centers and big-box stores anymore.