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13 Ways to Get More Bang for Your Container Gardening Buck

Make fabulous container gardens on a budget

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container gardening picture of strawberry pot with coleus and ivy

Broken Strawberry Pot

Photo © Kerry Michaels

You can spend a ridiculous amount of money container gardening. Trust me, I have. This year I’m determined not to. Yes, I will spend, but I’m going to try to spend less and smarter. Here are some tips on how to save money on your container gardens.

Start From Seed: If you buy your plants as seedlings they will cost several dollars. If you start from seed, they will just cost pennies. Of course, that is after an initial outlay for setting up a seed starting station, but you really can save a bundle.

Buy Small Plants: It requires some patience, but starting with small plants is usually cheaper. Make sure your seedlings are healthy and robust, and put your smaller seedlings in container gardens that are out of the way, so you won’t have to look at them until they have grown to fill their pots. However, if you put them in an out of the way place, don’t forget to water and feed them (which, of course I have done, more than a few times).

Make Fewer Pots: When planning your container gardens, really think about getting the most visual bang for your buck. Spend your time and budget on fewer pots, but make them more spectacular. If you have fewer pots, you’ll have to buy fewer plants and spend less on potting soil.

Grow Vegetable Container Gardens: Vegetables can be beautiful and growing your own can be economical. You can even mix vegetables and flowers in your containers. Baby lettuce, which costs a fortune at the store, costs very little if you grow your own, and can look pretty too.

Consider Pots of Herbs and Edible Flowers: I think there is really nothing better than a pot of nasturtiums. They are lovely to look at and delicious to eat. This is true of many herbs too – almost all are pretty enough to be decorative as well as edible.

Buy Containers and Supplies on Sale: At the end of the growing season you can find great sales. Starting at the end of August, I buy as many of next year’s supplies as I can. You can often find containers at half price and decorative elements, like Spanish moss, marked way down. It’s also a good time to buy something that was previously out of your price range.

Shop Yard Sales, Flea Markets and Thrift Stores: I have found some of my favorite containers this way and many for less than one dollar. I bought a gorgeous strawberry jar that is chipped in the back, and has a hole in the bottom. I think it just makes the drainage better. I place it against a wall so that no one would ever see the chip or hole. I also buy many of my baskets at yard sales. They are ridiculously cheap, because they are often less than pristine. Lined with moss, and stuffed with plants, they can look spectacular.

Make Your Own Compost: I love my compost. Making my own not only saves me money, I have cut the garbage I send to the landfill almost in half. If you have the space, you can make your own compost easily and cheaply. But even if you have a tiny backyard, you can set up your own compost bin and reap the rewards.

Setting up a worm bin is also a popular way to make your own compost. To be honest, inviting worms into my kitchen or basement is not in my joy spectrum, but it is a great way to save money, because you (or more accurately your worms) are turning garbage into great fertilizer.

Make Compost Tea: Once you’ve made your compost, you can make it into great plant food and save on fertilizer, by brewing compost tea. It’s easy, economical and can really help your container gardens to thrive.

Propagate Your Own: There are lots of plants that are incredibly easy to propagate. For many, you just need to take a small cutting and stick it in water. After a couple of weeks, when you see roots, you can plant your new seedling in a small pot or directly into your container garden. Propagation of these container garden staples works particularly well.

Share or Trade Seeds or Seedlings: Every year I start several different types of tomato seeds. However, each seed packet contains more seeds than I may want. In fact, if I planted them all, I would be over run by tomatoes (though, honestly, an excess of tomatoes, for me, is a dream come true). On the other hand, if I trade some of my seeds or seedlings with someone who is starting pumpkins, we both save money.

Plant Perennials in Your Container Gardens: If you plant annuals, they are well, annual - you have to buy new ones every year. However, there are lots of perennials that look fabulous in container gardens, and if you protect them through the winter, you can pot them up again, free.

Some of my favorite perennials for container gardens are:

Look Around Your House for Unconventional Containers: Almost anything can be a container. Take an old laundry basket or that rusty bucket you almost threw out and plant them with imagination and style: they’ll look great. Think outside the container: make a canvas bag into a plant bag or a child’s outgrown wagon into an herb garden. As far as I’m concerned, almost anything in my house is fair game. My family is starting to hide their shoes.

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