Sue Langley

How I save money in the garden

by sue langley

Create a vegetable garden for two.
Create a vegetable garden for two. Submitted Photo

More than anything, here in our foothills, I wanted a beautiful garden and though I had no experience gardening in deer and snow country and a small budget, I just began digging and let experience be my teacher.

In doing so, sure, a few mistakes were made, but I also found a few money-saving ways to grow shrubs and flowering trees to start our landscape, colorful perennials and even vegetables. These lessons learned are offered here to hopefully bring you the garden you want no matter what the size of your budget.

Do buy good soil if your garden is solid clay, pure decomposed granite or contains cement from home construction. I can’t stress enough that good quality soil is essential in the areas closest to your home where landscape shrubs, trees and perennials will be planted. Starting with well-mulched garden beds, full of rich, loose soil, will ensure that the plants you pay for will survive.

Use logs as edgings and leaves as mulch. Slender logs and large branches outline my garden beds for a natural look and are free. An area edged this way is ‘code’ to my ‘non-gardener’ that weed-whacking here is not necessary!

I rake up my oak leaves and pine needles to use as mulch to neaten beds and prevent weeds... and I’m not shy about asking any tree trimmers I see for any pine chips they’re willing to bring over. They are glad not to have to take their chips to the dump.

Don’t use fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides. At first these chemicals were frankly out of my budget, but now I feel good about allowing the natural life cycles of plants and insects to exist in my garden without interference. I’ve always been too lazy to fertilize, but if you do, use it first in your container plants where the soil’s minerals become depleted.

Observe what the neighbors grow. You may have you ideas about the ideal English cottage garden, but see what does well in your neighbor’s gardens and ask what plants do best. This is how I discovered which succulents can withstand our winters and which plants the deer wouldn’t devour.

Do not be put off, though, by a cynic who claims they cannot grow anything because of deer, drought or gophers. It’s simply not true!

Buy plants in small sizes and be patient. Sunset Magazine once ran an experiment with gallon sized plants and those in four inch pots. At the end of the growing year, both plants were the same size! Don’t plant plants too close, like I up on each one to see what the full size will be. This will stop you from planting a Coastal sequoia in a planter by the front door.

Plant perennials that reseed and learn simple propagation. Good re-seeders and free plants from cuttings are always welcome. To learn more about these search ‘propagation’ on my website,

Look for community plant sales and swaps. Many, many of my plants have come from end of the year plant sales at our local nurseries and plant sharing with friends and neighbors. Just make it known that you are looking! You may have plants to swap, too.

Share major garden equipment with neighbors, maintain and return it on time. We share a wood splitter and push string trimmer with our neighbors. If you have nearby friends willing to share, this can save big bucks!

Simplify your patio pots and switch out two favorite annual plants. For several years, I have planted snow-hardy pansies and violas in my containers in December and replaced them with heat-loving zinnias in June.

Grow the veggies that cost you the most in the store. Cilantro, Arugula, Green salad mix (mesclun), Chives, Dill, Lettuce, Tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are the ones to grow that save you the most. Fence in your veg garden if you have deer ... they don’t care about saving money.

Buy perennials and California natives. Perennials are those that once planted, come back each year and bloom. California natives are easy to grow and are survivors since California is their home. These will last and last in your garden.

Buy outdoor furniture at yard sales. Metal furniture is my favorite because it lasts in our wet winters. Wooden lounges, table and benches, found at yard sales are certainly worth getting at a fraction of the retail cost and can provide a place to collapse in the garden under a shady tree. While sitting there, just think of all the money you’re saving.

For more garden ideas, see and for questions email Sue Langley at