With weather challenges, food security concerns and shortages plus escalating prices for fresh produce and living costs, it makes sense to grow your own groceries and garden on a budget. Even just a few basic homegrown vegetables and herbs can make a positive impact on your budget and more importantly, your health.

10 Smart Tips to Garden on a Budget - money saving ideas to grow food

These tips will help you:

  • Save money.
  • Live more sustainably.
  • Eat healthier.
  • Be more self-reliant.
  • Improve your food security.

So let’s dig in!

How to Garden on a Budget

1. Sow Seeds vs Seedlings

Seeds save you money, whereas seedlings save you time. You just need to be organised to plan ahead. That’s because seeds take time to germinate and grow big enough to transplant. However, you can grow way more plants from one packet of seeds than a punnet of seedlings!

Seed packets vary but the average cost ranges between $2-4 for most varieties of vegetables, herbs, microgreens and sprouting seeds as well as edible flowers. Depending on the variety, you may get hundreds of seeds in one packet. Enough for a lifetime or to swap/sell.

Sowing seeds and raising seedlings is a money saving way to grow your garden on a budget

Dig into my easy Seed Starting Guide to help you raise plant babies successfully.

2. Learn to Propagate

While many annual vegetables, herbs and flowers are grown from seed, not all your edible plants do. There are other methods you can apply to grow plants for free. It’s easy to grow perennial edibles, some fruit trees, shrubs, and climbers from cuttings, runners, rhizomes and tubers.

Gardening friends are a great source of plant material to help you get started. So ask around or join a gardening club or growers group.

Neighbours pruning back their gardens are a great source of free cuttings. A cutting contains all the genetic material needed to grow into a mature clone of the parent plant. The benefit is this process is often faster than growing the same plant by seed. Once healthy plants are established, you can harvest plant material to grow new plants at no cost.

Perennial spinach and herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil, tomatoes and lavender grow easily from cuttings.

This short video shows you how to grow mint from a cutting in a glass of water on your kitchen bench. So quick and easy!

There’s another benefit to growing plants from cuttings. You can not only save money but also earn an income. Setting up a small home-based plant nursery to sell plants you propagate is a sustainable option for many gardeners.

You can also propagate root vegetables like arrowroot, ginger, turmeric and galangal from rhizomes and garlic from bulbs. Strawberries throw runners that will root easily as new plants. Just a few ideas to get you started.

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3. Save Seeds from Plants in your Garden and Kitchen

One of the most rewarding ways to garden on a budget is to save seeds.

I always start with quality certified organic or heirloom open-pollinated seeds. Avoid hybrids and genetically modified seeds that do not grow true-to-type. Then save seeds from the healthiest and most productive plants in your garden.

Look for favourable traits in your plants. For example, those with the highest yields, pest and disease resistance, crops that are large in size, drought-hardy, early or late bearing plants or those with incredible flavour or colour.

Saving seeds saves money and helps to garden on a budget

Select your plants for beneficial characteristics and then you can grow your best plants forever at no cost. Learn how in this Seed Saving and Collecting Guide.

You can also save seeds in your kitchen! Often when I am cutting up organic raw fruits and vegetables, they are full of plump seeds. I see new baby plant potential right on my chopping board! When preparing your meals, select any tasty foods you’d like to grow and try saving a few seeds.

Easy ones to start with are capsicum and chilli. Just scrape out the seeds and allow them to dry for a few days. Then put in a labelled, tightly sealed bag or container and store in a cool, dark dry spot. Simple and money-saving!

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4. Visit Plant and Seed Swaps

Harvest Swaps, Permaculture groups, Seed Savers and many garden clubs are ways to connect with other growers. Members often get plants and seeds for free or at minimal cost. Contribute your seeds to a local seed bank and swap for varieties you don’t grow. Win-win!

Harvest or Crop Swaps are community-based meet-ups where gardeners bring surplus produce, cuttings, plants, seeds and garden supplies. There is no charge and everyone brings something to exchange, so the process is fair. These initiatives are popping up in most communities.  They are a great way to grow a garden on a budget. I’ve picked up cuttings, potted plants, seeds, pots, garden stakes and many other supplies for free. Why not visit or start one in your community?

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5. Grow Food from Leftovers and Scraps

I never throw any food in the bin and avoid all kitchen waste. Leftovers and food scraps are one of the cheapest ways to garden on a budget. In this video, I show you just a few of the fruits and vegetables you can optimise to get way more food before you compost or feed your poultry!

I regrow new plants from the food I’ve already harvested! Here’s a great example of how to get two lettuces from one. With current prices at $10+/lettuce, this makes financial sense! Discover 9 Foods you Can Regrow from Kitchen Scraps.

6. Use Compost to Feed your Soil for Free

Fertiliser and bagged commercial soil mixes can be expensive. There are also shortages of fertiliser globally. We need to enrich the soil with nutrients to grow healthy plants.  So it makes sense to recycle any organic matter and garden green ‘waste’ we have to make compost. Compost is the building block of a healthy garden.

