4 Tips for Building a Budget-Friendly Garden
Updated: Jun 1
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Many people, like myself, stumble into gardening as a way to save money. Especially now, with the rising prices of groceries, growing your own food is one of the best ways to save money!
It's easy to spend a LOT of money on a garden! But it's not necessary! You can grow an amazing garden while spending very little money! Here are 4 ways of doing that, listed in order of cheapest to most expensive.
1. In Ground
The most affordable way to build a cheap garden is to till up a patch of lawn, and plant seeds! Find a relative, neighbor, friend, or meet a stranger in home depot and borrow their tiller. If push comes to shove, you can also rent one from your local Home Depot. Plant everything from seeds and BAM! You have a garden!
This is the most affordable and traditional way of growing a vegetable garden. Growing veggies in rows in the ground is also called "Market Gardening" because the veggies can be grown in large quantities for the market. Growing directly in the ground means your space is not limited to raised beds or containers. However much yard you have can be used as the garden!
While this method is super cheap, there are several things you need to consider before choosing this method:
My parents gardened this way for years when I was a kid, and my childhood memories are filled with squatting in the dirt and weeding for hours in our overgrown veggie patch! No matter what, at some point in the summer, we gave up, and let the weeds take over. If you garden like this for many years and are diligent about keeping the spot weeded, eventually the weeds will become less and less of a problem. However, it takes years and diligence.
Weeds can be avoided, obviously, with regular weeding, but also mulching or laying plastic or weed fabric down over any exposed dirt. I personally like to leave as little exposed dirt as possible in my garden by companion planting, but even then, you’ll likely still have some exposed dirt.
Another thing you can do is lay down tarps over the area for several months before tilling and planting. The tarp will kill the grass and weeds underneath, so when you go to the till, you have a clean slate. I would recommend laying the tarps down for at least 6 months before tilling and planting, so this does take some forethought.
Poor soil conditions
When you grow directly in the ground, you risk growing in very poor soil conditions. I have dug down into yards and discovered the richest, healthiest dark black soil I’ve ever seen! I’ve also dug down into dry, hard-packed dead soil, sandy soil, clay soil, and soil filled with rocks or roots! It’s truly a gamble! There are plenty of ways to amend poor soil, so you may have to take that route if your soil is poor. Here is a link to a soil test kit that is easy to use.
There are plenty of ways to amend poor soil, See my post here for how.
2. No-Dig Garden
This gardening style is very similar to an in-ground market garden, BUT instead of tilling, you add several layers of cardboard and then add soil and compost on top! It's that simple! This method is more expensive than the first method in this post because you have to source or purchase the soil and the compost.
1. Lay down several layers of cardboard
Be sure to add several layers of cardboard over the ground. The cardboard will eventually decompose, but you want it to last long enough to kill all the grass and weeds underneath. Speaking from experience, one layer is not enough! When you're laying the cardboard down, be sure that there are no gaps where the ground is exposed. Weeds will grow up through any spots left uncovered by cardboard. Also, keep in mind that the tape does not break down. You will need to remove any packing tape from the cardboard before using it.
2. Lay down six inches of soil
Sourcing good dirt can also be done cheaply. Check Facebook marketplace, craigslist, and call your city to see if they have fill dirt they’re looking to get rid of. Be warned though, you will likely need to amend this dirt with compost, peat moss, or other agents to make it good for growing. But, this is the most affordable way to do it.
You can always order a load of soil from a local nursery. I ordered a load in 2021, and it cost me about $200 for the soil and delivery, but it filled up 7 large raised beds. If you have a truck or trailer (or a friend with a truck or trailer), you can go pick it up yourself and save a LOT of money by skipping the delivery fee!
Be sure to care for your soil. The quality of your soil determines the health of your plants. See above for my tips on amending poor soil, and here is an affordable soil test that I would highly recommend.
3. Container gardening
Don’t have a yard with enough space to grow a garden? Not to worry, you can grow in containers! Even if you do have enough yard to grow in, container gardening still might be the best route for you. If you’re renting, this would be a great option. If you don’t want to till and amend your soil, I would also recommend container gardening.
Kitty pools? Yes!
Plastic bins? Yes!
Traditional terracotta pots? Yes!
5-gallon buckets? Yes!
When growing in containers, you’ll want to consider drainage. If it’s a plastic container, take a drill bit or hot knife and put holes in the bottom of the pots. Don’t feel like you need to buy your containers new either. I would recommend you get them for free or very cheaply. Ask your friends or family for containers they don’t want. You can do this by driving around to pick up containers people throw out, and you can likely source a lot of free or cheap containers on Facebook marketplace!
Live in an apartment with only a tiny balcony? You can still grow in these spaces. Check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF2iQAGA5Bg for the most inspiring guide to balcony gardening I’ve ever seen!
4. Raised Beds
If you’re going to be in one place for years to come, and really want a nice, established garden, this is the route to go! This is the method I chose to use, and I love it! Weeds are easy to keep under control, I have perfect control over my soil quality, it's easy to work in, and pretty to look at!
Building a raised bed garden CAN be one of the most expensive ways to build a garden, but read my article here on how to do it cheaply.
Before going out and buying dirt, I'd recommend searching online for some. Sometimes someone is looking to get rid of fill dirt, or someone on Facebook or Craiglist has compost they're willing to sell at an affordable price. Spend a little time online before deciding to purchase a load.
If you can’t find dirt this way, I would recommend ordering a load from a local nursery. This might cost a few hundred dollars, BUT if you’re filling many raised beds, this is the route to go. Ordering a delivery from a nursery is MUCH cheaper than buying bags of dirt at your hardware store or nursery. It’s also much less wasteful as buying bags of dirt results in a lot of plastic.
If you only have a couple of raised beds, I wouldn’t worry about your pathways. I would recommend spacing your beds the distance of a push mower so that you can mow between the beds.
However, if you’re like me, and crazy, I built a lot of raised beds, so there were many many walking paths between them. After 2 years of weed-whacking these, I was tired of grassy pathways! Here’s what you do: lay down cardboard (go dumpster-diving to source cardboard, or call a local furniture store to ask for some). Make sure to lay down MULTIPLE layers of cardboard, and get it up under the edges of the wooden beds if possible. This cardboard will kill all the grass underneath, and then eventually decompose. One layer of cardboard decomposes too fast to thoroughly kill the grass underneath, so I would recommend 3 or 4 layers.
Then order free wood chips. I used Chipdrop.com. Chipdrop works with arborists who are looking to get rid of their wood chips. You just sign up to receive a load! I did this, and six weeks later, I had a MASSIVE load of wood chips at the end of my driveway! I laid wood chips over the cardboard in my pathways, and had enough leftover to mulch all my flower beds! Any leftover is great brown material compost.
Everyone has a different amount of space, time, and different budgets! I hope you read something here today that inspired you to get out and garden!
Want to learn more about frugal gardening and homesteading? Visit my other posts to learn more!
Did you get any ideas for your own backyard garden? Let me know in the comments!