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28 Tips to create your dream garden on a Budget!

Lei Hang aka the thrifty island girl 28 tips and tricks for a beautiful and budget friendly garden. white watering can watering pink peony plant in a garden on a sunny day.

Whether you are novice gardener or always loved gardening, we all know gardening can be an expensive hobby. However it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to create your dream garden!

I’ll be sharing some money saving gardening tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the last 2 years. I used to believe that I have to spend a small fortune to create a stunning, colorful and tidy garden like my mother’s. Every time I visited garden centers with my mum, she would easily spend hundreds in them. That had put me off gardening, until I found ways to create a beautiful garden on the cheap!

Invest in perennial plants

Colourful perennial flowers The Thrifty Island Girl Lei Hang has picked up from the garden center. Perennial plants grow back every year
Some of the perennial flowering plants The Thrifty Island Girl bough recently

Perennial plants live for several years and flower every year if looked after. Since they bloom every year, you won’t need to buy new plants to replace them the next few years. Therefore you’ll save money in the long run!

The other day I’ve bought the perennials in the picture above. All together it cost me £45, which is a bargain for the amount of plants I got. I got a pack of 20 Violas for only £3 and the pink Dianthus were 3 for £5 at Tesco. I’ve brought the Primoses from a local garden center that grew them form seed then sold them, because they look a lot healthier. I found the gardening shops that order them in to sell, don’t look as good for some reason.

Make your own compost

earthworms and compost soil on a persons hand. DIY make your own garden compost for free

You could make your own compost instead of buying it, if you’ve got the patience. My mum has a compost bin in a hidden corner of her garden where she recycles her teabags, garden waste and fruit & veg peels. I personally don’t have a compost bin in my garden. My outdoor space is quiet small and I’m not keen on the smell of from the compost bin. There are also cheaper alternatives to composts bins, a compost bag. Compost bags only cost about a third of a compost bin and still store a lot of compost.

If you don’t have the patience and don’t like the nasty smell like me, check out How To Make FREE & Easy Compost With Kitchen Scraps! that can be used instantly without needing any space for a compost bin and best of all no smells!

Grow your garden plants from seed

Thrifty baby Yasmin loves growing runner beans and sunflowers from seed!

Without a doubt it’s far cheaper to grow plants from seed, instead of buying the plants. I often get cheap seeds from discount retailers Lidl and Aldi, when they have their gardening specials. If I’m after specific seeds, I often find them cheap online from Wilko and Amazon.

Grow your own fruit & veg

Some conference pears and asian pears I’ve harvested from my mothers garden last year.

Growing your on fruit and veg is very rewarding and supplies you & your family with delicious fruits and veg. This will save you quiet a bit of money in the long run. If you have friends and family that are keen gardeners too, why not swap some of your harvest?

I love my strawberry plants, as they produce tasty fruits every year and the little white flowers look pretty too. Since strawberry plants are perennial plants, I highly recommend having them in the garden, if you love strawberries as much as my little girl Yas and I do.

As I often eat tomatoes with salads or use them in some meals that I cook, I’ll have 2 tomato plants of different strains from March to about end of November. Find out How to hand pollinate tomato plants for more fruits. This also works with strawberry plants.

Plant and Seed swaps

hand holding 3 baby plants also known as seedlings with roots and soil. Swap seedlings, seeds and fully grown plants with the green island veg economy on the isle of wight

If you have too many plants or seeds, why not swap them with fellow gardeners in your community for something you don’t have yet ? By swapping you, won’t have to buy more seeds or plants and it’s free. If you are based on the Isle of Wight like myself, the Green Island Veg Econnomy (GIVE) group is brilliant for seed and plant swaps. You can also just give away plants through GIVE, by printing out a GIVE sign and putting it out with the plants you would like to give away to people in the community.

If you’re not from the island, it’s still worth looking whether there is a seed and plant swap in your community.

Regularly remove weeds

yellow dandelion garden weeds on grass

Weeds are nutrient and mineral vampires! By weeding regularly, you won’t need to use as much plant food to feed your plants to keep them thriving.

Use mulch to prevent water loss

By adding a layer of mulch or chip bark on the soil between your plants, it’ll help retain moisture in the soil and reduces the amount of weeds growing. Therefore you won’t need to water as often, saving money in the long run.

Collect rain water

hand collecting a rain water drops

Consider fitting a water butt to collect the rainwater that runs off your roof. According to Southern Water a single water butt can fill up the watering can 25 times. Based of an average rainfall in the south eastern region of England your water butt could fill up 450 times a year. Meaning you can get about 10800 full watering can worth of water for free! In the U.K. water suppliers encourage their customers to install water butts and it’s totally legal here. However in some parts of the world such as some states in America collecting rainwater is illegal. So please make sure you check out the legality before you install a water butt. 

For more money saving tips to cut your water bill: 20 ways to save money on your water bill!

