When money is tight, growing your own herbs, vegetables and brightly colored flowers seems like an ideal solution. Frugal gardeners, though, often discover that the cumulative price of flower pots, special soil mixes and nursery-grown plants is prohibitive. Don't let glossy gardening magazine photos of fancy ceramic pots and pricey wooden planter boxes discourage you. Instead, get creative with ordinary household items that can be repurposed to make affordable growing containers. Start your container garden project well before gardening season rolls around to save money on plants, fertilizer and supplies.
Collect large buckets, barrels, baskets and other recyclables to use for your planting containers. A 5-gallon bucket is big enough to grow a large tomato plant, two pepper plants, an eggplant bush or a summer squash plant. A laundry basket, lined with brown paper bags, is deep enough to grow carrots and beets. Save gallon-size plastic milk jugs with the top cut off for green onions, lettuce, spinach, herbs, and annual flowers like marigolds and zinnias.
Wash the containers with dish detergent in warm water, rinse them thoroughly, and set them aside to dry. Disinfect the clean planters for pennies by spraying the inside with household bleach diluted with water, then leave the containers to air dry. Drill holes in the bottom of each planter for good drainage.
Start your own plants indoors from seed instead of paying garden-center prices for ready-to-plant vegetables and flowers when gardening season rolls around. Invest in a bag of sterile potting soil to give the seeds a healthy start. Plant the seeds in egg cartons or flat trays four to six weeks before your area's last frost date. Keep the soil moist and warm. When the seedlings develop three to four true leaves, transplant them into larger pots made from layers of newspaper, toilet paper tubes or cut-off milk cartons.
Blend 60 percent commercial planting soil with 10 percent peat moss, 10 percent vermiculite or perlite, and 10 percent sharp builders sand to create a light, growing medium with good drainage to fill your planting containers. Mix in a slow-release fertilizer, measured according to the manufacturer's label instructions, to provide nutrients as the plants grow.
Set up your container garden in a location that gets full sun for most of the day. If your garden is on a patio or deck, set the containers on trays to protect the concrete or wood from water that drains out of the bottom of the pot. Fill the pots with your soil mixture, and water them several times to let the soil settle and warm for at least a week after your area's last frost date.
Harden off the seedlings you have been growing indoors by setting them outside for two hours at first, then longer periods of time over the next week to 10 days. Transplant seedlings into larger garden pots carefully to protect the roots from damage. Lettuce, spinach, radishes and chard may be sown by seed directly into the containers.
Water newly transplanted seedlings and seeds promptly. Continue watering daily, or more frequently in hot weather, until the plants are mature and the frequency may be reduced.
Things You'll Need
Do not use dirt from the garden to save money, as it may carry contamination, mold or diseases that can damage your plants.
- AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M System; Vegetable Gardening in Containers; Joseph G. Masabni; March 2009
- Maryland Cooperative Extension; Container Vegetable Gardening: Healthy Harvests From Small Spaces; John Traunfeld
- University of Florida IFAS Extension; Recycling in the Garden; Alicia R. Lamborn