4 gorgeous gardening ideas under $20, plus 9 picks you can shop now

These inexpensive gardening ideas can be done on a dime

budget gardening ideas
(Image credit: Photo by Noelle Otto from Pexels)

If you've ever experienced garden center sticker shock (I know I have) then you know that bringing your gardening ideas to life can be an expensive hobby. But if you don't have hundreds of dollars on hand to drop on daisies and dianthus, keep reading. There are lots of ways to spruce up your flower beds immediately and on the cheap, especially in the middle of the summer season. 

As a self-proclaimed thrifty gardener, here are four of my best tips to get your quarantine sanctuary to blossom this summer, all for under $20; plus a roundup of budget-friendly picks that'll up the style and functionality of your garden.

Looking for more inspiring gardening ideas? Check out our roundup of 50 of our favorites. 

Salvage fading flowers from the discount shelf

When I enter a gardening center, I make a beeline for the discount section—and with good reason. Despite their in-store appearance, discounted flowers often bloom beautifully in the weeks to come with proper nurture and care. Don't be afraid to purchase a scorched plant over its full-price counterparts: it should spring back to life as long as it still has some stems and leaves intact. 

The discount section is where I found a $3 bougainvillea bush late last July, and it's where I found half of my garden this season. 

Here's a list of my thriftiest finds so far:

  • White Begonia ($1 at Walmart)
  • Pink Begonia, 8-pack ($1 at Lowe's)
  • Yellow Petunia ($1 at Walmart)
  • Marigolds ($3 at Walmart)
  • Lavender Bush ($3 at Lowe's)

I also bought a one-pint pink begonia from Lowe's, which is currently priced at $1.25, bringing the total to roughly $11. 

After bringing them home, the plants require a little TLC: be sure to repot them in fresh, nutrient-rich soil. These plants are usually discounted because they are withering from heat stress or have outgrown their containers (or both!), so be sure to untangle their roots and give them a good watering. If the roots are wrapped together in a tight bunch (this is called a "rootbound plant"), cut away the root cluster—this allows the root system to regrow in a healthy manner. 

Many plants that are grown in gardening centers can also be broken up into more than one plant. I split one marigold plant into four chunks, allowing me to place them in two containers that welcome guests at my front door. Over two months, my pink begonia pint has been separated into seven separate pottings—if you're a fan of these tuberous beauties, they can spruce up your indoor and outdoor spaces for only a few bucks. To separate a plant, gently pull apart at the base of the plants, and if it begins to separate, carefully continue until you have separated a stem or portion of the plant from the original. 

If you're nervous about detangling roots or separating your plant, don't be—plants are more resilient than you think!

Swap plant cuttings with friends

The biggest contribution to my home garden has come from green-thumbed friends and family—many plants can easily sprout roots from a cutting, so your mom's billowy hydrangea bush could find its place in your own garden. Ask visitors to trade with you—have them wrap a fresh plant cutting in a wet napkin and place it in a plastic bag, and do the same for them. It makes a lovely welcoming gift that'll grow into something beautiful.

My family members have grown their gardens exponentially by constantly swapping seeds and cuttings—flowering bushes certainly take longer to get rooted, but as a long-term investment, this is certainly the most economical method to adorn your yard with roses. 

gardening tips

(Image credit: Photo by Huy Phan from Pexels)

If it's broken, buy it 

A big way to save money while garden-shopping is by purchasing slightly damaged soil bags and plant containers—if it won't affect the quality of your home garden, a little nick in the packaging is well worth the money you'll save.

Many large gardening centers, including Lowe's, Walmart and Home Depot offer any damaged soil bag at a discount, although it varies chain-by-chain. The best discount I've found is at my local Lowe’s, where any damaged soil bag originally priced under $5 becomes $1, and anything more than $5 becomes half-priced. In the past, I've bought this Timberline Topsoil, originally priced at $1.78 at Lowe’s, for $.89 each. Of course, topsoil is best to line in-ground garden beds, but you can fill the bottom half of your pots with topsoil and save a little money there. Fill the rest of your pot with potting mix for optimal growth—be sure to hunt for the ones that have holes in them already. If you're going to buy damaged soil bags, be sure to line your car with plastic sheeting before transporting them or your car will accidentally become a garden bed.

Damaged planters can also offer a significant discount—I recently bought this terra cotta planter at Lowe's (originally priced at $3.98) for $1.50 simply because it had a crack in one side. I asked for the discount, got more than a 60 percent discount, and superglued the crack at home. If you are buying a damaged planter, be sure that the damage does not affect the structural integrity of the planter and is merely superficial. It's still functional, and it's rather easy to hide damaged edges by simply turning the planter towards a wall or painting it. 

DIY garden planters with what you have on hand

This method takes a little time, but if you want more gardening space without spending money, use what you've got: there's so many ways to repurpose what you already have in your home into a new planter!

Birds and Blooms tested out cardboard planters, which surprisingly lasted all season—see, this is what you were saving all those empty shoe boxes for, right?

Perhaps your hanging closet shoe organizer is a better home to herbs than shoe heels, which is a great method for small-space apartment gardeners. Old woven baskets can be lined with plastic and last a season or two outdoors, while mugs and teacups can serve delicate herbs in the kitchen year-round. Drill holes in old plastic bowls, buckets or containers, and you've got yourself a new planter for your porch. Essentially, if you have a container that is drainable and weather-resistant, the possibilities are endless—keep it thrifty, make it nifty. 

Got a little money left over? Here are some products that’ll save you green as your home gets greener: 

8” Self-Watering Planter | $3 at Target

This self-watering planter is a must to make sure you don’t overwater that new houseplant, and $3 is a steal for this stylish design. 

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Garden Treasures 18.74" urn|$11.99 at Lowe's

Sometimes you need a larger pot for your patio or your porch—Lowe's has several options that run under $12 each. Grab two to flank your entryway, or post one in a corner to showcase a striking floral display.   

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BINTJE Plant Pot |$.79 at IKEA

IKEA is the place for multifunctional minimalism—and it’s also a place for inexpensive 4” planters. The BINTJE planters are made of galvanized steel to prevent rust, but because they lack a drainage hole, it’s best to use them for indoor houseplants. At $0.79, you could order a few to line your kitchen windowsill. 

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FÖRENLIG Plant Pot |$.99 at IKEA 

Although it doesn’t seem to have drainage holes, the FÖRENLIG’s polypropylene plastic makes it a versatile indoor/outdoor planter. This sleek white planter may match your space better than steel, and it comes in three different sizes: 3.5” ($0.99), 4.75” ($1.99), and 9.5” ($9.99)

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Pennington Terracotta planter |$10.98 at Lowe's

This 12" wide planter is made from porous terracotta and allows roots to breathe, plus it has a drainage hole to help prevent over watering.

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Style Selections stone look plastic planter|$9.99 at Lowe's

This urn looks like a pricey stone variety, but is made from budget-friendly resin instead. 

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Succulent stoneware tray | $7 at Target

Succulents are quite trendy, but finding the perfect container to suit their style can be a challenge. Target offers a 6" and 8" shallow terra cotta planter for $5 and $7 respectively. 

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Black and white multiplanter set|$9 at Target

This set comes with nine mini-planters (Each is about 3" tall), perfect for growing herbs, planting flowers from seeds, or splitting smaller flowers until you can plant them in the garden.

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3-Piece White Loom Planter Set|$14.95 at CB2

Whether you're splitting one plant or potting several leafy steals, a multiplanter set can fill your home with a distinct pattern or style. CB2 offers 3 stylized white planters in various sizes for $15,

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