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Gardening On the Cheap

Inexpensive ways to make a beautiful landscape

No one has to tell you how expensive necessities such as gas and food are becoming and it is tempting to skimp on non-essentials on a tight budget.  We all can become like the character “Scrooge” when it comes down to paying a utility bill or splurging on a coveted shrub or to die for hanging basket.

There are ways however, to either make more from what you already have or with a bit of luck and a lot of sleuthing, make purchases that are legally two-for-ones.

Simple Division

One of the easiest ways to expand the number of plants in your yard, particularly in a border is to divide existing plants.  Many plants often need to be divided in order to maintain their vitality; Siberian  Iris, Dutch Iris, Daffodils, Lilies, and  hostas, in particular should be dug up about every two or three years to prevent crowding or worse yet, the dreaded empty center.

The process is very simple. Take a square tipped shovel or spade and dig in a circle around the perimeter of the plant as wide as the widest reach of its leaves. Once the circumference is cut, tip the shovel underneath the plant and wiggle up and down towards the center.  Continue doing this as you go around the plant, loosening and lifting until it is free.  Brush away the excess dirt and examine the roots or corms.  Cut the plant in half using a small garden saw or sharp knife and often times as in the case of a large Hosta-four pieces.  Iris’ have distinct corms or tubors and can be cut or pulled apart at the obvious end of a piece.  (Hostas are unique in that they will grow as long as they have a good sized chunk of root, whereas Iris’ need a sealed piece.)

To plant, dig a hole and mix in a handful of garden compost (or peat moss if you have it) and bury to the same level around the neck as the original plant.  Firm gently to remove any air pockets and to prevent the plant from going into shock.  It is normal for the plant to appear “limp” initially as long as it perks up overnight.

Look for Doubles

When shopping for any plants from vegetables or herbs and most perennials, look for double stems or plants that have “had babies.”   Many, many times, if you look carefully at the stems along the dirt line of their pots, you will notice that there are actually two or more plants.  African Violets, Aloe Plants and Hosta very often come with a little baby plant peaking shyly from underneath the bigger mama. These are easily separated into two as the roots are not intertwined.

Vegetable plants are sewn by growers who want to be sure at least one plant will emerge healthily.  It is too costly to go back and pinch out the lesser seedlings so more often than not there may be two plants in each section of a pod rather than one. When seedlings are young, they are easily separated and voila! Double your money. If you do not need that many plants, swap or give to a friend.

Even tomato plants often appear as twins. To divide, you simply remove from its pot, brushing away as much dirt as you can in order to see the root system. The roots are usually easy to see, but if not, begin gently pulling, “teasing” one plant from the other, firmly grasping both at their base. Do not rip roughly or you will hear the deadly snap.  If that happens, well you only paid for one—you tried.

A Friendship Garden

Some of the best gardens are started or enhanced by plants from friends. These plants are usually very hardy as they have already been established in someone else’s garden and come with a bit of dirt that was proven suitable.  Simply replant in the same lighting and drainage requirements as they originated from and your garden will expand cheerfully.  Some gardeners isolate donated plants into one bed-a memory garden of many years of friendship and a shared passion.  Others are integrated into existing beds either by color, height or type. All are charming and frugal ways to enhance your landscape.

Free Mulch and Cheap Weed Control: A Recycling Double Header

Many towns offer free mulch to those who are able to transport them. Call your local Shade Tree Commission or Department of Public Works to learn about this thrifty program. Another way to get free mulch is to call local landscapers or tree care companies who need to dispose of chipped up trees that were removed from properties.  These companies have to pay outside sources to dump the chips and would rather dump them for free in your driveway.  Save heavy duty plastic bags that potting soil, grass seed and compost come in.  Recycle them by cutting them completely open and laying them flat, side by side, overlapping slightly,  in beds or under children’s play yards.  Cover with 2-3 inches of wood chips and you will have weed-free areas for years to come.  (Add chips as needed to maintain the depth for optimal weed control.) 

Do not use wood chips right next to your house or foundation as they may attract ants.  Also, ask the tree person to make sure the chips are clear of nests or poison ivy vines. 

Free Fertilizer

Bring your shovel and bags to local farms such as the Saddle Ridge Riding Center in Franklin Lakes and the Poultry Farm in Wyckoff for free manure! Abmas in Wyckoff has rabbits—these pellets are probably the richest in nutrients over chickens and horses. Call first as some will want you to come after hours or around lesson time in the case of the stables. Wear old clothes and gloves and hold your nose! 

It is also helpful to line your car seat or trunk area with extra plastic or even a large plastic tub or bin.  Since the manure is fresh, it will have to be composted for about three weeks before using in the garden. Farmers have been doing this forever!  Rake the  manure into the garden bed and turn lightly or scratch in.  Ideally this is done in early spring or late fall so that is has a chance to calm down.  You can also add this material to your compost pile. Once composted, there is no odor.  (If used for planting before composting, it will burn the plants or compact the soil.

There you have it, some simple and cheap ways to stretch a dollar in the home garden!

Marianne May 30, 2011 at 09:57 PM
Great ideas! I like the two for one, will look a little closer next time. As for the fertilizer...I'll pass.
Kathleen Rutler May 30, 2011 at 11:33 PM
You would be suprised how many times there are two or more!

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