Gardening – Fun, Frugal, and Full Of Financial Lessons

I love my garden-but gardening successfully can take a long time. Adding my Mother’s Day plants to the garden this year made me think about how much successful gardening resembles wise financial management. I’ll share those thoughts today, and I’ll talk about how to build a successful, beautiful garden without spending a fortune.

The Key Word-Patience

Growing a gorgeous garden doesn’t happen overnight. You need time-not only to create a garden in a cost effective way, but also to learn what does and doesn’t work.

You would pay a ton of money if you purchased only large, mature plants that look wonderful as soon as you plop them in the ground. The less mature the plant, the less money you’ll pay. The least expensive way to get plants is, of course, planting them yourself from seed.

Ok actually the cheapest way is to get part of a plant from someone else for free. I’m fortunate that my grandmother was a wonderful gardener, and over the years she gave me many plants. This is a great gift, because now every year that they come back I’m reminded of my grandmother. I can also use this as an opportunity to remind the boys of how much their great-grandma liked gardening, and show them all the plants that belonged to her.

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If you’re not fortunate to know a gardener personally, you might be able to snag parts of plants in exchange for some labor. It’s always worth checking in a local Facebook group to see if someone has any plants that are overgrown, that they might give you in exchange for digging them out of the ground. It’s a win/win-they get rid of an unwanted plant, and you get a plant in exchange for a bit of labor. In a related note-if anyone would like some oregano, chives, mint or pacasandras, stop on by.

Seeds are least expensive because they require the most labor-and patience-from you. If you live in a climate like mine, you’ll have to start them indoors during the winter in order for them to flourish. I don’t have a good setup for that-maybe one day!-so I buy small seedlings for things like herbs, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. If I had a large vegetable garden like I dream of having one day, I would do more seeds.

Speaking of that-one of my patience tips would be to start small and expand gradually. Many an amateur gardener has been thwarted by starting too big. Not only is it more expensive, but it’s also a lot more work. Before committing to a large garden, you’ll want to accurately judge just how much you like to garden. Do you enjoy weeding, watering, and feeding your garden? Or do you hate spending 90 degree days out in the sun tending to your plants? Only you know the answer.

Every year I expand the garden in front of my house by a few square feet. This not only keeps the cost manageable, but also gives time for perennials to fill out much of the rest of my garden. More perennials means less overall work.

Annuals vs Perennials-Lessons On Price Versus Value

When you see tons of colorful flowers for sale for an inexpensive price, those are more than likely annuals. They’re pretty plants that grow fast, fade fast, and won’t last more than a single season.

Perennials, in contrast, will come back every single year. They may start small but every year they’ll be larger, and larger. Assuming you get perennials that work for your zone, meaning they won’t die off over the winter or perish from the heat of the summer where you live, they’ll last forever.

IMG_2557The downside of perennials is they’re more expensive. As in, four or five times the price of annuals-and sometimes more. But in this case you’ll get what you pay for. Whereas you have to buy annuals every year, you buy a perennial for life.

If you judge a purchase based solely on its price, you would buy annuals every year. But this strategy ends up costing more in the long run, since you have to re-buy them every year. Instead of just looking at price, you should look at the value of your purchase. Are you looking to build a beautiful garden just for one season? Or do you want one that will last decades?

You also want to think about where you buy your plants. Don’t just pick up a bunch at Home Depot and hope for the best. I’ve gotten plants at many different places over the years, and finally settled on a local nursery that doesn’t have the cheapest prices, but has spectacular plants that last a long time, grow well, and flourish in our environment.

Compounding Power of Perennials

Similarly to any long term investment, your purchase of perennials compounds over time. The first year, your garden may look sparse. But over time-as your perennials come back stronger and stronger each year, and as you get more of them-your garden will fill in and look beautiful with less and less work on your part.

I like to think of it like compound interest. The first year, you might make a small investment and see it grow only a little. But in time, as you add to your investments and they begin to compound, you’ll see the impact of your investments take hold.

Set Yourself up for Success Through Automation

My personal gardening rule is that if it can’t survive in my area easily, it’s not going in the ground. As the full time working mother of three boys, I know that I love to garden, but I’m not going to have the time or patience to deal with a particularly fussy plant. If the plant isn’t pest resistant and hardy for my area, I’m not going to deal with it.

This is essentially automating my garden-similarly to automating your money.

Same is true of your financial strategy. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time tracking, learning about sophisticated investment options, etc. you’re best of selecting a strategy that works for you. There’s no sense in wishing you were a different type of person, or trying to force yourself to use a strategy that works for someone else but not for you. Instead set yourself up for success by creating a simple strategy that works for you.

Starting A Successful Garden Without Spending A Fortune

Ok so how do you start a garden without spending a fortune? Start small. Have patience. Seek out free and inexpensive sources of plants. Don’t confuse price with value-be willing to pay more if you’ll get more for your money. Play the long game-if you can’t afford a bunch of perennials up front, fill in extra space with annuals in the meantime. Get plants that grow well in your environment, and that line up with the level of effort you’re going to be willing to put into them.

Do you like to garden? What are your top tips? Any other financial lessons you’ve learned? Let me know in the comments.

