Outdoors: Dirt cheap gardening

A blogger offers tips for finding free seeds, controlling pests, swapping with friends and more.

Cultivate a thriving garden on a budget and unearth cost-effective secrets for lush green spaces. DEPOSITPHOTOS

By Laura Sampson | The Associated Press

Gardening doesn’t have to break the bank. Discover effective and budget-friendly gardening secrets to grow more plants on less green. From savvy seed starting to top-of-the-line, zone- specific plant advice and swaps with other budget-minded gardeners, learn how to cultivate a thriving garden without spending a fortune. Like everything else these days, the cost of growing vegetables and flowers is on the rise. That doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying

them, though. These thoughtful and innovative cheap dirt gardening techniques will see you through it.

Getting started

Sometimes, the simple act of getting started is the first big hurdle. If you’re looking to save some green, plan now for the things you want to harvest later. Use these dirt-cheap tips to get you started.

Grow native plants >> When you choose plants native to your area, you choose plants that can survive your region’s weather. These plants need less water, which saves time and money.

Visit a cooperative extension service for free advice >> Did you know you can get free help? This resource can tell you about free or low-cost gardening clinics or classes. Beyond the advice on food preservation, you can tap into them for extra information about growing the right kinds of plants for your area. Your extension agent is a wealth of knowledge; their job is to share that information with you. There also may be master gardeners available to come and take a look at what you’re working with.

Save on the tools

Buying starter plants can be costly >> Consider starting your garden from seeds — the price alone in savings might convince you all you need are containers, pots, soil and seeds.

Many recycling centers and gardening clubs will recycle plant supplies and offer them to the public for free. Also, check your local buy-nothing and yard sale groups on Facebook for free or cheap supplies. Thrift stores can be fantastic places to find growing supplies. Get creative with what you have on hand — yogurt containers, old cups and mismatched food storage containers can be used to grow plants. Be sure to clean anything you plan to grow plants in before using it to keep diseases from spreading.

Swapping is in

If you haven’t heard, swapping is a great way to get more bang for your buck.

Here are some great ideas >> Swap your extra seeds and plants with friends. If you want to grow many plants, flowers and vegetables, consider getting together with friends and having a seed swap. Seed packets come with many more seeds than you need, so swapping the extras is a great way to get more variety for less money.

Too late to swap seeds? >> Swap plants instead. Grow extra vegetables and flowers, get together with friends and swap them. Again, the benefits are more variety for less money. Plus, time spent with new and old friends is well spent.

Try a crop swap >> Find a specialty crop that you grow really well. Trade your extras with friends and neighbors. Dan Morris of blog “Fire and Saw” explains how he makes this tip work for him. “Grow what works and swap for what doesn’t. I’m known as the potato, tomato and chile man in our community because I never fail to produce a massive harvest of these crops. However, I can’t grow a strawberry, a cucumber or an onion.”

Be sure to check out seed libraries >> Often housed at reading libraries, seed libraries help reduce monoculture and increase biodiversity by offering free seeds. Check with your local library to see if it offers seeds or if there’s a seed library in your area.

The next level

Dirt-cheap gardening doesn’t just end once seeds are planted and growing. Take it to the next level if you dare.

Learn to compost at home for better soil health >> Chat with your extension agent; chances are they are putting on a composting clinic in your area sometime soon.

Instead of buying pesticides, use natural pest deterrents >> Consider companion planting to keep pests in check. You can plant marigolds to repel pests in the garden or onions to drive out root maggots. Soapy water in a spray bottle can kill and remove bugs. Hand- picking is also a great way to remove bigger pests.

Make your own traps for slugs and snails >> Dig a small hole in the dirt, lay in a shallow bowl or saucer, fill it with beer at night and pick out the slugs in the morning.

Mulch >> Use grass clippings, leaves or straw as mulch to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds. This saves water and the effort of frequent weeding. This can be an invitation to slugs, so use this cautiously.

Perennial happiness

Opt for perennial plants over annuals >> This gives you more flowers year in and year out, Perennial plants live longer than one season of summer flowers, so you don’t need to buy new plants each season. These plants don’t last forever but grow for a long time. Plus, you can divide them when they get older and get more plants for free.

Get savvy

If you have to buy plants, buy them later in the season >> As greenhouses close for the season, they start to discount plants. This is a great time to get plants, either perennials or annuals, that were too expensive to afford earlier in the year.

The more you learn about your specific garden conditions — soil type, sunlight, local pests — the more you can adapt your strategies without spending money. This is where taking classes locally comes in handy.

Time to get growing

To wrap up, embracing dirt-cheap gardening secrets can significantly reduce your gardening costs while allowing you to enjoy a vibrant garden. These tips save money and foster a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to gardening, making it more accessible for everyone interested in gardening.

Laura Sampson of the blog "Little House Big Alaska" is on a mission to teach modern family-oriented home cooks how to make old-fashioned foods new again.  She shares her passion for home cooking, backyard gardening, and homesteading at littlehousebigalaska.com.

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