Ten Money-saving tips for the weekend gardener
Weekend Gardener: Take a long- and short-term approach to saving money
Let’s face it, this hobby of ours can get expensive unless we are constantly looking for ways to save money. Rather than spending our weekends at the nursery buying more and more plants, consider staying home creating more plants through division and seed planting, and finishing that landscaping project that has been staring you in the face for so long.
Becoming a weekend warrior is the answer for so many of us with full-time jobs. It’s certainly one of the keys to long- and short-term saving when it comes to building our dream gardens over time. Set aside a few weekends in the spring, during the cooler months to tackle the bigger landscape-related jobs, and then take advantage of the remaining weekends to continue to get smaller jobs done. Before you know it, your garden design will take shape, you’ll be gathering more and more confidence in the garden, and you will be using the weekends to save money rather than spend it.
For more money-saving tips, be sure to check out my in-depth article on creating a buget-friendly garden.
The good news is that gardening in itself can be a money-saving venture, especially if you add plenty of veggies, fruits and nuts to your landscape plans.
But to really cash in, we need to make long- and short-term approaches to saving money a top priority. Saving money in the short term, means we can have more of what we want in the long term, and get us to our desired goal faster and for less money.
Short-term saving, including starting plants from seed, dividing perennials, taking advantage of spring and fall sales and buying products used on line, can add up quickly to big savings.
Long-term savings requires a plan to complete major landscape projects with a view of saving money through the use of our own hard work and learned skills and the value of time. That’s where working the weekends really begins to shine.
Let’s take a look at how a short-term savings plan can work with a real-world example.
If I plan a garden bed with three drifts of three perennials, I can get to that end in several ways.
Start the plants from seeds (definitely the most frugal method.)
Purchase one plant of each variety leaving lots of room in the garden bed to add the remaining plants as the original plants are divided.
Purchase all nine plants for immediate impact. (certainly the most expensive option.)
If growing plants from seeds appeals to you, this is by far the best short-term saving choice potentially costing you almost nothing.
My choice would be to purchase one plant of each with the expectation of future divisions. By purchasing one perennial of each variety and knowing that we can divide them in a year into two or three plants, we can reach our goal in a couple of years. In the end, we save 2/3 in the short term to achieve the same result in the long term.
So, in the short term we save money by using time and smart gardening techniques to get to our desired result. By taking this approach over and over again with smaller projects we create substantial long-term savings.
Don’t overlook time as one of the biggest factors in the creation of long-term value in our landscapes.
Consider the potential savings acquired over time just by staying home to enjoy and work on our gardens rather than paying for expensive holiday resorts that offer little more than what could exist in our own backyards over time.
If being a weekend warrior pays high dividends, using a week or two worth of vacation to tackle a large problem is like winning the pot of gold and the end of the rainbow.
A staycation used to be a bad thing. Today, it’s a term used to describe those lucky enough to have a backyard they enjoy. I’m sure the pandemic has had a lot to do with it, but more and more of us are happy to stay home and enjoy the fruits of our labour.
If you love your garden, I’m guessing, you will much rather stay home with a good glass of wine in the backyard watching the birds than spend thousands of dollars to go to a resort to sip pricey drinks around a noisy pool.
Call my wife and I cheap, but our favourite vacation spot is our backyard.
These long-term goals are made possible by taking advantage of short-term money-saving tips that make it possible to create the very best backyard experience possible at a price we can afford.
Five long-term money saving tips for gardeners
Buy your trees and shrubs as immature specimens and use time to let them mature into large, highly-valued investments. If you are young, and time is on your side, consider planting bare root specimens for mere pennies. Whips of many trees can be purchased for peanuts. Not all trees need to be planted as immature specimens. Key trees in your landscape can be purchased as larger specimens, while understory trees and those on the edge of your woodland can be grown from bare root and whips.
Learn to do your own landscaping whenever possible. Use the winter months to read books, blogs and magazines not only to get ideas but to learn how other gardeners create your favourite spaces. One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is to think they need to hire professionals to install huge concrete patios or large decks. The sheer size of these projects is enough to scare off the most ambitious DIY gardeners. It is usually much better, and quite frankly aesthetically more pleasing, to create smaller, more intimate settings that are more manageable and certainly easier to create on a budget. Replace the thought of installing a bright white concrete patio with a much more sophisticated rough-cut flagstone patio set in screenings and surrounded by a couple of large rocks for seating. Unlike the concrete that will not age well, eventually begin to crack and have to be replaced in time, the flagstone patio will take on a beautiful patina, moss may begin growing in the cracks between the pavers and any shifting over time can be easily corrected in spring. And, most important, you can do this yourself.
Consider hiring a student, a young family member or a neighbourhood teenager to help you with a lot of the heavy lifting. When we were young, my wife and I did all of the work ourselves. Today, hiring a student allows me to use the skills I have developed, after completing so many of my own projects, to guide them in more simple tasks. (See earlier article about hiring students)
Break down your landscaping into weekend projects. Many years ago I picked up a book by Susan A. Roth called The Weekend Garden Guide, Work-saving ways to a Beautiful Backyard. In the book she explores ways to design easier yards and lawns, creating low-maintenance flower gardens and the creation of easy-care natural landscapes like woodland and wildflower gardens in such a way that most of the work including maintenance can be completed over one or two weekends. If her book did nothing, it pointed me in the direction of learning to downsize major tasks and attempt to break them down into weekend DIY projects. “Homemade versions of grassy meadows and fields of flowers, woodland wildflower walks, gurgling streams, and rough-and-tumble- mountain peaks fall within the reach of the imaginative gardener,” she explains in the book. “Many of these naturalistic landscapes or gardens, especially woodland and meadow gardens, turn out to be ideal for weekend gardeners, because the sites require little maintenance. After all, whoever heard of a tidy woodland? Mother Nature doesn’t sweep up, so why should you?”
