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Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tips for pinching pennies in the garden

March 31, 2005

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Most folks in Lawrence and around the country let out a collective gasp when they received their heating bills this winter.

At my house, we adopted the "layered look" and kept the thermostat low to keep our wallets from shrinking.

Now that the cold weather is letting up and we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, gasoline prices are skyrocketing and tax day looms just a few weeks away.

Something's gotta give.

But if you thought you'd have to scratch gardening off your financial dance card, think again. Plenty of conservation-minded garden techniques make it possible to get out in the yard, dig in the dirt and not break the bank in the process.

Water-thrifty gardening

  • Water early in the morning. Plants and lawns like to burn off the water application over the course of the day. This helps prevent molds and mildews from developing on plants.
  • Water less frequently but deeply. This will establish the roots of your plants. If the water soaks deep into the earth, the roots will head in that direction and ultimately get more water.
  • Water the soil, not the plants. Using soaker hoses and keeping water off of plants will help keep some diseases at bay. Plus, all the water will go where it should: the plant's roots.
  • Mulch. A generous application of mulch will help plants retain much more of the water you feed them.
  • Choose drought-tolerant plants. Among those that do well in this area are sedum, coneflower and black-eyed Susan.
  • Mow the lawn with the blade set at a high level and leave the clippings in the yard. Those clippings will return valuable water back to the lawn.
  • Let your lawn go dormant. The grass will turn brown, but it will be storing its water reserves in the roots. When fall rolls around, it will turn green again.













  • $457Average annual investment per American household in lawn and garden expenses$38.4 billionNationwide retail sales for lawn and gardening items$28.9 billionAmount spent annually on professional landscaping, lawn service and tree service.15 to 20 percentAverage return on landscape investments, as estimated by real estate agentsSource: Country Living Gardener magazine
  • Collect and recycle water by connecting downspouts to rain barrels to gather the runoff. You also might consider using water from boiling pasta and steaming vegetables on your plants (once it has cooled, of course).

Reduce, reuse, recycle

  • Look for found objects that would make good plant containers, poke a hole in the bottom and save a bundle on pots.
  • Farmers often will place classified advertisements in the newspaper for free manure. You can take the extra manure off their hands and avoid paying for it at the nursery.
  • Old banana peels work well for rose fertilizer.
  • The plastic six-packs that plants come in at the nursery are great to use for sprouting seeds, once you wash them thoroughly.
  • Save old potting soil in a big pile. The stems and roots will break down and actually enrich the soil. Add some compost and replant this year's pots with last year's soil.

Bargain hunting

  • Purchase smaller plants. Plants that are a gallon or quart size usually have been in a nursery for 2 years. Those years of water, time and space add up in the nursery's pocketbooks, so stick with smaller plants.
  • Shop the end-of-season sales. Nurseries generally have big sales so they do not have to over-winter many of their plants. Scavenge for the good bargains. Perennials are the best bet, even if they are yellowing, as long as their root systems look healthy.
  • Buy perennials if you are on a budget. They come back year after year.

Sharing and dividing

  • Embrace volunteer plants and ones that spread themselves. They are a blessing for the thrifty gardener.
  • Start your plants from seed. Even go as far as to collecting seeds from your own garden when you dead head. You could also organize a seed exchange with friends and neighbors.
  • Take cuttings from plants such as fuchsias, geraniums, coleus and flowering maples and propagate them.
  • Divide crowded plants such as daylilies, hostas, iris and yarrow and either spread them around your garden to fill up the space or exchange them with friends for plants that they have that you would like.
  • Go shopping with a friend with the understanding that you each buy a different plant and then at the end of the season either divide that plant or take cuttings and share.

Remember, in these expensive times it's still important not to be cheap. Spend your gardening dollars wisely on fences, tools and furnishings. Items that you want to withstand the test of time often will require more dough up front but will be great long-term investments.


Sources: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Country Living Gardener

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