Frugal Living 

Tips for Starting a Garden

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One of the cornerstones of frugal living is gardening. After all, there are few things that help you save money on food better than growing your own. My husband and I enjoy planting a garden. We prefer to plant items that are fairly easy to grow in our area, that we know we will eat a lot of, and that cost a little more at the grocery store. We don’t have a lot of time, and we don’t have a ton of space, so we are creative about our garden, and we are choosy about what we grow.

If you are thinking of starting a garden, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want success. Here are some tips for starting a garden:

1. Know Your Space

You want to know your gardening space. This means that you should have an idea of what plants will grow well in your climate. Your local master gardener or nursery owner can help you figure out what will grow best.

You should also know how much space you have for a garden. Rather than take up a good chunk of yard in our suburban neighborhood, my husband and I built garden boxes along the back and side fences, and created an herb garden in a box next to our house. This makes it easier to get to the plants and care for them, and we get the same square footage for growing, while leaving plenty of open space in the yard for play.

2. Start Small

If you have never gardened before, it is often a good idea to start small. Choose only a few plants, and see how you do with them. Don’t plant too much, either. If you know that you are going to be pressed for time, only plant items that you know you will eat regularly. Grow your garden little by little as you learn the ropes, and as you have a little more time to care for a larger garden.

You can also find better success with some plants if you grow starter plants inside the house, and then transplant them later.

3. Use Some Sort of Soil Helper

We like to mix steer manure and compost into our garden boxes. Adding something to the soil can help your plants grow better. There are a number of natural and artificial fertilizers as well. (We have found that compost and steer manure work fine, without extra help.) You will need to turn the soil every year to loosen it up for growing, and this is an ideal time to mix in your soil helper of choice. If you have really poor soil, it might not be a bad idea to buy some top soil to bring in initially. We did this our first year.

4. Take Care of Your Plants

You will need to weed around your plants, and watch for pests that can damage your plants. There are organic pesticides that can be used if you don’t like the idea of spraying other types of bug killers. You might also need to watch for rodents. We had to use traps on voles last year — especially since they seemed to like my strawberries! There are humane traps, as well as deterrents that make use of sound, that you can try if you don’t want to kill the pests.

What tips do you have for starting a garden?

{ 18 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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18 Responses to “Tips for Starting a Garden”

  1. Steve jones says:

    I would grow what you would eat a lot. Sweet corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, lima beans, and onions should fit the veggies. It’s nice to have strawberries and blueberries. Then you could veture into fruit trees. There’s nothing like being able to pick cherries, apples am=nd peaches. You could even consider pomegranate and kiwi. Once they start producing you can make a nice extra income.

  2. Jenny says:

    I planted a 4 x 8 raised bed garden for the first time last year. The first year is expensive because you are buying soil, tools and plants and seeds. I spent around $500 to get it started. I learned a lot about gardening by getting a few books from the library. This year, I planted lettuce in March and will harvest soon. I just planted(in May) the vegetables. My expenses were much lower this year ($80) because I just needed a little organic fertilizer and plants and seeds. I learned a lot about where to plant things from last year. Keep a journal about what you plant and how the crop is so you know for the next year. If you don’t get a good crop, don’t plant it next year. My journal was very helpful when I planned this year’s garden.

  3. Donald says:


    I would encourage anyone who wants to start a garden to avoid chemical fertilizers totally. The reasons are many, but most compelling is how your plants digest and utilize chemical fertilizers. Plants, especially tomato plants, use artificial fertilizers almost like people use candy and desserts meaning they “taste” real good, but really do not provide lasting nutrition to your plants or to the soil; therefore, the plants ability to produce maximum nutritional fruit is diminished and the plants ability to fight off predators and diseases are also diminished.

    I get that this is not a garden blog or a nutrition blog, but a finance blog; however, one of the main reasons to plant a garden, besides saving money, is to provide you and your families with peak nutrition and using artificial fertilizers like Miracle Gro may make plants look pretty, but you are really robbing the soil and your own nutrition.

    Please use organic fertilizers from a high quality local garden store and avoid the big box retailers and you will reap the sweet rewards. Yes, growing organic costs more, but how much is your health worth long-term? You can invest now in your good health or pay doctors and hospitals later- its up to you.

  4. Andrea says:

    Great tips, hopefully they will help me get a jump start on my garden.

  5. I highly recommend if you’re just starting, to start with a pot and some basil seeds. It grows fast, is relatively easy, and most people can find lots of use for basil! Plus, the smell alone is worth it. 🙂

    • Donald says:

      Basil is one of the best herbs on the planet, in my opinion. One nice thing about Basil, in addition to what Stephanie PTY mentioned is that there are many different varieties of basil and at least two colors of basil. Stephanie is so corect- the smell is intoxicating!

