You don't have to spend a small fortune to cultivate and turn a garden plot into a thriving, productive green space. And you don't need to hire a designer to come up with innovative ways to beautify your yard and home. All it takes is some creative thinking and the commitment to just do it yourself. Here are some simple basics to get you started.
- Free Advice Go paperless. Don't spend money on buying how-to gardening books, guides or magazines. You can check these out or research them at your local library. If you want some expert opinions, you can always attend free lectures at gardening centers or join your local horticulture society or community garden club. Another no-cost resource is the cooperative extension service in your state; locate the one closest to you here. This agency provides homeowners with access to Master Gardener volunteers who can help advise you on your yard and garden. And, since you are here, you already know there is a wealth of free websites, podcasts, blogs and instructional videos for guidance in the world of gardening.
- Organic Matter Instead of going to a garden center to buy mulch or compost for your plants and shrubs, you can easily make it yourself. Don't bag your leaves in the fall; shred them for mulch. Just follow these directions for doing it. Creating compost is just as easy. Eggshells, coffee grinds and filters, fruits and vegetables, grass clippings, shredded paper and leaves are all ideal ingredients for your compost bin. Avoid adding meat or fish parts (it attracts maggots and critters like raccoons), cooked or processed foods, pet waste or dead plants that might carry disease. Create a loose, balanced compost mix, breaking up the material with an aerator. Rotate it once a week, keep it moist and you can produce rich, organic compost within 20 days. Here are detailed instructions on composting. If you don't want to make your own mulch or compost, you should try to find a local source through your city or county government that gives it away for free.
- Propagating Buying new perennials every year is not a necessity. Simply thin out some of the new volunteers from the healthiest specimens in your yard or separate a large cluster of new growths into smaller clumps, removing any weeds and keeping the roots intact. Then transplant them to another area that you want to cultivate. Dividing and replanting is one means of propagation that prevents overcrowding and allows you to remove the older, least hardy plants. Most gardeners have good luck digging up and replanting perennials whether they are of the clumping variety (day lilies, asters, hostas) or ornamental like sedum or natural spreaders (phlox, vinca) or possess tap roots (butterfly weed) or are woody in nature (lavender, candytuft, rosemary). This is also a great way to acquire desirable plants and flowers from your neighbors during their thinning out process while offering them samples from your own yard. Other forms of propagating such as growing plants from stem and root cuttings or following the principles of budding or grafting may take more work but are equally beneficial. None of it will cost you a dime, only your time and dedication. Follow these basic steps.
- Seeds If you have a successful vegetable garden, then there is an extra bonus. At the end of each vegetable's harvest season, you end up with new seeds which you can plant for your next crop. No need to buy seed packs or plants when your own garden provides these for free. If you grew the best tomato you ever tasted or the most perfectly formed pumpkin, why wouldn't you want to stick with a proven success? The trick is to make sure you are using heirloom or open pollinated plants because the seeds they provide will result in an identical copy of the original. This won't work with hybrid plants. In general, vegetables fall into categories of self-pollinating annuals (lettuce, tomatoes, peppers), cross-pollinating annuals (broccoli, corn, squash) or cross-pollinated biennials (beets, carrots, leeks, onions). You can save your flower seeds as well for replanting; marigolds, allium, columbine, morning glory and poppy seeds are just a few of the varieties that do well depending on your climate zone. To learn how to properly store them until the planting period, follow these directions.
- Group Action If you are plugged into a local network of gardeners or know a lot of fellow planters, why not suggest buying vegetables and plants in bulk during the planting season? You'll be paying a lower price because you're purchasing in volume and everyone will benefit from it. There may be a local food co-op in your community that offers this same service for a reasonable membership fee. This also allows you to experiment and try growing new plants and vegetables that might have been a bit costly if you were buying only for yourself.
- Recycle You probably have plenty of items in your basement, garage or shed that can be repurposed for use in your yard or garden. Unwanted light fixtures, wooden barrels, hat boxes, wicker baskets, beer crates and wash basins can be easily converted into unique and eye-catching containers for plants. Scrap pieces of metal, wood and old broomsticks (saw off the brooms) can be painted in bright colors and used to create visually striking borders for your gardens or serve as offbeat yard art. Create garden paths out of a mixture of marbles, stones and ceramic pieces or try logs, cut in circular discs from a fallen tree. A discarded wooden door could be transformed into a garden gate or a wall in your yard for climbing roses. For seed starters, you can use your empty egg cartons or clear plastic bottles with the bottoms cut off and inverted into the ground with the bottle tops removed. And don't put those grapefruit skins in the trash if you have a slug problem. Leave them out overnight and check out the slugfest the following morning. It doesn't cost a thing to come up with creative ways to repurpose something originally slated for the trash or junkyard. The sky is the limit.