27 Easy Dirt Cheap Tips for Gardening on a Budget

Tired of your garden costing more than you'd planned or you're just starting a garden but you're on a limited budget? I've been there too, but never fear--I'm here to the rescue with lots of easy tips for gardening on a budget to help you get the best bang for your buck out of your garden.

One of the biggest reasons many people start a garden is to save money. However, if you're not careful, costs can really get out of hand and growing your own food can easily become even more expensive than buying produce at the store. Hello, $10 tomatoes, anyone?

vegetable garden with text overlay

We've overspent some years, and it's pretty frustrating when the ROI of your garden isn't what you'd hoped for. So to help you (and me) avoid that in the future, following is a list of some helpful ways to save on your gardening costs.

The good news is, there are loads of easy ways to save money gardening that truly anyone can do.

27 Tips for Gardening on a Budget

Get Free (or Nearly Free) Plants

One of the best ways to get more bang for your buck is by not spending those bucks at all.

It's easier than you might think to get free plants--even for your vegetable garden. One year, I got some free rhubarb plants, and the next year, I literally got 20 okra plants, 2 zucchini plants, and some free heirloom tomato plants.

You can get free or cheap plants from plant swaps, end of the season discount shelves at garden shops, end of the day deals at farmers markets and more. See this post on how to get free plants for more ideas.

Start Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds indoors is a pretty obvious way to save on your gardening costs, but it's pretty motivating to calculate just how much you can save!

Let's say you buy heirloom tomato seeds for $3 a pack with a minimum of 25 seeds. If 90% of the seeds sprout (which is pretty typical), that's 13 cents per plant, or $2.99 for all of the plants. 

Compare that to paying $2.50 per transplant. $2.99 vs $57.50!

Of course with more plants in your garden, you'll save even more!

Save Seeds

Even though buying seeds doesn't cost much money, instead of buying seeds from stores, online, or at garden centers, you can save your own seeds from your own fruit, veggies or flowers to save even more and even trade with others using a seed swap.

While starting your seeds indoors is relatively easy, there are a few things you need to do to ensure your success. You can read about starting seeds indoors here.

Buy Quality Seeds

If your seeds don't germinate, then there goes your seed money out the window. I really like Baker Seeds and also bought some seeds from MiGardener and Botanical Interests.

The tiny cukes and cherry tomatoes and royal beans from Botanical Interests were particularly fantastic and we even were able to grow some mini melons using their seeds here in Michigan from their see. The woodchucks liked the beans too (ugh!)

Use Frugal Seed Starting Techniques

While starting seeds indoors is a great money saver in and of itself, you can save even more by starting your seeds in egg cartons, or using the other tips in this post on starting seeds on a budget.

Buy Second Hand Supplies

Of course most of this would have to be done prior to the year you want to garden (since you don't know what you'll find), but keep your eyes open as you drive by or visit yard sales--you could find some real treasures including garden tools, used old pots, and more.

Repurpose What You Have

So many things you have lying around can be used for gardening.

Old windows and bricks / cinder blocks can be used for cold frames (which can also be used for hardening off plants).

Old pallets can be used to make raised beds or a single old pallet can be used as a shorter trellis, but only as long as they at marked "HT" for heat treated. Pallets without that marking might have methyl bromide or other toxic substances on them that can leach into the soil and are not something you want to be eating. So take good care to ensure you only use the right kind of pallet if you choose to use them.

Food grade plastic and other non toxic containers of all kind can be repurposed as pots for container gardens.

Propagate From Other Plants

Propagation is creating new plants from existing ones, and one way to do that is by "rooting" clippings.  

For most plants you simply cut the stem of a tender branch, which is usually new growth. You want there to be 4 to 6 leaves on the stem.

Where 2 leaves come together there's a bump (node) on the stem. Gently slip off the leaves on the lowest node of your cutting. Now you'll have a stem with a leafless node on the bottom and 2 or 4 leaves on top. 

You can root your cutting in water or in moist dirt. 

Either way, put the stem in a container (or water or dirt) deep enough so that the stem's bare node is covered without covering the other leaves. Place in sun and keep water in the jar (or keep the dirt moist).

You can even do this with plants like tomatoes, but tough stemmed plants may require a rooting additive to help the process.

Use a Rain Barrel

rainwater from rain barrel

A rain barrel is a smart way to save money gardening, and the quality of rain water can be better than tap water as well.

One important thing to keep in mind is that using water that runs off of a roof and/or through gutters is not safe for using on gardens due to the toxins that the water will pick up along the way.

Grow from Kitchen Scraps

lettuce scraps growing in water

Yes, this really works. You've probably seen people growing celery or lettuce from leftovers that they had in their kitchen. What you might not know is that you can grow a ton of different vegetables from your kitchen scraps.

From lettuce to potatoes (and yes, even pineapples), this post on how to regrow vegetables from kitchen scraps is basically the ultimate technique for saving money gardening.

Container Gardening

container gardening

Container gardening is another great way to save on your overall costs especially if you have limited space. You will use less water and less amendments, and pest control, and if you repurpose or buy used containers as mentioned above, you will really increase your savings.