  6. Shirley says:

    We have been backyard gardening for a few years and find that the very best bug control is to plant Marigolds among the veggies. Their fragrance seems to ward off most insects but they still attract honeybees, which is what you want for good pollination.
    Marigolds are extremely hardy and easy to grow and they reseed themselves.

    • Donald says:

      Shirley is really on to something and her suggestion about marigolds is spot-on. Marigolds are a great organic control on bad insects and they do not appear to discourage or drive away the beneficial insects, so marigolds are an organic win-win!

      I especially like Shirley’s comment about attracting honey bees b/c anyone who cares knows that honey bees are under assault environmental (systemic chemical fertilizers such as those made by Bayer, but they are all bad) and a genetic and parasitic malady that appears to contribute to the cause of colony collapse disease. Thanks Shirley!

    • skylog says:

      i have read this in quite a few places, but i was having trouble believing it was that successful. it seems perhaps i should change my tune and really start thinking about this.

  7. fabclimber says:

    I have been gardening for many years, it’s a constant learning process. Helps to “think spring” during the dead of winter. Lawns are a waste of time and money for most people. A producing garden is much more worthwhile. After the first couple of years the work can be very minimal to get things planted. Every few years retill the soil completely. Use fabric and mulch to reduce weeding and preserve the soil and moisture. I agree with using organic products as much as possible. You can give extra produce to your neighbors and friends at work and the local food bank too. Keeping ajournal helps to save time and expenses in gardening. Finding out what works and what doesn’t happens over years. Never be discouraged by a bad crop year. Weather usually determines how things turn out. It’s a great family activity that isn’t electronic.

  8. elloo says:

    Gardening is great! But, you have to take the potential for animal damage into account depending on where you live. Rabbits, deer, racoons, groundhogs, etc can do extensive damage to almost any plant. So, you have to add fencing, repellants and so forth to your cost of gardening.

  9. Strebkr says:

    The company I work for lets people garden on 10×10 plots on some land behind our building. I tried it last year thinking it would be great. I really wanted to grow corn. HA no way will I ever do that again. I got poison ivy during the planting, it was way too hot during lunch when I would go out and water. Then I saw an add for corn at our local store 10 for 10. I think later that day I went out with a weedwacker and cut it all down and gave up. I know people love gardening, but I guess I’m not one of them. At least I tried before I started talking about it.

  10. Matt Bell says:

    After years of wanting to plant a vegetable garden, we have finally taken the plunge. We almost bought a 4 x 4 raised bed garden kit at Home Depot, but found that it was a fair amount cheaper just to buy some boards and nail them together. We filled it with a mixture of top soil and organic garden soil and were disappointed to see what looked like bits of plastic bag in the organic soil. Still, we’re in the game. Looking forward to seeing what comes up.

    I appreciated Shirley’s tip. We’ll give that a try.

    • Miranda says:

      We built our own garden boxes as well! It is much cheaper in some cases than just buying a kit. And we were able to build them to our specifications. Good luck with your garden!

  11. I just planted my first garden. Not so much for the what we will eat out of it (I plan to give most of it away), but for the experience.

    Here is a quick tip to be frugal when planting. It should be obvious to most, but I was so excited to get started, I did not pay attention. Plant from seed instead of buying your plants “pre-grown”. I started throwing plants in my cart and before I knew it, the bill was $60!

  12. Pff, you’ve got to be kidding me. My wife and I are doing a balcony garden and – according to – we’ve already spent $40. The start-up costs for a garden tend to be quite high. You need to buy the pots, and the soil, and the plants (or seeds), and the tomato wire (if you’re growing tomatoes), and the Miracle-Gro,. So, all-in-all we’ve spent $40 for 6 plants. At 99 cents a pound for store-bought tomatoes, we better get 40 pounds worth…

  13. Sandy says:

    I filled my herb pots with organic soil and seeded them. Still had an extra bag of soil left. A raccoon tipped the pots and started eating the DIRT. It ripped open the bag of soil and it was like a feast for him. I fixed the pots and sprinkled hot pepper sauce lightly across the top and some on the soil bag. When the raccoon returned, it sniffed and walked away. I’m going to use hot sauce or powdered hot pepper seed in my raised bed, as the deer seem to like the same foods I like!

  14. Sandy says:

    You’ll find a lot of pots at garage sales, most 50 cents to $1.50. I buy baskets at sales too, line them with garden weed fabric and fill with soil. It’s kind of pretty to see baskets of herbs on the deck.

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