Companion planting

A big lavender bush with bumblebees in Lei Hang's also known as the the thrifty island girl garden with a teal coloured fence
I took this picture of my lavender bush last summer. I love how many bumblebees come to visit!

Companion planting can acts as a natural and organic pest control by deterring unwanted insects such as mosquitos and flies and encourage beneficial insects such as bees and other pollinators to visit your garden.

I’ve got lavender bushes and lots of Allium plants to add colour to my garden, attract pollinators but also deter some pest insects. Since the lavender bush and Alliums are perennials, I don’t need to replace them as they bloom every year. Therefore saving me money.

Don’t hire a gardener

This is an obvious one, but can be tempting sometimes when you find a cheap gardener and want the convenience. However the cost of a gardener adds up over the months or years. Unless you have someone that wants to do your gardening for free, use your muscle power instead. I enjoy gardening, but am also very lucky that my mum’s main hobby is gardening. She often comes to do some garden maintenance when she is bored.

Build a raised bed

wooden pallets with turquoise colour

A friend of mine has built herself a raised bed out of wooden pallets that she has found for free. For free pallets have a look at Gumtree and your local Freecycle groups on Facebook. Before you look,also make sure you have a way of collecting them if they are listed as collection only.

Share or borrow tools

Some of the gardening tools can be very expensive and aren’t used very often, ending up sitting around in the shed. But what if we could share our tools with friends, family or even neighbours? This would save you and others space in the shed and cut cost tremendously!

Since my garden shed is tiny, I often borrow tools such as garden shears, the pressure washer and garden waste bags from my mother. This has saved me so much space in my shed and saved me spending money on tools. As my brother has the house next door to me, we were also able to share our resources saving each of us money.

Get free gardening advice

white info with arrow painted on a black wall

Why hire a garden advisor or buy expensive gardening books for advice, when there are so many reliable free resources out there? You can find expert gardening advice from Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). If you prefer to read a book, borrowing a gardening book from the library is free. If the library doesn’t have the book you want, see wether you could request your local library to purchase the book for your library.

Invest in some self-watering plant pots

If you aren’t great at regularly watering your plants, self-watering pots are a godsend! I came across those self-watering plant pots a two ago and wish I’d found them sooner. I occasionally forget to water my plants for a day or 2 in the summer. Forgetting to water in the hot summer months used to lead to some dead plants in the past.

I’ve bought 6 Stewart Balconniere Self-Watering Troughs in black for the side of my garden where space is scarce. During the summer I’ve only needed to water the plants in the through once every 3-4 days. I know that these self-watering pots are expensive, but it can save a lot of money by keeping your plants alive when you do for get to water them now and again. Also since these troughs or pots have a water reservoir, any water that your plant hasn’t used gets collected in the reservoir to be used later. This way there is less water waste too, saving money in the long run.

Propagate your garden plants

plant propagation showing a tree branch rooting in a ladies hand. one of Lei Hang aka the thrifty island girl's free gardening tips and tricks for a dream garden on a budget

Some plants can be propagated via three different ways, including root division, pups or cuttings. There are many easy to propagate plants such as strawberry plants, gojii berry tree, rosemary and many more! You could propagate some plants and swap cuttings with others that may have a plant that you would a cutting from.

This reminds me that I have to take some cuttings of my lavender bush, as there are some gaps in my garden that I would like to fill with more lavender. To increase the chances of cuttings to root, root hormones can be used to encouraging the plant to root.

Save the seeds from your garden

Instead of buying flower, veg or fruit seeds every year, save some of the seeds from your current plants. Last year I had a tomato plant that produced very sweet and tasty small fruits. I’ve got the seeds from one of the tomatoes and dried them to be planted this year. This way, I won’t have to fork out unnecessarily on tomato seeds.

Reuse & Recycle – Free seed trays!

Cardboard egg trays or egg cartons from Hong Kong Express Isle of Wight, reused and recycled by Lei Hang also known as  the thrifty island girl as seed tray. The egg trays make eco-friendly and free seed trays.
Lei Hang planted sweet pea seeds in the egg trays she got from her parent’s restaurant.

Don’t buy seed trays! Reuse egg cartons, kitchen roll or toilet paper tubes as seed trays. Can’t beat free and eco friendly! Once the seeds have germinated and have grown into a seedling, simply cut the egg carton apart to separate the plants. You can then plant the seedling with the egg carton as it is biodegradable.

Since my family owns Chinese restaurants, I’m able to get large egg trays on a regular basis for free. If my mother and I weren’t taking them, they would end up in the bin. Because businesses have to pay for their waste to get collected, it’s worth asking any local restaurants, takeaways, pubs and cafes whether they have any egg cartons or trays that you could have. They’ll save on waste disposal and you’ll have free zero waste seedling starter trays. That’s a win/win!

