Free and Frugal Gardening: 5 Lessons Learned

I grew my first vegetable plant in 2009 as a way to cut our grocery bill. I was a newlywed right out of college, with no big-time job prospects and plenty of student loans. It made sense to grow a garden with the least amount of expenses, so we had to get creative in some areas. No bagged Miracle Gro or easy pre-built garden beds; they were out of my budget. But I had to come to terms with a few things.

Free and Frugal Gardening: 5 Lessons Learned

1 – A cheap garden may not by pretty. I took what I could get, which means things were going to be mismatched. I had to accept that I wouldn’t have raised beds of all the same materials or nice gravel on all of my pathways. Also, no matter how pretty annual flowers are, I didn’t splurge on a plant whose only purpose is to be colorful. The plants and seeds that I bought had to be edible (or medicinal, if the price was right). I could only get flowers if someone gave me cuttings or I got them free at a plant swap.

2 – I had to be vocal. I typically lean more introverted than extroverted, but people have to know what I need if I want free garden materials. I talked to people about gardening, comparing notes with others about what worked for them and what I’m doing. I made it clear that I was looking for certain plants and materials, so these people thought of me when they had things to get rid of or were dividing plants.

3 – A free garden takes more time to set up. Instead of buying a plant whenever I wanted, I often waited until I found someone with cuttings or extra seeds. Seven years after starting the garden, there are still MANY plants that I plan to get. If I had an extra $1000, I could have bought them all in 2009. Also, instead of going to one store to buy all of the supplies at one time, I drove to different houses on different days to pick up the materials. (Make sure the gas money is worth it before doing this.) I wasn’t able to mulch the whole garden at one time. Leaves were my main source of mulch and people rake on different days, so I got a few bags of leaves one week and more bags the week after. Also, a cheap garden means more DIY stuff, which usually takes extra time compared to premade supplies.

Daylily from The King's Table

I received daylilies during a free plant swap in my city.

4 – I needed a budget, because completely free gardening wasn’t going to happen for me. Maybe a set of seeds didn’t sprout, a free supply of fertilizer fell through, or there was a plant that I just really, REALLY want. Every year, I’ve splurged on something, so a budget makes sure I don’t splurge too much.

5 – You don’t really need much to begin gardening. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of raised beds, fertilizer, plants, seeds, compost, hand tools, row covers, trellises, fencing, and every other cool garden supply. However, the only things that are absolutely necessary are soil, water, seeds, and light (but even soil is negotiable, such as in hydroponics). Yes, unique containers and raised beds are nice. Store-bought soil amendments will help your plants grow better and produce more fruit. A trellis for those cucumbers would be helpful instead of letting them grow on the ground. But if you are absolutely stretched for cash, none of these are necessities. After the necessities, I’d invest in soil amendments, a trowel, and gloves, but your growing medium and personal gardening preferences will determine what you need most.

Gardening for free is possible, but I prefer inexpensive or frugal gardening. It forces me to be creative and less wasteful without feeling deprived. When I have a little extra money for gardening supplies, I ask 3 questions before buying anything. First, how necessary is the item? Second, how difficult would it be to get a free substitute? Third, how many hours do I have to work to pay for the item? In other words, do I want it badly enough to spend those hours working?

Why do you garden? Is it for cheaper produce, the love of gardening, or something else?


9 thoughts on “Free and Frugal Gardening: 5 Lessons Learned

  1. Good points! I garden because seeing something grow and develop STILL fills me with wonder every time! I also love the taste of homegrown veggies. I’d love to grow fruit but they seem more expensive….any fruit suggestions? I’m think maaaayyybbbeee strawberries this year, but not many, I don’t think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Valerie! I agree wholeheartedly with you, about the wonder and taste and all of it. There were so many veggies that I thought I didn’t like until I grew them.
      Strawberries and raspberries were the first fruits that I grew. They seemed the most cost effective, since they multiply on their own and the berries are so expensive in the store. I’ve had fairly good luck with both, as long as I pinch off the strawberry runners in spring and pull the raspberry canes that grow outside of their designated area. Best of luck with your garden this year!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew my first garden 2 years ago…I grew it to have fresh foods but soon found out it was great therapy and great quite time! It was hard work but yet it was a good tires when finished and so rewarding . Sad to say last years garden didn’t do as well but I’m going to give it another shot this year! Loved the article ! Good luck with your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lynette! I thought we would keep a small kitchen garden, but I’ve enjoyed it so much that we’ve expanded it each year. Definitely great therapy. I hope this year’s garden grows well and produces lots for you! It seems like every year, some plants fail miserably and others produce like crazy.


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