There’s no need to let the cost-of-living crisis curtail your gardening ambitions. Gas, electricity and food prices may be spiralling as inflation soars, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy a beautiful garden on a budget at times when disposable income is being squeezed. Here, we take a look at how to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables for less, without sacrificing the enjoyment that makes gardening the nation’s favourite hobby. Read on to discover how to garden for less.
1. Go Big on Bedding Plants
A riot of summer colour is guaranteed to lift spirits in tough times, so growing value-for-money bedding plants from seed should be a top priority. We’re talking flower power favourites such as petunia, nasturtium, calendula, nicotiana, marigold, coleus, pansy and cosmos… the list is endless!
Seed packets can be snapped up for less than a few quid and often contain hundreds of seeds – far cheaper than buying young plants at garden centres in spring. Many bedding plant favourites are tender, so they’ll need to be started in a propagator and grown on indoors until all risk of frost is over. Once planted out, try grouping garden containers together: it’s a proven technique for creating big-impact displays on a tiny budget.
As well as bedding plants, brilliant garden border favourites including lupin, sweet pea, sunflower and hollyhock are a cinch to raise cheaply from seed.
2. Get Plants for Free!
Glance at the phrase ‘plants for free’ and you’d be forgiven for dismissing this article as clickbait. The reality, however, is the opposite: take cuttings from your favourite plants (or friends’ plants, with permission!) and you really can bulk up your garden borders for nothing.
Softwood cuttings of perennials including pelargonium, verbena and penstemon, as well as some deciduous shrubs including fuchsia and hydrangea, root readily at the start of the new season and can be potted up in summer.
The key to success is to snip off healthy shoots that aren’t producing flowers, and take the cutting early in the day when stems are full of moisture. Remove the lower leaves, dip cut stems into a rooting powder or liquid, insert into a moist seed and cutting compost and place in the warmth of a propagator.
3. Embrace Heavenly Herbs with Your Own Herb Garden
Switching to supermarket own-brand products can cut shopping bills, but thrift often comes at the expense of flavour. Growing herbs in your own herb garden that infuse dishes with tangy aromas will transform bland ingredients, so it’s no surprise to see the Royal Horticultural Society reporting that online searches for herbs last autumn were up by 600% compared to 2021.
According to the RHS, classics such as mint and coriander topped the bill. Mint is a vigorous, versatile perennial that thrives in sun or part-shade. Get young plants in the ground in spring and they’ll be off to a flying start – but if you’re concerned about mint outgrowing its welcome, grow in a plant pot of multipur
Similarly, the fragrant leaves of coriander will thrive in sun or partial shade. Grow this hardy annual herb in a plant pot, or sow seeds into well-drained soil between spring and autumn for leaves that’ll ensure curries and garnishes are rich in flavour.
4. Go Wild for Wildflowers
The beauty of sowing wildflowers (aside from the fact that pollen and nectar-rich blooms will lure bees and beneficial pollinators) is that wildflower seed is cheap and can be direct sown (scattered) where plants are to grow.
These fabulous mixes are easy to grow and low-maintenance, thriving in sites that benefit from good sunlight along with stone and weed-free soil. You’ll find meadow, butterfly and cornfield seed mixes online, to name a few.
If your soil is poor, perennial meadow mixes (which come back in following years) are the ones to go for, while annual meadows, which give a season of intense colour, will thank you for more nutritious soil.
5. Boost Composting Capacity with a Home-made Compost Bin
Cash-strapped local authorities have been ramping up the price of subscribing to green waste collection services, so put garden rubbish to good use instead. Old pallets are ideal for screwing together to make into home-made compost bin and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of crumbly brown matter that’ll work wonders on vegetable plots and flower beds. It’ll save you forking out for bags of soil improver at garden centres – a double win!
Composting works best where waste isn’t subjected to temperature extremes, so site compost bins in a shady part of the garden. The most common mistake is to cram bins with lawn clippings when in fact a good mix of green waste (grass cuttings, kitchen waste and spent bedding plants) and brown waste (hedge clippings, shredded paper and prunings) make the best soil improver. Remember to turn heaps regularly using a garden fork.
6. Make Your own Potting Compost
Soaring prices of compost ingredients such as coir and bark, along with the rising cost of road haulage, are pushing up prices of bags of compost at garden centres. It is possible, however, to make your own eco-friendly, peat-free growing media.
Charity Garden Organic has excellent recipes for home-made potting composts, including formulations for seed-sowing, potting-on, cuttings, herbs and containers, using ingredients such as loam and leafmould. Read more here: https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/for-peats-sake/peat-free-growing
Five quick tips to help you garden for less:
– Embrace upcycling: reclamation yards and charity shops represent an Aladdin’s cave of treasures for the garden. Old butler’s sinks can be transformed into fantastic alpine or herb gardens, while recycled chimney pots can be put to use as quirky patio planters.
– Streamline your seed order by growing productive fruit and vegetable and you’ll save a fortune on shopping bills. Strawberries are a sure-fire winner, while tomato plants reward with hundreds of fruits. Spare patch of soil? Get seed potatoes into the ground in spring and early summer for abundant harvests later in the season.
– Spring offers a window of opportunity to sow lawns from seed, or repair worn patches. Grass seed is much cheaper than buying turf and, sown early in the season, will establish healthy roots before summer.
– If you’re on a water meter, link multiple water butts together using overflow kits to create a vast rainwater harvesting facility. It’ll dramatically cut water bills if summer is a scorcher, and rainwater is better for irrigating gardens, too.
– Trendy plant pots and garden containers keep garden centre tills ringing, but it’s easy to make your own. Even if your carpentry skills are limited, planks of decking timber can easily be turned into garden planters of all shapes and sizes. All you need is a saw, screwdriver and sturdy screws.
Do you have any thrifty tips to help with gardening for less? Share them in the comments below.