Seven dirt-cheap tips for your garden

Great advice from our money expert on how to spruce up your garden this spring without spending a bunch of cash

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Spring has sprung — the good news is the snow has finally melted. The bad news is you can now see how badly your garden was neglected over the winter. But this year you don’t have to spend a fortune bringing it back to life — I offer up seven tips for building a garden that won’t break the bank year after year and will help feed you over the summer months.

1. Get a plan: Before you put shovel to soil, you need to carefully plan out what you’re going to plant and where. If you don’t do this, you risk overbuying at the garden centre and/or putting plants in places where they won’t thrive or live. That’s a huge waste of money not to mention your time. Planning means looking carefully at which areas of your garden get what exposure to sunlight and what kind of soil you have. Canadian gardening guru Marjorie Harris encourages gardeners to start by making a “map” of their gardens and offers tips for doing this in a recent blog post.

2. Divide and conquer: You don’t have to start from scratch in your garden. Instead, look at what you have and make the most of it. If you don’t like where a tree is, move it. Or if that rosebush at the side of the house is looking sad and neglected, just shift it to a different place and it might thrive and get gorgeous. Also, dividing your perennials should be at the top of your gardening list — it’s the best way to make the most of your plants. After all, why buy new if you already have it in your garden? Here’s an article with some tips on how best to divide and what you need.

3. Get cheap dirt: You don’t need to spend a fortune on bags of soil. Compost is the best way to improve your dirt. Think about getting a composter if you don’t already have one — this is the best and cheapest way to produce the richest soil you can, all with your own garbage. If there are areas of your garden where the soil can’t be helped, then work with what you have — there are some great plants that thrive in poor-quality soil. Thyme, rosemary, lavender and other herbs do really well in depleted dirt.

4. Think perennially: I hate planting annuals every year — they’re expensive and a lot of work. Sticking to perennials (especially in your flower beds) will save you money and time. Save the annuals for your planters and pots (you won’t need to buy as many that way).

5. Get seedy: Seeds are by far the cheapest way to buy your plants. Seasoned gardeners will germinate their seeds indoors in the weeks leading up to planting time. If you don’t have the space or time for that, there are plenty of seeds that are easy to plant directly in the soil — think carrots, beans, marigolds and morning glories. Seeds are also a great way to get kids involved too.

6. Grow your own food: My favourite summer moment involves biting into that first ripe tomato picked right from my own garden. Growing your own food is one of the best ways to put your garden to work and save money on groceries all through the summer months. Nothing tastes better than homegrown produce and you can grow your own food in the smallest of spaces, even a balcony — basil, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries can be put in small pots just about anywhere.

7. Make your own planters (and more): You don’t need pricey pots to make your garden look great. Instead, look for everyday items around the house that you can transform into pretty planters (think colanders, metal tubs and coffee cans). And don’t bother picking up tomato stakes or plastic ties — use old broom handles and cut up pieces of old tights or panty hose to tame your rosebushes and green beans.

Caroline Cakebread is a Toronto-based financial writer and editor. She’s also a recovering academic and the mother of two kids. Check out her personal finance blog for Chatelaine Your Money.