Join a Community Garden

Community gardens are not only a great way to enjoy the company of other gardeners, but the cost of using one is typically quite a bit less then gardening on your own due to the sharing of all or most related costs. We participated in one 2 years in a row--and are considering doing so again.

Get Cheap Grow Lights

Did you know that simple shop lights work just as well as fancy grow lights? It's true! So skip the fancy grow lights and put inexpensive shop lights to work for you instead.

Mulch

Mulching adds nutrition to your soil and saves on needing to water. Water is a huge expense with gardening so this is one of the best tips out there. You'll save not having to spend time weeding and also not having to buy amendments to prevent weeds.

Getting a quality mulch is important and don't put mulch on edibles that are meant only for landscaping. Those can have added colors that aren't a good choice for your edible garden.

Grow Perennials

red rhubarb

There are quite a few options for plants that will produce year after year, saving you both money and time. Here's a partial list--raspberries, blueberries, asparagus, rhubarb, and watercress.

Garlic, kale, and radicchio can be planted as perennials if you'd like to try that. Raspberries are especially fun to see (and eat) year after year.

Start Slow

Trust me, don't do what we did. After moving to our current home, I recovered from 10 years of chronic illness and was eager to do a garden. We bit off more than we could chew, and ended up making a bunch of mistakes.

We spent quite a bit of money (and time) with very little yield. Yes, we learned a lot, but planting smaller areas for each section would have saved a lot of money with the same resulting knowledge. Live and learn!

Grow Expensive Produce

Grow what costs a lot (that you like to eat) and watch your savings grow too. For us, that's berries, and cherry tomatoes.

Organic cucumbers aren't cheap either. And specialty greens like arugula and tatsoi are a great choice.

Grow Productive Plants

Tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and beans can be very productive when planted in good soil. We struggled with our soil and still had some fairly decent yields from those plants.

We've actually had really good harvesting of cherry tomatoes from our tower garden too (and yes, they are pricey but when you use them ongoing they can really save a lot of money).

Preserve Your Harvest

Instead of letting it spoil, or just giving it away (not that that's a bad thing to do), preserve your bounty. You can make homemade sun-dried tomatoes, freeze tomatoes, freeze cucumbers, make sauerkraut with extra cabbage, and freeze berries.

Other great options for preserving the bounty are dehydrator kale chips, green bean chips, and apple chips.

Any kind of preservation is great, including freeze drying (we love our freeze dryer!) This post about the cheapest way to preserve food will tell you which option will save you the most money--the answer might surprise you.

Plan Well

If you don't have a lot of sunlight, or have some areas that do and some that don't, make sure to really plan where you are going to plant. One of the issues that caused our larger than it should have been garden to fail was a lack of sun.

We thought we'd planned well enough, but we had too little margin, and most of the plants struggled badly.

Test Your Soil (or At Least Amend It Well)

Poor soil is a really big reason why money gets wasted on a garden. Again, back to our bigger than it should have been garden.

We didn't know it, but we had pretty poor quality soil in a few areas, and that, combined with the lower amount of sunlight, caused our crops to be pretty meager. So test your soil or at least dig some up to see how it looks (you want rich dark soil for sure), and amend with some quality compost.

Only Grow What You Eat

It might seem like fun to grow all kinds of things, but if you aren't going to eat it--why grow it? Your harvest will then turn into rotting veggies in the back of your fridge.

Definitely not a good way to save money.

Buy Bulk Soil and Compost

Buying in bulk is right up my alley. I buy almost everything in bulk from food to supplements and yes, even soil and compost!

Don't have a big enough garden to handle that much soil? Share with a neighbor and split the cost.

Make Your Own Compost

food scraps in compost bin

Of course, DIYing your free compost is even cheaper than buying in bulk! The fastest and easiest way to do it is to buy a composting drum. Of course, that's an up-front expense, but in the long run, you will really save.

Compost is pure gold for your garden and your wallet, considering how much store-bought compost can cost. Kitchen scraps, shredded paper, yard waste and more can turn into gold once they're added to your compost pile.

You can save even more by making your own compost bin or make an easy compost heap and skip the cost of purchasing a drum.

Make Your Own Mulch

Another great way to save money is to make your own mulch. If you have a lawnmower with a bag attachment, it's incredibly easy to do. You can create leaf mulch by simply attaching the bag to your mower and mowing your leaves rather than raking them.

The mower will chop them up, making a nice mulch to use around your plants. 

For an effective mulch that also reduces weeds, simply mow your lawn with the bag attachment and mulch your plants with the grass clippings. This will smother weeds, prevent light from the ground, prevent new seeds from sprouting, and help lessen water needs.

Get Free Wood Chips

wood chips

Ask a local tree trimming service if you can get some free wood chips from them. In fact, we are doing that this year since we're now friends with our fantastic arborist.

Some cities have free mulch programs, and utility companies often have wood chips available from tree trimming work.