Don’t plant everything!

This is pretty obvious, but it’s so easy to get carried away wanting to plant everything you can. I’ve learnt this last year during the first lockdown.I had 4 tomato plants, that all produced loads of fruit. It gotten to the point I couldn’t eat that many tomatoes and eventually got fed up eating them. None of it got wasted, as I’ve ended up regularly giving my brother, mum, and friends bowls full of tomatoes. This year I’ll only have 2 tomato plants. I was also growing other fruits such as cucamelon, which I don’t like eating and just liked how cute the cucamelons looked. That was really a waste of time growing and using up space and fertiliser that I could have used on a plant that I actually really like.

Pick plants that can be preserved

food wood spoon glass home made orange jam. One way to preserve food

Some fruits and vegetables from the garden can be preserved to save money throughout the year. Many fruits and veg can be canned or frozen. Potatoes and squash for instance can be kept for months somewhere cool and dark.

I don’t usually dig up potatoes and carrots from the garden, unless I need them. I was still able to harvest carrots through the winter, that I’ve planted from seed last year during the summer. I’ve harvested my last carrot in January this year. This year I’m planning to batch cook tomato sauce with the tomatoes from this year and make lots of marmalade from blackberries.

Find out whether to can or freeze: Is frozen food more nutritious and cheaper than canned food?

Buy secondhand tools

gardening tools on wooden bench in yard

You might be able to pick up inexpensive, useful gardening tools from car boot sales and selling groups and sites. Just make sure the tools such as pruners, wheelbarrow etc. are in good working condition. Some shops such as Tesco and Sainsbury may sell their gardening equipment at a big discount to clear inventory after the growing season.

Save water with water retention crystals

By using water retaining gel or beads for your plants, you can reduce frequency of watering and helps keep soil moist especially during the hot summer days.

Another way to obtain the gel is to soak clean nappies in water then cut the nappy open to obtain the gel and mix the gel into your soil. According to GardeningKnowHow the hydrogel in the nappy is the very same gel as the water retaining gel sold for plants. I’ve done that with Yasmin’s left over diapers when she out grew her nappies. Pampers also say their hydro-gel is non-toxic so it is safe to use in soil to grow fruits and vegetables.

Coffee lovers, recycle your coffee grounds

Lei Hang aka the thrifty island girl with long natural straight black hair and red lipstick, wearing a navy blue, floral, tailored dress by the pretty dress company and matching navy blue apple watch series 6, holding the the limited edition nespresso touch mug  with coffee in it.
I always have my Nespresso Touch travel mug & my one of favourite Nespresso coffees with me where ever I am.

If you are a coffee lover like me, make sure you keep the coffee grounds and scatter them over soil, as this deters slugs and snails. I usually have about 2-3 Nespresso capsules a day and keep the pods until the end of the week. I then get the grounds out of the pods to use it in my garden before I recycle the metal capsules.

Hand pollinate to increase yield

To massively increase the amount of fruits your plants produce, try hand pollinating them. I know the my How to hand pollinate tomato plants for more fruits! guide also works with strawberry plants as they have the female and male part in each of their flowers.

Get low maintenance high yield plants

blooming blue hydrangea flower with green background in the garden is a low maintenance garden option

If you just want to enjoy your garden with as little maintenance as possible, it’s important to pick the right plants for your garden. You want something that is strong,not easily killed, doesn’t need to be dug up to be brought in for the winter and still fill your garden with beautiful, colourful flowers.

Thank fully there are many low maintenance flowers to chose from. The low maintenance flowers I’ve chosen for my garden include cosmos, peonies, daffodils, snowdrops, coneflowers and hydrangeas to name a few.

Bulk buy gardening resources

Often garden centers have have offers such as buy one get one free or a 3 for offer. It sometimes works out a lot more cost effective to bulk buy. I often bulk buy soil and plants to save money. If you don’t need as much, try bulk buy with a friend that may need the same stuff as you to split the cost and both save.

I was thinking of bulk buying with a friend the other day to save us both money by splitting the cost and making use of the offers at the same time.

Self sowing plants

purple pink hollyhock self seeding garden flower with green leaves on a yellow background

Self seeding plants are also a great money saving and low maintenance garden option, as these reseed themselves for years of bloom. There are so many colourful self sowing flowers such as foxglove, hollyhocks, calendula, forget me not and many more.

Solar lighting

white pinecone solar fairy lights add ambience in the garden and saves money on energy bills.

Solar powered garden lights look lovely in the evening, but make sure you keep your receipt for the warranty. I’ve made the mistake of throwing the receipts away. Some of my solar lights still work after a whole year, but some stopped working about 6 months ago, as water from the rain got in and rust started forming where the battery was. This year when I buy some more solar lights, I’ll make sure I’ll keep the receipt to get my money back once they stopped working within the warranty or get them replaced with new ones.