Save Your Green for the Garden: How to Pursue Your Gardening Hobby on a Budget

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I’ll admit upfront – I’ve never been accused of having a green thumb. Killing a succulent in college was a clear indication that I hadn’t quite connected with the earth in the special way that many other gardening enthusiasts did. I loved plants and gardens but was wary to pursue this interest since I didn’t want to doom these plants to a (short) life of wilting. On top of that, although gardening isn’t the priciest of hobbies, it still has its expenses.

But then I inherited a small pot of dirt from a friend. She ensured me there was something waiting to pop up in the soil so I followed her very simple instructions: keep it near sunlight and water it. Sure enough, a little shoot emerged about a week later. What’s better, it kept growing! And let me tell you, even though I’d grown sprouts in elementary school, as a full-fledged adult who rarely had a successful plant interaction, this new growth was mesmerizing.

The little green shoots turned out to be green onions. Perhaps one of the easiest things to grow, but I didn’t care. On top of that, talk about a sustainable hobby! If I could continue to keep these things alive, I could put in an initial investment and then enjoy for years to come. I quickly went from a non-gardener to wanting to plan out a full on vegetable garden labyrinth (which isn’t that unusual in these parts of California) but researching the cost of a planter box put my ambitions on hold.

Gardening has traditionally been known as a fairly budget friendly activity, but I wasn’t prepared for the upfront cost to be substantial. Soil, plants, tools, materials, landscaping… things add up quickly! But of course, a little budgeting and little planning  are great ways to pursue any hobby while remaining financially secure. Here are a few ideas to help you get the most out of your gardening hobby:

Curate your perfect gardening experience

As you can tell by my own gardening experiences (and many failures), there’s a wide range of gardening expertise. That’s one of the best parts about the hobby… you can keep a few house plants, start an herb garden, or go full force in the backyard. But whatever way you approach your gardening hobby, you should focus on making it personalized to your preferences and your budget. It’s easy to go overboard when you embark on a new hobby but it’s also important to hash out the projected expenses and weigh the cost of pursuing something entirely new.

To help you get a clear view of your expenses, write out a simple budget. Research some of the costs and put in time to do a few price comparisons. For instance, don’t forget to include:

  • soil
  • seeds/starter plants
  • fertilizer
  • raw material for planter boxes
  • pots, watering tools
  • netting
  • garden tools
  • and of course, the potential for a garden gnome

Once you’ve laid out the expected costs you can cross check them with your current budget to see if they make sense within your current financial circumstances.

For the beginner

For those of you who are just starting out, consider going small before you tear out your backyard for a corn field. Think of how much time you’ll be able to devote, how much maintenance you can contribute, and how your plants might fit into your schedule. For instance, if you travel frequently, you might now want to choose plants that don’t require a large amount of attention or maintenance.

And beyond flowers and houseplants, think about whether you want to explore edible plants as well! It’s fun to grow things that you can appreciate (think flowers and houseplants) but it’s also awesome to grow things that you can harvest and eat! Something about watching a seed sprout and grow into something you can add to a salad is fascinating and fulfilling!

The Greatist has a great compilation of the best plants to grow inside and they aren’t shy about listing some of the less usual ones – first on the list is an avocado tree! An herb garden is also a great place to start for the novice. Plus, bragging rights at your next party! Why yes, that’s fresh basil on top of that pizza. Grew it myself… impressed?

Beginners can also find great resources at the local library in the gardening section. Many plant stores and community gardens will also have free literature and information on planting and growing a variety of plants. You can also find tons of gardening books at used book stores if you want to start a library of your own.

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Tips for the Experienced Gardener

For those of you with a bit of gardening already under your belt, I got the inside scoop from a lovely gardener who shared some tips on how to get the most out of your hobby – without overspending:

  • “Buy trees in the Fall as with most plants as they want to get these things out for inventory.” Buying on a timeline is a great way to ensure that you’re getting the best deal for your gardening needs! Planning for purchases ahead of schedule is a great way to budget for the expenses! Plus, you get the perk of lovely foliage by the time Spring rolls around.

  • “Perennials are better than annuals as they come back every year.” For a long-term gardening commitment, choose plants that keep on comin’ back. Who doesn’t want to enjoy the loveliness of a flower year after year?

  • “Manure is good for most plants,and potted soil is good if you want to plant indoors for spring to put outside.” The foundation for growth is obviously an incredibly important element of gardening! But soil costs can be incredibly high. To cut some of the costs, research which soil is right for your gardening needs

  • “Going to your favorite produce business instead of big corporate places. You can buy by the flat and split the cost with a gardening friend!” Splitting the cost with a fellow gardener is a great way to divvy up the goods while divvying up the price.

  • “Generally going to wholesale, you can negotiate for whole flats unlike Corporate, they will have a set price.” Take a tip from businesses by going the wholesale route for your purchases. In this way, you can benefit from the cheaper prices and even haggle the price down a bit!

Smart spending on hobbies can actually save you money

Though materials come in at price, finding a hobby that you’re passionate about can actually be one of the greatest ways to achieve balance in your spending. The higher your enjoyment with the activity, the less likely you are to fill boredom with spending in other areas. So if you’re in the need for a new hobby, or a long-term gardener, take advantage of these saving tips to go about your hobby in a cost effective way!

So, all you gardeners (or want to be gardeners) out there. Your season’s coming up in full bloom (get ready for plenty of plant jokes) and it’s time to take advantage of all the lovely sunshine that’s on the agenda! And if there are any gardening readers, any money saving tips to share?

Image Credit: Sodanie Chea

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  • bookishheather

    I’m not sure if growing your own veggies is necessarily cheaper, but the quality is better and there are certainly plenty of compelling reasons to give it a try. Here are a few more ideas: Making your own compost (either with a backyard bin or inside/outside with a worm bin) can save money and add oomph to the edible things you may already be growing. You may also save on waste disposal by composting your own food scraps as well. Saving seed or bulbs can keep you from spending money each year on starts, although it can require more work and may not work out for various reasons. Connecting with the local master gardener community may keep you informed about special plant sales where you may save money from retail nursery prices. If you have friends who garden, they may periodically find themselves with starts coming out of their ears, and you may be able to score that way too. My strawberry plant keeps wanting to spread and I harvest the starts and try to give them away so my small raised bed won’t get overrun!
    Overall I don’t see gardening as a money-saving activity, but I do see it as a hobby that CAN be done relatively inexpensively and which yields great personal satisfaction over the years of experiential learning.

    • Claire Murdough

      What awesome tips!! You sound like a gardening pro. Thanks so much for sharing – I’m excited to implement some of these in my own outdoor space :)

  • http://www.easyurbangardens.com Urbangardens

    Great article! There’s certainly lots of ways you can save on gardening expenditures. If you’re looking for mulch try some of your local tree pruning businesses. If they’re doing a large tree prune in your area they may need to dump a load of mulch so they can continue with their job. You can put your name down with these businesses and hopefully get a load of mulch for free or a small donation.

    • Claire Murdough

      Nice – I love that tip! Thanks so much for reading :)