Don't Overplant

Most seed packets say to sow a greater number of seeds than is truly necessary. This is one of the best lessons I learned when I started gardening.

It's tempting to think "oh I really need to plant more in case they don't grow" and then thin out the plants, but if you get quality seeds, most should germinate (about 80-90%) so truly you are just spending about two to three times what you need to by overplanting.

Free Fertilizer and Soil Additives

"Growing" or getting your own free fertilizer and additives to amend your soil will save tons of money and give you the extra bonus of better harvests and additional benefits as well, depending on what direction you go.

Manure

You can "grow your own fertilizer" by having your own farm animals. This can be intimidating and even impossible in some places, but there are plenty of easy and/or quiet animals that you can raise even if you don't have a large yard.

You also don't need a ton of animals to get enough fertilizer for your garden. Just one animal can provide a lot of "doo doo."

Goat and sheep manure is black gold that can go straight into your garden without aging, and the results are out of this world. Other manures must be composted before going into your garden or else they will burn your plants. Miniature breed goats and sheep obviously take up less room and there are smaller animals like chickens, ducks, geese, quail and rabbits.

Another idea is to get free or cheap manure by volunteering to clean out a local farmer's animal stalls--simply do a quick online search to find people selling animals and animal products near you.

Food Scraps

You can also sprinkle your coffee grounds, eggshells and more right on your garden without even composting. We take eggshells and blend them in the blend with water then go water the garden with it. Your garbage is now saving you money and feeding your plants!

Plant Additives

We already talked about wood chips, but leaf mold is another great free amendment to add to your garden, and comfrey is another one. Its leaves make a rich mulch or compost tea. Comfrey sends roots 10 feet deep absorbing tons of vital nutrients most plants roots will never reach. These nutrients then go into the large leaves making an amazing mulch.

Conclusion

garden with text overlay for post about gardening on a budget

Now that you're armed with all of these great tips for gardening on a budget, I'm sure you'll see your gardening return on investment skyrocket. You'll be able to feed your family healthier food for less, and will be on your way to a healthier life without breaking the bank.

Please share your great money savings gardening tips in the comments below!

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4 Comments

  1. I don't suggest using grass clippings as mulch, directly. Compost them to kill all the weed and grass seeds that will be picked up by the mower blades and put in the collection bag. In addition to those seeds inadvertently adding weeds to your garden rodents LOVE to make nests in the grass clippings. Rodents also love the seeds inside your veggies....tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and beans. So you will find a lot of holes in your produce and they will mold if not harvested before the mold sets in. (not to mention a surprise or shock when a mouse or rat runs out while you are in the garden.)

    Speaking of harvesting, do so promptly. Most plants will set more "fruit" when you remove the ripe fruit, since they are driven to reproduce by setting seeds.

    Remove all dead or diseased parts of your plants, but don't compost those parts...most compost piles don't get hot enough to kill the organism that caused the damage (virus or fugus) so you will have a bigger problem the following year if you use the contaminated compost on your garden. DO compost the healthy parts of the plants, except vines (tomatoes are vines for this tip) to add all those nutrients back into your soil the following year.

    Companion plant, if you are doing a smaller garden, to cut down the cost of bug control and increase yields due to lower insect damage to plants. (lots written and Youtubed on the subject of companion planting...the most common being marigolds to keep bugs away. I find it doesn't work as well as they advertise, but hey, everyone's experience is different and the marigolds do attract pollinators)

    Speaking of pollinators, add some pollinator attracting plants to your veggie garden. You will get a higher yield from each plant if you have pollinators coming to your garden, so you need less plants. One of the best pollinators is the Mason bee....added benefit, they don't usually sting. You can make or buy a Mason bee house to attract them, unlike honey bees that need a hive to live in and require special equipment to keep them.

    1. Wow these are such GREAT tips! I might have to add them to the post. LOVE them.

      About the vine - I'm sure I could look it up but tell me more about why not to compost those. I love the pollinator and harvesting ideas b/c yes those are great things!

      I'm not great at this but I have some good pollinators and I harvest pretty fast for that reason ;).

      I should look more into companion planting this year! Thanks again and would love to hear your thoughts on the vines.

      1. Adrienne, The reason you don't compost vines is they just don't. compost. for. a. billion. years. (Ok, maybe I am a little high on the length of time it takes for them to break down, but I put a tomato plant in my compost (by mistake cuz I trusted my partner. LOL) and 3 years later it was still a vine. Albeit a very brittle vine, it was still whole and still 5 feet long) The second reason *I* don't compost vines is because I am always late in my clean up and there is/are invisible mold spores on them and household compost rarely gets hot enough to kill them, so it increases my work and decreases my yields the following year. Hope this helps. Dried vines make wonderful fire starting material however. We use them to start the camp fire the summer after they are pulled up.

        1. Very helpful answer. And yes, I'm sure there hasn't been a peer reviewed study on the length of time to compost vines LOL. Great tip on the campfire! I have some vines still in the ground....guess it's time to pull them up! We don't camp but I would like to start doing that or at least having a fire pit in the backyard. Thanks again!