Low cost, sustainable gardening
With a cost-of-living crisis and a climate emergency it can feel like gardening is just an expensive hobby that has to be parked. You won’t be surprised to hear me say that nothing could be further from the truth in my opinion. Gardening, done well, can contribute to mental and physical wellbeing; enhance biodiversity, combat climate change and save water.
And lots of it you can do for very little money, or for free. Here are some ideas:
1. Make some plant friends, online or in real life
Making friends with other plant lovers is an ideal way of getting things for free. Two of my good local gardening friends I made by simply saying “I appreciate your garden – it’s great!”. You’re now connected with someone who might have spare divisions of plants, seeds, or just be able to share knowledge with you. Plant people will often tip you off where the best local nursery is – or if they are putting in an order online, you can share delivery costs or take advantage of bulk buys.
There’s also great online communities to explore. Try free groups on Facebook and Freecycle where you can pick up surplus seeds, plants, or kit.
2. Repair or reuse existing tools
Yes you can buy new kit. Yes, there are shiny sales from the online retailers enticing you to buy some new-fangled gadget. Like any hobby you can spend a fortune on kit but the basics really are something to dig with, something to plant with, and something to cut with. You can pick these up second-hand tools in bric-a-brac or charity shops.
3. Look after your secateurs
There’s a lot of specialised oils and things you can buy to keep your secateurs in prime condition. However, there’s a lot you can do with tomato ketchup and an old plastic bag to clean them. See here for details.
4. Swap seeds with others, and save your own
Seeds have relatively low cost but prices will be going up – not least because a lot of commercial seed is grown and exported from Ukraine. Trust me, you don’t need 500 seeds of one type of plant. You probably need max 20 or so. See if there are “seed swaps” near you. Or just try growing what you have lingering in a cupboard. They might be past their best years but if you don’t sow, you don’t grow. Use your existing stash before splurging on new. You can also collect seeds in autumn to grow next year
5. Learn how to divide your existing plants
Most existing plants have the potential to give you more plants for nothing. The easiest way to do this is to lift and divide them. There’s a guide on how to do that here.
6. Save money by saving water
Get a water butt if you can. If you have a water butt, get another! Some water companies offer home water visits to give you water saving products. This will give you free water that you won’t have to pay for. It'll also pay dividends if there’s hosepipe bans in the summer. Water butts and containers often crop up on Facebook and Freecycle groups.
7. Compost what you can, where you can
Composting doesn't mean you have to rush out and build a compost heap or buy a bin. Just letting leaves collect on your beds and borders will act as a natural mulch and break down in time. You don’t need to spend time scraping them all off and it'll enrich your soil.
If you can collect leaves from other places – like a lawn, or paths where they might get in the way – you can make leaf mould and save on buying seed compost. See my guide, here.
8. Think beyond personal ownership
This is probably the biggest behavioural tip I could offer. Most things you'll use in your garden will spend most of the time not in use. Lawnmower broken beyond repair? Do you really need a new one? Think about the number of minutes per year you’ll spend using it. Now think about the cost (financial and environmental) of getting a new one. Can you share with a neighbour in return for a bit of gardening help? The same goes for any other tools or bits of kit. We don't need to personally own everything we use. Of course if you have a lawn the size of a motorway roundabout this probably isn't practical - but you might be in the position to loan out your mower in return for a swap.
So those are some tips to make 2023 gardening cheaper, without costing the earth. How do you like saving money?