I’m as much an impulsive plant buyer as the next person, but this year I’m trying to do better for myself, my wallet, and my garden. I moved into a new house and vowed to start my garden with a plan.
I started by observing my garden for a while to learn more about the site conditions and what plants might do well there. I decided I wanted a garden of native pollinators, or as close to the natives as possible.
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Some non-native plants like pentas and salvias are sources of pollination, so I decided to include them. In general though, I now know what types of plants I am looking for when I go to the nursery.
Whatever the theme or goals of your garden, make sure you know the conditions you find yourself in. Is the site in full sun, partial shade, well-drained, or moist? These factors can help you determine which plants to buy.
Consider the size and requirements of the soil
Another physical aspect to consider is your home and the plants that may already be in the landscape. Don’t buy Walter’s viburnum or little crepe myrtle and expect it to stay compact and neat under your window.
Even if you intend to keep it short, a plant will want to reach its predetermined size. Continuous coverage can cause injury and stress to the plant, making it more vulnerable to fungi and disease. Instead, choose a smaller plant, looking at adult size, not just the size of the plant in the nursery pot. This will save you time and money in the long run as you will have less maintenance and a healthier plant.
It is a good idea to do a soil test when setting up a garden so that you have a baseline for the future. If you are looking to grow plants that prefer a particular pH, this is doubly important. Blueberries, for example, grow best in acidic soil with a pH of 4.0 to 5.5.
If you plant blueberries without checking your pH, they may grow poorly and not produce fruit as you would expect. While it is possible to temporarily change the pH of the soil, it is difficult to make the change permanent. So, if your pH comes back different from the needs of your chosen plants, you may need to choose a different one. A workaround for blueberries and other pH sensitive plants is to grow them in containers where you can control the soil pH with amendments.
Rain garden gifts and free mulch
I have a slope in my yard and a fair amount of water is flowing from my driveway, so I took advantage of the site and set up a rain garden. This not only helped my drainage issues, but it allowed me to apply for a grant from the City of Tallahassee.
Think About Personal Pollution (TAPP) offers homeowners annual grants to reimburse the cost of developing rain gardens, up to $ 175.
All the money I spent on plants for the rain garden was paid back. You can also spend money on mulch or compost, but I didn’t need that because I got mulch for free.
Free mulch is one of Leon County’s best-kept secrets. You can get it from Solid Waste Management at 7550 Apalachee Parkway. It comes in two grades: fine and coarse.
Fine mulch breaks down quickly, so we generally recommend coarse mulch if you want to use it as a ground cover. You can bring a pickup or trailer to load for free during the week. You can also bring your own buckets to fill.
Take a close look at the bargain rack
When shopping for plants, it’s easy to be drawn to the discount display. However, remember a few things before you buy them. Discount plants can often be dying annuals or diseased perennials. These annuals are a waste of money because they won’t come back. Diseased plants can spread pathogens to your other plants.
Not all plant diseases are transmissible to other plants, especially unrelated plants, but prevention is better than cure.
When you think about buying a plant at a reduced price, do you think, “Does it look healthy?” Would I buy this plant again if it was full price? Do I have a specific space in mind for this? If the answer is yes to all, buy the factory at a discount, but if no to any of these questions, skip it.
When you are planting a new garden, it can be tempting to cluster your young plants next to each other so that the garden looks full right away. But things are growing fast in Florida and in a few months your plants will be competing for resources. I made the mistake of not leaving enough space for my African blue basil and now it crushes both my dill and fennel.
Smaller plants; divide and conquer
When buying trees and shrubs, we can often be drawn to buying the largest plant available, so the garden looks mature right away. But buying smaller plants can be better for your wallet and the plants themselves.
Large trees and shrubs have been in nursery pots their entire lives, which means their root systems have been circling, perhaps for years. This can cause problems when you transplant it to your garden and try to establish it. Smaller plants will have been in the nursery pots for a shorter period of time, which means they will establish faster and may even get too large for larger plants.
Finally, the cheapest way to garden is to propagate the plants yourself. Many plants can be divided after a few years, and you will find many neighbors and friends with more plants than they know what to do with.
Division is the easiest way to propagate and many of our favorite landscape plants can be propagated this way. Black-eyed Susans, Stokes’ asters, Agapanthus and many more can be dug up and divided to be shared with friends or spread around your garden.
While we might want to spend our entire salary on the plants on some weekends, with a little planning you can have a beautiful yard on a budget.
With smart shopping, getting to know your garden and garden goals, and seeking friendships with other gardeners, gardening can be a manageable hobby on your wallet and a fun way to make friends with your neighbors. .
Rachel Mathes is the Horticultural Program Assistant with UF / IFAS Extension Leon County, an equal opportunities institution. For any gardening questions, email the extension office at [email protected]
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