People are often surprised to find out that even though I'm a cookbook author I went to school for Horticulture. (I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to own an herb farm.) Growing your own plants can not only save you lots of money on your grocery bill, but a nice landscape can improve the value of your home. If you're creative, you can have a great garden with very little cost. Here are some of my favorite tips to get you started:
Watch people who are moving. Ask if they are leaving their lawn equipment and if you can have it or buy it cheap.
Use an old mailbox out in the garden to store your clippers, plastic bags and gloves. (This is my most used item in my garden!) It is especially wonderful because the kids and Hubby don't know where my tools are, so I don't have to worry about them borrowing the tools!
Use wedding tulle found at fabric stores instead of shade cloth to shade plants from the sun or to keep the birds from eating your fruit. It's much cheaper. Better yet, ask a just married bride if you can have the tulle from her wedding.
If you see plants at a store that are in bad shape but not dead, talk to the manager. Ask him if he will give you a "deal" if you take them off his hands. Most of the time they will because the plants look bad and they don't want to mess with them anymore.
Last year I was able to purchase over 50 large 1/2 gallon-gallon sized perennials for $50. (over $600 retail) All but about 5 of them lived and I was able to take those back and get my money back. Most home improvement and discount stores have a guarantee that if your plant dies within one year, you can bring the dead plant and the receipt and they will give you your money back or give you a new plant.
Buy seeds on sale at the end of the season. Put them in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator for better storage. Seeds usually last many years beyond the "past due" date on the packet.
Ask a tree trimming service to give you their wood chips for mulch if they are in the area.
Some cities also have a free mulch program where the city tree trimmers dump all the wood chips. Call your local County Extension and find out if there is one in your area.
If you just need a few bags, look for torn open bags at the home improvement store. Our local store has a pile where they dump all the torn open bags of mulch and rocks. They sell the bags for $1 each, saving you up to 75% off! Most just have a few chips missing.
Use shredded paper or newspaper under mulch. This way you can use fewer wood chips.
Keep a shower curtain or tarp in your car at all times. This way if you find a good deal on mulch or plants you can take advantage of the deal right away without messing up your car.
Use deli trays with lids to start seeds. They are mini greenhouses!
Ask the cemetery if you can have the pots they throw away after Memorial Day. (You can dry the almost dead flowers for potpourri.) Look in dumpsters. Many garden centers at the discount stores throw away the dead plants, pots and all. Ask permission first.
Use Styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of pots for drainage. You can also use small plastic six inch pots, soda cans or plastic bottles in the bottom of larger pots so you don't have to use so much soil and to make the pots lighter in weight.
Use milk jugs as drip irrigation. Poke 2 or 3 small holes in the bottom of the jugs and place next to plants. Fill with water and they will slowly water you plants all day.
Use Christmas lights around fences to add sparkle in the middle of summer. Hang them in trees or line paths with them for extra effect.
Use vinegar in a spray bottle to kill weeds. ONLY spray the weed. It will kill any grass or plants you want to keep if you get it on them.
Have kids water the plants after they swim in the kiddy pool. Have them take buckets of water from the pool and water the plants when the pool needs to be emptied.
Buy or ask for sandbags after heavy rains. Use the sand for paths or for the kid's sandboxes. (Only use sand from clean floodwater situations.)
Save scraps of soap when they get too small to bathe with and put them in an old nylon stocking. Knot and hang the nylon on an outdoor faucet.
Homemade Tough Hand Cleaner
1/4 Cup grated Fels Naphtha soap ends
2 Tbsp. mason's sand or pumice
1 Cup water
Place soap and water in a saucepan. Place over low heat; stir until soap is melted. After mixture cools, add mason's sand or pumice. Store in a cottage cheese container or margarine tub. To use, dip fingers into soap mixture and lather hands. Rinse well. This works well on greasy tools, also. Be sure to rinse and dry tools thoroughly.
Tawra Kellam is the editor of http://www.LivingOnADime.com/
Tawra and her husband paid off $20,000 debt in 5 years on $22,000 a year income.