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chiefmomofficer

IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

17 thoughts on “Gardening – Fun, Frugal, and Full Of Financial Lessons

  • May 14, 2018 at 10:31 am
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    “Compounding Power of Perennials” – I love that term. I have switched to more perennials over the years. Unfortunately my gardening ventures in vegetables have not down well simply because it’s impossible to keep the squirrels and chipmunks from feasting on a buffet every day.

    Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 10:34 am
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      I do have a chipmunk that likes to eat my strawberries. Luckily I’ve done pretty well on the herb and vegetable front, although I don’t have a tremendous amount of them.

      Reply
  • May 14, 2018 at 12:02 pm
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    Interesting points. My gardening journey started a couple of years ago so I am only at the beginning of the learning curve. I have to add that initially the garden was a disaster. Imagine roughly 7000 sqft of dead plum trees and 3 feet high weeds everywhere on a desert like sandy soil. When we got rid of everything (~2 weeks labour of our free time) we established a lawn and a vegetable garden all in a rush. Now three years later I am replanting the lawn, because of water supply problems last year.
    The vegetable garden was more or less successful, but required a lot of work. At least I am advancing in organic gardening 🙂
    I was not thinking about financial lessons, but in terms of saving my time. This year I am setting up a watering system which saves me hours on a daily basis. I still try to grow seedlings from the starts, but this is a science alone. However, I have those kind family members and neighbors, this year I have received roughly 25-25 tomato and pepper seedlings for free. Last year I provided them with bowls of cherry tomatoes and buckets of sour cherries, so I think of it as an unexpected return on investment 🙂

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    • May 14, 2018 at 10:38 pm
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      That’s awesome! I wish I had someone to give me seedlings.

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  • May 14, 2018 at 5:02 pm
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    Love this, though I don’t do much with perennials because I’m mostly a container gardener. Even when i bought mint last year, knowing it would come back, Jon still tossed the plant because it looked dead to him. But I’ve learned over the last couple of years that growing seeds in containers is what works best….easiest to manage and the deer mostly leave them alone. Anything else I know I’ll lose to the herd.

    My main lesson last year was one you mentioned: to build on what worked, and ditch what we didn’t use or what didn’t thrive. We’re trying a bunch of new veggies this year, but since the new ones are all from seed, we didn’t spend much on our experiments.

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    • May 14, 2018 at 10:39 pm
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      Mint! Mint is the bane of my existence. I planted some 12 years ago when we first moved in, and today I still find it hanging out in my garden. The stuff just won’t go away!

      Reply
  • May 14, 2018 at 8:03 pm
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    Perennials are aaaawesome! I love that our green onions continue to grow and grow, no matter the season. The difficulty with gardening, at least for us, has been pest control. Deer, beetles, and even our cat have destroyed their fair share of the garden. I don’t think we’ve earned back the costs of a garden, and some days I wonder if we ever will. Sigh. But it’s still something fun and productive that gets us outside, and that’s a good thing.

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    • May 14, 2018 at 10:42 pm
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      I don’t know that I’ve earned back the cost, but like you I enjoy gardening. And I’ve had mixed results with the pests. Luckily the deer stay away from where my garden is, but if I expand it, I’m going to need to protect it

      Reply
  • May 14, 2018 at 10:07 pm
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    I’m excited to start gardening once we finish our house, but I’m definitely worried about the deer. Do you have to put a fence around everything or just the vegetable garden?

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    • May 14, 2018 at 10:44 pm
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      My veggies are mixed with flowers the deer don’t like, so far we haven’t had issues with them. And we have a family of seven deer that like to wander around our house

      Reply
  • May 14, 2018 at 11:28 pm
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    I had to google ‘pacasandras’.
    I used to have an urban food forest with over 30 fruit trees and over 12square metres of veggie gardens. When I geo-arbitraged and moved away, I went to a smaller block. I’m about to spend 50K paving the backyard and putting in some wicking garden beds. I’m cutting down on ongoing maintenance but having no lawn or in-ground garden beds, but I’ll still get to grow some food… in drought-proof garden beds.
    Like you, I’ve learned what works for me!

    Reply
    • May 14, 2018 at 11:30 pm
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      Love it! I hate the pacasandras-not sure if they have those where you live-but until I’m up for the big project of creating a shade garden out front, they stay.

      Reply
  • May 15, 2018 at 12:22 am
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    My wife runs the actual garden and I focus more on fruit trees and bushes that might last a lifetime. Maintenance is the long game in that case. From pruning to positioning what will the size be ten years from now and have I allotted enough for what works now to still work then. Kinda similar to choosing a home or car when you think about it.

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    • May 15, 2018 at 12:37 am
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      I’d love to get some fruit trees one day. I have a weeping cherry tree in the front, but alas, no cherries

      Reply
  • May 15, 2018 at 7:59 am
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    We’re starting to plant some garlic but didn’t want to spend any money for any special planter boxes so we’re using egg cartons with toilet paper rolls! Haha, let see how this goes. I’m going to need a lot of patience for my wasabi plant…oy!

    Reply
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:20 am
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      I’ve heard that egg cartons make great seed starters.

      Reply

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