Columns, In the Garden

Know the Garden to Cut Costs

photo by Deborah J. Benoit
Making soil blocks to start seeds eliminates the need for individual containers, a cost-saving measure for gardeners to consider when starting seeds.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – There’s no doubt that gardening is rewarding, but costs can get out of hand in the excitement of a new growing season. There’s always a tempting new project or plant.

The solution? Buy what is needed, then buy wanted plants only after you’re sure it will be used. Keep in mind, buying the best affordable tools will save money in the long run. Quality items are less likely to need replacing.

Getting to know the garden may be the best thing to cut costs. Growing conditions determine which plants are best suited for a location, reducing the expense of buying replacements. Look around the growing space. Observe areas of sun and shade throughout the day. Check the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone and make sure perennials are compatible. Find the hardiness zone at

Knowing the last frost date for the area will help ensure that planting is too early and losing new additions to a late frost. The length of the growing season (the number of days between the last spring frost and first frost in autumn) will help with the selection of annual vegetables that will mature before a killer frost in the fall.

Having a soil test done cuts costs. It can tell how to improve the soil, so money isn’t wasted on unneeded amendments or unnecessary fertilizers. For more information on soil testing, see

Recycling kitchen scraps and yard waste to make compost can be as simple as creating a compost pile in a corner of the yard. Leftover fencing, hardware cloth or untreated lumber can be used to make bins at little cost.

Compost can be used to amend soil, as mulch, or for seed starting. Learn more about making compost at

When starting seeds, improvise and use what is on hand. Shop lights are a good substitute for grow lights at lower cost. Homemade compost can be used to start seeds. Making soil blocks eliminates the need for individual containers (with a soil block maker).

Plastic food containers can be used as mini greenhouses for seed starting and when potting up seedlings. Add drainage holes as needed and fill with seed-starting mix or homemade compost. For vegetable crops, steer clear of containers not meant for food, including empty kitty litter containers, tires and galvanized tubs.

photo by Deborah J. Benoit
Plastic food containers, such as a clamshell produce box, egg carton or covered deli tray can be used as mini-greenhouses for seed starting and when potting up seedlings. Add drainage holes as needed and fill with seed-starting mix or homemade compost.

Use another container to catch excess water. Don’t forget to label what is planted. Old mini-blind slats can be cut to size and make great plant markers.

Flowers such as cosmos (Cosmos) and vegetables like spinach (Spinacia oleracea) and peas (Pisum sativum) can be sown directly into the soil once the soil is workable, eliminating the cost of starting seeds indoors. Check the seed packet for specifics on when to plant.

 If there are extra seeds, consider trading with fellow gardeners or save for next year. Store packets in a cool, dry place. Seeds can be viable for years though at a reduced germination rate as they age.

Perennial flowers come back each year, eliminating the cost of buying annuals every growing season. While a larger plant may fill flowerbeds with immediate satisfaction, purchasing starter-sized plants saves money.

Space plants based on their mature size, and use annuals to fill in the empty spaces. Annuals are less expensive than comparable perennials and, as the perennials grow larger each year, the number of filler plants needed will decrease until no longer needed.

While there are many ways to cut costs and garden within a budget, the act of gardening and the satisfaction it brings are priceless.

Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of the Bennington County Chapter.

Deborah J. Benoit

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