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20 secrets to a flourishing frugal garden

Any gardener knows that it takes a lot more than a green thumb to get plants to grow. But you don't necessarily have to spend a fortune at the local nursery to ensure your plants prosper.

These 20 tips can keep your flower beds and bank account flourishing.

1. Know what will grow well in the area.
2. Get free advice.
3. Start from scratch.
4. Think small.
5. Plant perennials.
6. Go bare.
7. Get creative with containers.
8. Rent in bulk.
9. Get it on sale, but be careful.
10. Buy used tools.
11. Make your own compost.
12. Get low-cost or free mulch.
13. Practice selective pest control.
14. Use home remedies for pest and weed control.
15. Swap plants with your neighbors.
16. Look for landscaping makeovers.
17. Exchange time for cost.
18. Buy generic.
19. Plant for energy conservation.
20. Be frugal, not cheap.

1. Know what will grow well in the area.
Bob Gough, a professor of horticulture and an extension horticulture specialist at Montana State University in Bozeman, has watched the frustration of transplanted gardeners. "We have so many people moving to Bozeman who think that what grows well in Baton Rouge will grow well here," he says. "They spend exorbitant amounts of money and then everything dies."

Even if you've lived in the same area for years, do your homework and find out what will thrive and survive in your soil and climate. Similarly, determine what plants are hardier so you don't spend a lot of time and money battling vermin or insects.

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2. Get free advice.
You don't have to pay for professional planting help. Check in with your county's agricultural extension office. It has information on what to grow, what climate zone your home is in and the length of your growing season.

3. Start from scratch.
Grow plants from seeds or cuttings rather than buying them. For even more savings, collect seeds from your own or a neighbor's plants. Not only is it economical, but you'll probably be rewarded with more variety.

But before you become a regular Johnny Appleseed, consider the time and effort of growing from seeds and do so only when practical. If the seeds require a lot of tender loving care, such as special lights and other paraphernalia, it might ultimately be cheaper to buy plants.

Gough, for example, has found that growing tomato plants from scratch just won't work in Montana's extremely short growing season. By the time the tomato seedlings are ready to be planted in the garden, there aren't enough cultivation days left for the plants to bear fruit.

4. Think small.
If you do opt for plants, think small rather than big, says Lance Walheim, a horticulturist and spokesman for the Bayer Advanced line of fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. More mature plants, he notes, cost more.

5. Plant perennials.
Perennials bloom year-in and year-out, whereas annuals bloom once and that's it. "That will make you avoid replanting every spring," Walheim says.

6. Go bare.
Bare roots, that is. When a plant is going from the garden shop to your backyard, don't waste money on its container. Instead, buy bushes and trees "au naturel," Walheim says. A burlap wrap will do fine for the short trip home.


(continued on next page)
-- Posted: Sept. 10, 2004
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