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Secrets to a flourishing frugal garden -- Page 2

7. Get creative with containers.
When a plant will be sitting on your deck instead of planted in your backyard, you might be tempted to pay a lot for an expensive ceramic container adorned with a fancy pottery glaze. But you can also get creative.

"Anything that's sturdy and with drainage holes can turn into a plant container," says Charlie Nardozzi, chief gardening officer of the Hilton Garden Inn and a spokesman for the National Gardening Association. "I've seen old gas grills, shoes and, up here in Vermont, old milk jugs turned into plant containers," says Nardozzi, who is based in Burlington, Vt.

8. Rent in bulk.
If you need to rent a rototiller or a lawn aerator, see whether your neighbors want to go in on the deal. You can save a lot of money by sharing a rental and its costs, Walheim says.

9. Get it on sale, but be careful.
Gardeners who hit end-of-the-season sales can score big, but they also have to make sure that they're truly getting a bargain. First, make sure that it's not too late to plant. Gough has gotten calls from people who have bought plants too late in the season and the plants died because of frost.

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Also, a plant that's left over may be what Gough calls the "runt of the litter."

Finally, shop where the retailer will guarantee plants, says Walheim. It may cost a little more upfront, but you'll get your money back if the plants perish through no fault of your own.

10. Buy used tools.
Shop garage sales for old gardening tools. Inspect them carefully for wear and tear. A little superficial rust can be cleaned up, but a rotting handle makes for an impossible rehabilitation job.

11. Make your own compost.
You can turn your household organic waste (vegetable peelings, grass cuttings, fallen leaves) into compost and use that instead of buying fertilizer. To get more details, check out a gardening book from your public library.

12. Get low-cost or free mulch.
Check with local tree-care and landscape companies and your county's recycling team or garbage haulers. All can be good sources of inexpensive mulch. Tree-removal companies may even give it to you for free. In addition, you can save money by buying mulch in bulk. Simply supply the container (which could be as basic as a truck's flatbed) rather than buying packaged bags at the garden shop.

13. Practice selective pest control.
Pick your battles when it comes to curbing insects. Analyze and decide whether something really needs to be done. "I had a woman hyperventilating on the phone because she found one bug on a rhododendron that was the size of a two-story house," Gough says. "You have to look at the population and decide whether it's reasonable to let it go or that you need to do something."

14. Use home remedies for pest and weed control.
When pest treatment is called for, something as simple as washing insects off shrubs and vegetation with a garden hose can be effective, says Gough. Or you can make your own nontoxic insecticides. One simple recipe from Nardozzi: Use a dash of liquid soap to make things stick, add some hot chili pepper flakes, mix with water and strain through a cheesecloth. Vinegar can also be a powerful weed killer, Nardozzi adds.

15. Swap plants with your neighbors.
Gardeners need to divide perennials such as day lilies and bee balm to keep them healthy and beautiful, says the National Gardening Association's Nardozzi. Use that argument to persuade neighbors to share.

Just be sure the plants are healthy, cautions Gough. "You have to be sure there are no pathogens," the horticulturist says. "For example, raspberry bushes are prone to pathogens, so I wouldn't exchange them."

16. Look for landscaping makeovers.
Check with your city or county landscapers to find out if they're removing any plants. Rather than trash the old plants, they may be willing to let you take them. Also check with banks or other large corporate institutions that redo landscaping periodically.

17. Exchange time for cost.
Many gardening accoutrements cost more because they save you time. If you're willing to invest more time, you can save big. Gough points to loose fertilizer vs. the preformed spikes for trees. "Tree spikes are just compressed masses of fertilizer," Gough says. "You can save money by just buying the fertilizer."

18. Buy generic.
There are a lot of boutique fertilizers and insecticides out there. Rather than buying rose-specific fertilizer or a name brand, Gough suggests you buy generic. "You don't need super-duper fertilizer and you can save some money by buying generic," he says.

19. Plant for energy conservation.
This won't directly cut your gardening expenses, but it can save in fuel costs. For example, shrubs planted on both the east side and west side of the home will provide shade during the heat of the day and can reduce your air conditioning costs by as much as 25 percent, says Walheim. Trees and shrubs planted as wind breaks can also reduce home heating bills.

20. Be frugal, not cheap.
The saying that "you get what you pay for" applies to gardening, too. Buy the lowest-cost tools you can find, but make sure they are sturdy and that they will last. "Next time the handle falls off of the $5.99 shovel you bought, remember this lesson," says Walheim.

Don't forget to properly maintain and store your gardening implements. Sharpen or oil them as necessary and put them away in a shed or garage rather than leaving them exposed to the weather. That way you'll have them for years, helping you produce not only a healthy garden, but a well-cultivated checking account, too.

Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.


-- Posted: Sept. 10, 2004
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