How to garden on a budget: 9 marvellously thrifty ideas

Follow these simple steps to make your garden look more expensive, without overspending. From propagating your plants for free, to a bit of gardening DIY...

potting up plants in a greenhouse
(Image credit: Leigh Clap)

Gardens can be expensive to maintain, especially if you want them brimming with beautiful blooms and an array of plants. But by following some of our thrifty ideas for how to garden on a budget, you can save yourself money and still have a garden that will be the envy of your neighbours...

Read on to find out how to garden on a budget and cut costs, or find more gardening advice and inspiration.

seedlings potted up for thrifty gardening

Nurture your own plants from seeds and take pleasure in watching them grow

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

1. Saving seeds to grow garden plants

Propagating plants from seeds or cuttings is both economical – it is far cheaper than buying small plants – and satisfying, as you watch the young plants that you’ve nurtured grow. You can also collect your own seeds from many of the plants in the garden and increase your stock for free.

Many annuals and biennials, including foxgloves, honesty, Californian poppies and cornflowers, will readily self-sow, too, with nature adding to your floral display; just remove any seedlings that pop up where you don’t want them and replant elsewhere.

By late summer into autumn, seedheads will be ready for you to start gathering them. Seeds are naturally packaged in a variety of pods, cones, berries, catkins, capsules, nuts, winged seed or exploding seedheads.

Some of the easiest plants to grow from seed are alliums, nigella, poppies, cosmos, calendula, zinnias, cleome and sunflowers.

How to collect and store the seeds

  • Choose a dry day to collect ripened seeds from healthy plants, before the seedheads open and disperse their contents.
  • Hang or place them on a warm windowsill or greenhouse bench to dry. If the pods or capsules don’t open when dry, release the seeds by gently crushing them.
  • For fruits and berries, mash them in a sieve, rinse away the pulp and leave the seeds to dry. You can place a bag over exploding seedheads and gently shake them out.
  • Store your collected seeds in paper packets or foil, in a cool, dry place – use an insulated container or a collection of vintage tins, with some desiccant packs to help absorb any moisture.
  • Label each packet with the name of the plant and the date harvested. 
  • Seed swap any excess with friends and neighbours; pretty packets of home-collected seeds also make lovely gifts.

collect seedheads for thrifty gardening

Collect seedheads before they are dispersed into the wind

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Some seeds can be sown immediately; most will be stored until spring. 

Raise your seedlings in punnets or seedling trays, under glass or inside on windowsills and then harden them off before planting out. Find more advice and tips for greenhouse gardening here.

Seeds need air through the pore spaces in the soil, so don’t do well in clay or silty soils. Keep them moist, as they need to absorb between 40 to 60 per cent of their weight in water to start germination. 

Plant the seedlings out into prepared soil when their leaves develop.

2. Taking plant cuttings and dividing

Shrubby perennials, such as salvias, fuchsias and pelargoniums, and most shrubs, including hydrangeas, lavender and philadelphus, can be grown from cuttings. It will take time, but you will cut costs and replicate the specific plant.

Here's how:

taking cuttings for thrift gardening

Many plants can be grown from cuttings taken either in autumn or spring. It takes practice, preparation and patience, but rewards with results

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)
  • For cuttings select plant growth that has toughened up a little, so not too soft or bendy.
  • Softwood cuttings are generally taken in spring or early summer, collected in the morning when the plant is turgid, or full of water. 
  • Hardwood cuttings, taken from mid-autumn to late winter, will propagate a range of trees, shrubs and climbers, and can be grown on outdoors.
  • Cut softwood cuttings diagonally at a leaf node or leaf stem junction, making cuttings about 15cm long. Remove the lower leaves so that there are only two or three at the top.
  • Make a small hole in the free-draining compost potting mix with a stick before inserting the cutting. Each cutting needs to have at least one node underground and one above.
  • Dip the end of the cutting into honey or hormone rooting powder to encourage root development. Put a few cuttings in each pot, as success is not always guaranteed.
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  • Place the pot in a propagator case or cover with a plastic bag, ventilate twice a week.
  • Cuttings need good light but not direct sun, and ensure the compost is moist until the cutting is well-rooted.
  • As leaves appear, harden off the plants and transplant into larger pots and then into the garden when they are at the required size.
  • For clump-forming plants, including perennials, spreading shrubs, underground rhizomes, bulbs and tubers, increase your stock by dividing every two or three years.
  • Divide iris and canna rhizomes after flowering by trimming back foliage, lifting, removing any dead pieces from the rhizome and replanting.
  • Succulents are particularly easy to propagate as clump-forming varieties produce offsets. You can take leaf cuttings from fleshy leaves species, and stem cuttings from branching types.

3. Learn how to make compost for your garden

It makes good sense, both financially and environmentally, to make your own compost. Home-grown green manures and compost from garden and household waste improve the soil and replenish nutrients.

Create a compost bay in your garden using recycled timbers (see below), or use a compost bin in a shady, level, well-drained position, where water can drain away and worms can get in and do their work. Put in some twigs and branches to help aerate the heap.

homemade compost for thrifty gardening

Making your own compost is the perfect way to put leftover veg peelings, tea bags and prunings, among other things, to good use, all of which will help to enrich and nourish the soil

(Image credit: Leigh Clap)

Good things to compost include fruit and vegetable peelings, prunings, grass cuttings and tea bags, which will quickly break down, as well as cardboard egg containers, egg shells, leaves and scrunched up paper. Don’t put in meat or dairy products or diseased plants and perennial weeds.

Regularly turn or aerate your pile, don’t let it dry out, and get the balance right of wet ‘greens’ and dry ‘browns’. Your compost is ready when there is a dark, soil-like, spongy layer at the bottom.

