Last summer was a tough year for growing tomatoes here in our Colorado garden. After buying six large tomato plants for the garden and lovingly planting them in soil I had enriched with store-bought compost, a hail storm on June 7 destroyed all the plants – along with our cedar shake roof.
After replacing all the plants (and the roof), the summer of 2012 broke all our previous records for heat, with more than 70 days of temperatures over 90 degrees. I tried mulching, drip lines and shade fabric, but all of the tomato plants in that full-sun garden were droopy and produced only a few smaller fruits. I also later learned that the commercial compost I bought was probably contaminated. We probably spent about a hundred dollars between all the plants, compost, water and more – for about a dozen garden tomatoes.
A new gardening year is upon us, and I’ve been thinking about how to maximize our output without spending so much cash. One of the best money-saving strategies, of course, is to grow your own plants from seed. Alas, I wasn’t that organized this year but here are some other thoughts:
1. Has your gardening zone changed? Climate change has caused a general warming trend, and you may want to consult the latest U.S. hardiness zones from the Arbor Day Foundation. Choosing the best plants for your particular zone is a whole lot easier than trying to force things to grow where it’s too hot, cold, dry or humid.
2. Watch for sales on less-than-perfect plants. Dig a nice deep hole, add plenty of good soil, give the plants regular water to establish them, and cut off any dead leaves or blooms. I bought a full flat of bedraggled fuchsia petunias last week for just $2.34, and they perked right up with a little TLC.
3. Got old seeds that didn’t get planted last year? Try planting ‘em now and they might just sprout. Scientists planted centuries-old Anasazi beans and – surprise! They sprouted just fine.
4. Swap plants and seeds with friends. Or ask for a slip of a plant you admire and try establishing it with rooting powder.
5. Evaluate what’s thriving and what’s not. Keep notes in a gardening notebook, so you can move plants around next spring.
6. Get creative about adding edible garden plants to your landscape. If you’re going to spend time and money on water and upkeep, the area might as well be producing food, right? We’ve got rhubarb, strawberries, herbs and currants tucked in the front yard landscaping.
7. Install rain barrels to save money on water. Or save “gray water” (like the water used to rinse dishes) to water your garden plants.
8. Make your own compost. You’ll reduce waste, save money and have complete control over the soil-enriching product.
9. Visit a botanical garden. Our beloved Denver Botanic Gardens is always a feast for the eyes and soul, and a great place to stroll around and see what native plants thrive in our particular region.
10. Explore other nearby neighborhoods and find gardens that appeal to you. See what the professional landscapers are planting. Observe the combinations of colors, textures and heights, and make notes about what you like.
11. No new plants in the budget this summer? Maximize what you have. Prune your bushes and tidy up the spaces. Perhaps you can divide some of your perennials and help them produce more. Dig out unwanted weeds. Edge the garden paths. Sketch and plan your dream garden.
What money-saving strategies are you taking in your garden this summer? I always love hearing from you. In the mean time, here’s to a happy Memorial Day. We are deeply grateful for the men and women who sacrificially serve our country.