Create your own long- and short-term landscape plan or hire a landscape designer to do it for you. If you have a genuine interest in creating the garden of your dreams, then it is likely that creating a plan (or several smaller plans) is entirely within your capabilities of completing over time. It’s possible that your backyard can be divided into several smaller zones or rooms that can be tackled one at a time. Remember to look at your yard as a long series of weekend projects over many years.
For many of us, however, this process is overwhelming or the project is just too large to tackle on our own. In these cases it can be money well spent to find a professional who truly understands your vision and can put it down on paper to help you create the garden over time.
If you are dealing with a highly complex site, or your dreams are so grandiose, then it is probably a wise investment to hire an expert to help you solve these problems.
If, for example, your dream is to have a natural stream winding down into a massive pond, this might be something you need to hire an expert to design and create. That does not mean that you cannot design the rest of the property on your own and leave this area until you are able to tackle it in the future. By following a budget-friendly approach in the years leading up to this expensive installation, the money saved will enable you to hire a company to create the pond, stream, waterfall of your dreams.
Take it Slow
As Ms Roth explains in her book The Weekend Garden Guide: “Don’t attempt too much at once. Renovate your yard slowly. That’s the most valuable, cautionary word of advice you can follow, and it comes from someone who ought to know (me). Be realistic about what you attempt to accomplish each season. If you are overly ambitious and attempt to renovate your entire property all at once, as we unwisely began to do at our present house, you’ll probably never get anything completed. Make a long-range plan and space out your projects over several years, if necessary. The work will wait – it (unfortunately) won’t go away!”
Five short-term budget friendly tips for gardeners
If you are just starting out, consider investing in high quality tools, especially the ones you know will be used extensively during your weekend projects. Shovels, picks, a wheelbarrow (or even better and garden cart see my earlier story here) will be in regular use.
Search in places like Kijiji and other used outlets for good-quality landscaping tools. There is no need to spend hard-earned money on brand new expensive shovels, axes, and gardening utensils. Not only are many of these items available on the used market, but many are older, higher quality products that should last you a lifetime.
Check with parents, friends or relatives and ask if they have any good garden tools they are no longer using. Chances are their sheds are full of rakes and shovels they are not using. Electric or gas-powered garden tools are also available on many on-line outlets. Try to always buy high quality because there is a good chance these tools will last a lifetime and save you money over the long term. Take care of the tools, keep them sharp and rust-free for best performance.
Plan now to get rid of as much, if not all your grass, as soon as possible. There is no better way to throw away money than to begin to obsess over a non-native monoculture groundcover that is estimated to suck up $500-$600 a year just on water alone. Add in hundreds of dollars a year more for fertilizer and whatever killers lawn worshippers feel they need to spread over their properties.
Then there are the lawn mowers, rollers, aerators, lawn replacements, lawn companies…. It never ends. Trust me, eliminate what you can and save yourself a lot of money over the long term. (Check out my full story here.) Consider planting native ground covers in place of the grass. They will require less care, less chemicals and help local wildlife that have evolved with these plants to survive in our gardens.
Grow your perennials and annuals from seed if possible. You don’t need to invest in all the lighting and other accoutrements if it’s not something you are really interested in doing. There are many seeds you can sow directly into the ground. Some perennials and annuals are self-seeding which can make the whole process even easier. Learn to recognize the seedlings as they emerge and transfer them to other parts of the garden once they are large enough to be moved.
Pay attention to what other gardeners are growing in the area and, if any plants strike your fancy, tell them you would be interested in any divisions or seeds they would be willing to share. Free plants are always good. Neighbours, friends and relatives can get together for plant swaps, or you can keep an eye out for your local garden club’s annual spring sale. For the past several years, that’s been one of my go-to places for inexpensive trees, shrubs and plants. Many of them are expensive or rare plants that would cost considerably more at your local nursery.
Whenever possible, plant native plants rather than expensive hybrids. There are many positive reasons to move in this direction in your garden. Not only are they of enormous benefit to local wildlife, from insects, to butterflies birds and even larger predators like fox, they create a natural habitat in our yards that usually requires less upkeep and costs. That’s not to say they require no maintenance, but, if planted in the right location and soil requirements, they will grow, reproduce and survive in our gardens with minimal care. In the end you should be left with a garden that requires less care and money while enticing native fauna to your yards and gardens that, in turn, help to control invasive species of plants and insects that can harm the natural ecosystem.
Consider installing a high-end, off-grid solar power system
If you are like me and don’t have electricity in your garden, or at least don’t have it in the far reaches of the garden, consider installing a complete off-grid solar-powered electrical system like the American-based Shop Solar Kit company.
Maybe you have a pergola in the back of the garden, or even a she-shed that you would like to have full power running a small refrigerator, sound system or full-size lamps and lighting. If you need to run pumps and lighting to a garden pond, you can do it with one of these highly capable systems that, once installed, operate at no cost to you at all.
There are complete DIY kits available for approximately $1,500 and up.
Gardening on a budget links