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Landscaping on a Budget: Cheap Plants and Their Care

Saving Money on Plants, Water, Containers and Fertilizers

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Obtaining cheap plants requires an adjustment in our attitudes. Many of us grew up buying plants from sources that specialize in the gardening trade. Such plants are high-quality, but that quality comes at a price. When shopping for cheap plants at sources that do not specialize in the gardening trade, we must resist the temptation to compare "apples to oranges."

3. Landscaping on a Budget: Cheap Plants

For instance, cheap flowers at supermarkets will, in many cases, be of a quality inferior to that of the same plants found at your local nursery. But such landscape plants will be less expensive, too, so the comparison is rather unfair. What you have to ask yourself is,

  1. "Do I have the time to sift through the cheap plants, in order to select acceptable specimens?"
  2. "Do I have the time to give these cheap plants some extra TLC once I've planted them?"
  3. "Is the time expended in #1 and #2 above justified by the money that I save?"

If you answered these questions with a "Yes," then you're well on your way to success in landscaping on a budget. Like the tips for saving money on Page 1, purchasing cheap plants can result in a yard that looks like a million bucks but costs you relatively little. But there are two caveats in buying cheap plants:

  1. If you don't know what to look for to determine a plant's health, bring along someone who does. At the very least, inspect plants to see if they have any bugs on them. If they do, then they're not worth bringing home even if they're free!
  2. Once your cheap plants are in the ground, practice proper plant care. Of course, this is always sound advice, even for high-quality plants. But in the case of cheap plants, a little extra TLC may be in order. For instance, if the plants have been stressed at the store, you may have to be extra-meticulous about watering them properly.

Supermarkets are only one example. Perhaps the online equivalent is eBay. You may be able to obtain 10 plants for the price of one by bidding on them via eBay. Sure, 8 of the 10 may end up dying on you. But that still puts you one plant ahead. Again, it's a matter of adjusting your attitude. A good online source for trees is the National Arbor Day Foundation (arborday.org), which often runs specials whereby, if you purchase such-and-such an amount, they'll throw in something for free.

You can supplement your early shopping for annuals with the annuals that go on sale at nurseries in July and August, as I describe in my article on planting fall flowers. This is an inexpensive way to extend the time period during which your yard can be graced with colorful blooms. Also, some supermarkets put shrubs and perennials on sale at the end of the summer, to avoid being stuck with inventory that they can't take care of during the winter.

4. Landscaping on a Budget: Water Conservation

But landscaping on a budget goes beyond obtaining cheap plants. Some plants require more water than others, and water is an increasingly precious commodity. Drought-tolerant perennials are better than most at fending for themselves, which lowers your water bill. Selecting drought-tolerant plants is one part of an overall water-conversation approach known as "xeriscaping ." You can also save money on watering by installing automatic irrigation systems and by applying garden mulch.

5. Landscaping on a Budget: Containers and Fertilizer

Container-gardening makes a lot of sense if space in your yard is limited. The idea makes even more sense if you can obtain inexpensive containers and plant them yourself. Inexpensive containers, including cemetery logs (which can serve as window boxes) can sometimes be purchased at yard sales. Just be careful to scour them out well, in case they harbor any plant diseases.

Whether planting in the ground or in containers, you'll need to fertilize your plants. But why spend more than you need to on fertilizers when you can feed your plants for free? If you're serious about landscaping on a budget, then one of your first projects should be to build a compost bin. Then just place kitchen scraps, raked leaves, etc. into the compost bin, watering and mixing occasionally, and you'll have a ready source of soil amendments -- for free. If that sounds like too much work, some cities offer free compost at designated locations on a first-come-first-served basis. This compost is produced from vegetation removed by city work crews. Three cheers for waste recycling!

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