Find more advice on what and how to compost  so that you are confident you are composting the correct ingredients.

making raised beds for a thrifty garden

Save money by building  your own raised beds from reclaimed wood

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

4. Raised garden beds and recycled containers

Build your own raised beds from locally sourced, reclaimed or recycled timbers, including cut logs, ladders and scaffolding planks. Don’t use treated pine as the chemicals can leach into the soil. There are many online for guides for how to make them - such as this guide on the RHS website.

You can also be imaginative with the potential for repurposing other items as containers. Old kettledrums, tyres, crates, dust bins and buckets, to tin cans or chimney pots, can find a new life as a plant pot. Look for bargains in unlikely places, such as charity shops, vintage markets, junk shops and car-boot sales. 

Whatever you repurpose, remember to drill a drainage hole in the bottom.

5. DIY garden supports

homemade willow garden supports for thrifty gardening

DIY plant supports made out of willow, hazel or birch branches, or bamboo canes, are cheap and easy to make

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

The simplest support for climbers is a wigwam of three or four canes or sticks, placed at corners and secured at the top. 

  • To avoid sticks catching you in the eye, top the supports with upturned pots or bottles.
  • Willow, hazel and birch are good choices for supports; cut small, sturdy and flexible branches and have a stock ready to use.
  • Place supports twisted and woven together as a cage to let plants grow through.
  • You can also make tepees out of bamboo canes or sticks for containers.
  • Reuse your supports to create an insect hotel, or add them to log piles for wildlife.

6. Natural garden pest control

Welcome wildlife into your garden

Providing habitats, water and plants in your garden for wildlife - from birds and beneficial insects to amphibians - will increase your natural pest control helpers and help to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. See our advice on how to create a wildlife garden.

Without pollinators many food crops would fail, so it is important to encourage pollinating insects into your garden to increase crop yields. 

Include flowers with pollen or nectar either near to or mixed in with the vegetable plot to increase the numbers of these welcome visitors. For more ideas of what to plant see our guide to creating a bee-friendly garden.

bee on a flower for thrifty gardening

Encourage beneficial pollinators into your garden by including plenty of pollen- and nectar-rich flowers for them to feast on

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Plant diversity

Disaster-proof your garden through plant diversity. The wider the range of plants, the less they are plagued by pests, so that if a disease or pest occurs only a limited number of susceptible plants will be affected.

Use companion planting, such as yellow flowers to attract beneficial insects that love to feed on aphids. 

Herbs are a natural pest control, so include choices such as rue, wormwood, rosemary, santolina, lavender, tansy, thyme, garlic and mint among your flowers and vegetables. See our guide on how to create a herb garden for more ideas on how and where you could include herbs in your planting plans.

7. Using store cupboard contents for gardening

  • Sprinkling coffee grounds around vegetables and roses will encourage earthworms, repel insects and provide nutrients.
  • Tea leaves offer nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil, lower the pH and can be used in the compost, while a brew of weak tea can be used to water plants to deter pests and fungal diseases.
  • Homemade garlic, nettle, soap, tomato and basil sprays are effective against aphids, mites and thrips. For example, to make a garlic spray insect repellant, puree two garlic bulbs with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, let it sit overnight, strain, add one teaspoon of mild liquid soap and 1 litre of water to fill the spray container. remember though: the aim is not to kill off all the insects in your garden, but rather achieve a healthy ecosystem.

planting potatoes in an old tyre

Recycle old, worn tyres into containers for the veg plot, and use for planting sprouting potatoes salvaged from the pantry

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

8. Regrow plants from scraps

  • Onions are the easiest to grow from scraps; simply cut off the root end, leaving about half an inch of onion on the roots, and then place in a sunny spot and cover with soil.
  • To regrow spring onions and leeks, put the root end in a jar of water for a few days, replacing with fresh water as needed.
  • Garlic will grow from a single clove, planted with the root end down.
  • With potatoes, cut into pieces with at least one or two eyes on each, let them dry out a bit for a day or two at room temperature, then plant about 8 inches deep with the eyes facing up, but only top with 4 inches of soil. Add more soil as the plant grows.
  • A piece of left-over ginger root can be planted in soil with the newest buds facing up, in a moist, warm spot with non-direct sun, and it will regrow roots and shoots.
  • Romaine lettuce, celery, cabbage and bok choi can all be regrown by cutting off the plant’s base and putting it in water, then transplant into soil once the roots show.

See our guides to how to plan a kitchen garden or growing organic fruit and vegetables for more ideas of what to plant and grow.

profuse planting around a garden dining area

By choosing the right plants for the right place, your garden will flourish naturally. 

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

9. How do I change my garden on a budget?

You will save money on replacing plants, fertilising and watering if you follow the mantra, ‘right plant, right place’ and by mixing up your flower beds, you're guaranteed to achieve a different look in your garden, very quickly.

Look around in the neighbourhood for what grows well, observe the conditions in each season, and at different times of the day, assess the soil and amount of natural moisture. 

Research plants for your microclimates and seek advice from the experts at your local garden centre, because advice is free! If a type of plant does particularly well, try more varieties of the same, and grow them in swathes together.

Look for local plant sales at the church hall, National Garden Scheme gardens, village open days, or at the WI group. Your local forestry commission may also sell native trees in the dormant season at very cheap prices.

Using your own homemade compost for healthy soil; growing strong, disease-resistant plants that are climatically appropriate and don’t need constant spraying; propagating to increase your stock; and aiming for a balanced ecosystem, will all go towards helping you to create a sustainable, preferably organic, garden that does not cost the earth environmentally or to your pocket.

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