Composting is the easiest way to turn food scraps, lawn clippings, pruned shrubs, leaf litter, household paper and cardboard, pet hair and many other organic materials into nutrient-rich soil. The nutrients in these materials are converted into a liquid bioavailable form that plants can take up quickly.

However, compost bins can be expensive. So to garden on a budget, I make my own simple cheap bucket systems. This is one example of an in situ mini compost and worm farm.

Mini compost bin in situ attracting worms via holes to decompose food waste

The bucket has holes in the base and sides. I ’employ’ Nature’s workforce! Earthworms and other soil microbes and decomposers break down the organic matter in the bucket in a few weeks. These nutrients are spread around the garden bed via worm castings (vermicast) or worm manure.

A nutrient-rich liquid also leaches into the soil. I end up with a beautiful bucket of humus that I can use to feed my plants and add to my seed raising and potting mix blends. This method also closes the loop on food waste, from the kitchen to the garden and back again!

7. Collaborate with your Neighbours

Community connections in your street and neighbourhood come with fringe benefits. Having a chat over the fence or as you walk the dog or go for a jog, can open up conversations for win-win outcomes. Look for opportunities.

Collaborate with gardening neighbours to share plants, cuttings and seeds to grow your garden on a budget

Collaborate with gardening neighbours to share plants, cuttings and seeds to grow your garden on a budget

Here are a few ideas to spark your thinking:

  • Be observant when neighbours prune their plants or you notice them going to seed. Offer to help with pruning or seed collection. Ask if they would be willing to share a few cuttings or seeds for your garden. Many gardeners are happy for the social connection and compliments. A friendly cuppa or morning tea is always a nice gesture of appreciation.
  • Is someone growing a plant you could use for garden stakes or mulch? If the plant is overgrown, could you offer to cut it back? e.g. bamboo is a sustainable option for climbers and many tall ornamental types of grass make wonderful mulch or compost ingredients.
  • Do you see someone moving house? Are they going to take all their plants or maybe want to giveaway some? Their problem could be your solution.
  • Does a neighbour have chickens, horses or other animals with manure? They may be willing to sell you a bag or swap it for something else. Bartering and adding value to each other is a great way to develop friendships and creatively garden on a budget.

8. Grow Living Mulch Plants

Mulch is one of the best ways to save money on watering your garden. All sorts of species make valuable free mulch. For example, Lemongrass, Vetiver grass and Sugarcane. These are ideal for regular pruning with thin leaves suitable for sprinkling around plants. If you choose species wisely, you can grow and cut back living plants throughout the year without spending money on buying mulch.

There are also a wide variety of plants that you can ‘chop and drop’ to use as organic matter to cover your soil or grow as a living groundcover. A few examples include Palm leaves, Comfrey, QLD Arrowroot, Canna lilies, Choko, Mother of herbs, Nasturtium, Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, decorative grasses, False Cardamom, Heliconias, Ornamental Gingers and spent crops.

Sweet potato is a low-growing edible ground cover that can be grown as living mulch before harvesting the crop

Sweet potato is a low-growing edible ground cover that can be grown as living mulch before harvesting the crop

9. DIY Fertilisers

There are many options to add nutrients to your soil without spending money. Finely crushed and powdered eggshells add calcium. A vital mineral needed for plant growth. Add this to your compost and worm farms, potting mix and soil when preparing a new garden for planting.

Fireplace ash or potash is a good source of a macro element, potassium. It is best added to compost rather than directly to the soil so it can be converted into a soluble form. It’s usually very alkaline. Potassium plays a very important role in crop yields, photosynthesis, strengthening cell walls, resistance to diseases and drought, and many others.

Banana peels make excellent natural DIY fertilisers rich in minerals. Comfrey is a must-grow herb with a deep taproot that draws up minerals from the subsoil. Make comfrey ‘tea’ by soaking the leaves in water as a liquid fertilizer for your plants. Add chopped leaves to a bucket for 2-3 weeks with the lid on. It will have a strong smell but at the end of this time, you can dilute a cup or two with water and treat your plants to liquid gold plant food!

Compost tea is also easy to make. Just add a good handful or two of compost to a bucket of water and stir well. When the water turns a dark tea colour, you can apply.

10. Choose Multi-Functional Plants

If you have limited space, time and energy, it’s wise to select your plants carefully. I grow plants that provide at least two functions so they do double-duty in my garden. This saves money because I need fewer plants as they perform multiple roles. Here are a few examples.

Flowering herbs like mint, basil, chives and rocket taste great and flavour meals. Culinary herbs also have medicinal properties and can be enjoyed in herbal teas. When in bloom, these herbs attract beneficial insects like bees, ladybirds and hoverflies that feed on the nectar and pollen. These insects in turn perform valuable ecosystem services including pollinating food crops and in the case of ladybirds and hoverflies, pest management of aphids and other insect pests.

Herbs also have fragrant foliage, so they are ideal as companion plants to repel pests with their strongly aromatic scents. As you can see, herbs are some of the most multi-functional and high-value plants you can grow. They can help you save considerable expense on flowers, pest sprays and dried herb teas.

I hope these ten tips have given you some smart ideas to save money and grow your garden on a budget.

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