Frugal Gardening: Saving Money on Plants and Seeds

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This week I launched a new spring series called Frugal Gardening. You can watch for new posts in this series each Monday and Friday and an update on my own garden each Tuesday. In case you missed them, you can read the introduction post from Monday as well as this week’s garden update.

For today’s post, I’d like to talk about some basic ways to save on seeds and plants.

Seeds or Plants: What to Choose?

If you are new to gardening, it can be easy to look at all the nice plant starts sold at local garden centers and tempting to buy them! After all, the plants are ready to grow, just shove in the ground with some soil, water, and sun.

However, I’d like to encourage you to consider growing as much as you can by seed. Many edibles are incredibly easy to grow by seed and I would personally NEVER buy as a plant start. Here are just a few of the many varieties even the newest gardener should consider growing by seed:

  • Arugula
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Chard
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuces of all kinds
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Squashes such as zucchini
  • Many herbs including cilantro, parsley

I have successfully grown all the above by direct seeding (meaning, planting directly into the ground versus growing seedlings indoors and then transplanting).

Also consider when you are buying a plant, you are buying one single plant. Even a small packet can contain dozens of seeds. I have also found a single packet of seeds can last for 2 or even 3 years’ worth of planting in my small kitchen garden. Growing from seed is very simple way to save big money on your garden!

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Here’s an example of something I am growing in my garden from seed: bok choy! This is an easy-to-grow green that favors cooler temperatures. Perfect for Western Washington gardeners. I’m using a packet of seeds I purchased 2 years ago. Guess what? ALL of the seeds I planted germinated quite readily! Now that’s $3 well spent!

Tips for Choosing Seeds

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Not all seeds are created equal! Here are some of my best tips for choosing the right seeds for your garden.

  • Choose a great seed company that sells varieties suited for your location. For west of the Cascades, I definitely recommend Territorial Seed. This Oregon company runs many trials, selling edibles and flowers suited to our maritime conditions. Virtually all of my seeds come from Territorial. They do NOT sell GMO and offer a really nice selection of organic options. Their customer service is awesome too. I do prefer paying $3 for a pack of seeds from a company I trust vs getting cheaper seeds elsewhere. In the long run, you’re still saving money if you consider how much food a $3 pack of seeds can potentially yield!
  • Consider your space! If you only have a small space to grow food, think long and hard before growing spaghetti squash or melons (speaking from experience here!). Always take time to research how big plants get before purchasing seeds. Diagram your garden on a map, giving ample space per plant.
  • Consider productive options. I prefer cut-and-come again lettuce versus heads of lettuce. Cut-and-come again means you can clip salads all summer long versus individual heads of lettuce that you harvest in one swoop. I also LOVE herbs for this reason (watch for another post devoted to herbs). Kale and chard are also fantastic as you can snip just what you need when you need it. These plants will last for months – well after the first frost hits in the fall.

Bottom line: do your homework! Grow what you love to eat, what you can use, and what is suited to your space.

Choosing Plants

There are times when I do buy plants. Some varieties are more difficult to grow by seed, including some herbs. This year, I’m looking to purchase tomato plants. I am also in the early process of looking into fruit trees and vines (though I’m uncertain if I’ll be able to make the purchase this year or next).

Tomatoes can definitely be grown from seed indoors, but I have no problem purchasing a few healthy plants from a local source as I only put a few plants in my garden and like a couple different varieties. I do encourage you as much as possible: BUY LOCAL! When you are purchasing plants from a local nursery or farmer’s market, you are supporting local businesses as well as often getting plants that have been better cared for and healthier than a big box hardware store.

Last year, I purchased three huge tomato plants from this Tacoma plant sale. They were only $3.50 each and were hugely productive! I will be heading back again this year. (That sale is on May 11th if you are interested and I *HIGHLY* recommend you shop early for the best selection. I got there right as the sale started and 20 minutes into the sale, stuff was GONE.) Just one of the tomato plants I grew last year was enough to can 5 quarts of tomatoes, freeze a bunch of puree and left us plenty for fresh eating too.

Here’s one of the beautiful chocolate cherry tomato plants I purchased. The tomatoes were the sweetest cherry variety I’ve ever tasted! I dried many at summer’s end for “sun” dried tomatoes. Others I just froze.

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You can look for deals too! I was thumbing through my Raintree Nursery catalog last night (they are a Washington company!), and came across this:

100_8087 (800x262)I’m hoping to pay a trip to this nursery myself soon. I should mention again, as much as possible, try to find plants that are suited for your area and climate! A deal isn’t a deal if it’s not ultimately thrive where you live.

Swapping with a Friend

You want to know my most favorite way of saving money on seeds and plants? GO IN WITH A FRIEND!! My pal Susan lives nearby and we’re always doing this! This year we split a Territorial Seed order to cut costs, including shipping, which can be a factor with many seed companies.

Last year, we swapped plants, too! I gave her a few raspberry canes in exchange for a small sage and oregano plant. Here’s where it gets even more awesome. Sage and oregano are perennial, and I was able to divide my oregano into a second plant this year. I am working on propagating the sage as well. How’s that for frugal?

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Above: my primary oregano plant that I added as a small start last year from Susan’s garden. A second new plant just got transferred to a container with some rosemary.

For the last couple years, Susan and I will go through our seed collections and swap! This year, she gave me some zinnia, green onion, and butter lettuce seeds. We split a packet of copra onion and arugula as well. I honestly forgot what I gave Susan in exchange (Susan, if you’re reading, maybe you can pipe in!). I would say that my costs for seeds and plants have definitely come down each year. I’m also at the beginning stages of learning how to save my own seeds – another way you can reduce your costs year over year.

A final note, that may apply for some of my readers: did you know in many cases you can use EBT to buy seeds and plant starts? Yes, it’s true! You might want to read this post my pal Erica wrote last year on using EBT to start a small urban garden on her balcony.

I would love to hear additional ways you’ve saved on seeds and plant starts! Feel free to recommend any seed companies or plant sales to share with other readers!

5 thoughts on “Frugal Gardening: Saving Money on Plants and Seeds”

  1. I just want to say for those on the west side of WA that the Yakima Master Gardener’s have a plant sale coming up at their greenhouse the first weekend of May (3rd-5th). They always have great plants at great prices. The sale then moves to the Arboretum the following weekend but things will be pretty picked over by that point. You can find out more information here-

  2. For those of us north of Seattle, the primary fund raiser for the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation is the annual
    plant sale. This year, the sale will be held on Saturday, May 4, 2013 from 9am – 2pm at McCollum Park.
    I’d echo what you said Angela about getting there early. I went one year in POURING rain and the crowd was impressive. Their website this year says they have 8,000 (!) tomato, herb and veggie starts available.

  3. Love the site, Angie!
    Just wanted to add that I have been composting organic matter in the back yard, and recently discovered that some of the ends of lettuce and cabbage heads began sprouting new plants. I usually bury pretty deeply, but perhaps some varmint dug a few up toward the surface to get enough air to survive…and thrive.
    So now I have begun growing crops just by planting those little gross stems. I have a bunch of Romaines growing like crazy! How cool is second-hand food!

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