How To Save $$ One Plant at a Time

By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardener
You know you are a Master Gardener when budget-wise plants come before groceries.

No need to put your landscape project on hold when you know your paycheck should increase, 401K and IRA accounts should grow and 529 college savings plan should yield additional future funds. As a result of this “windfall,” perhaps your excuse for not improving your landscape is no longer valid. Just in time for the new growing season, a new book has been published called The Budget-Wise Gardener by Kerry Ann Mendez (St. Lynn’s Press, 2018). This is a down-to-earth book without a lot of horticultural jargon. The book sub-title says it all — “With Hundreds of Money-Saving Buying & Design Tips for Planting the Best for Less.”

Book coverAfter reading this book (less than 200 pages with oodles of color photos), you may be surprised to find numerous money-saving tricks and secrets of the retail nursery business and how you can score some good deals. This is not to say that retail garden stores have a nefarious bent, but rather to indicate how you can become a shrewd plant hunter and simultaneously keep a lot of cash in your pocket. You will be presented with much meaningful information that goes beyond the obvious. The thrust of the book is how to become a thrifty gardener, where you can save on some plants and splurge on others that really make a statement. An additional interpretation of the Kerry Ann gardening mantra could be how to spend less money and time on yard maintenance all the while keeping in mind sustainable practices such as saving water, attracting pollinators and using “friendly” pesticides.

The primary contents of the book cover flowers, ornamental grasses, bulbs and flowering shrubs. Purposely left out are vegetables, herbs, conifers and trees; however, the concept of being a budget-wise gardener applies to these plants as well. You will learn how to master the art of knowing a great deal including making smart plant choices for maximum color and less maintenance. Of course, you need to know and understand several basic plant requirements, especially as they relate to your own landscape. Briefly, this means sun or shade, soil pH (soil test) and plant growth habits. These requirements apply regardless of what and where you purchase plants. You can often find a true bargain after a plant has finished blooming. That is often the reason why azaleas are not front and center at a garden center. They are no longer eye candy without their blooms. Doesn’t that make a lot of sense? Purchasing flowers that are past their bloom but still healthy will reap the advantage of having a stronger root system the following year.

After a lengthy discussion on plant selection, Kerry Ann has some illuminating comments about shopping at a garden center as compared to a mail order catalog. If you tend to be a touchy-feely shopper, then you know without further explanation why a garden center is the go-to place for plants. Additionally, many full-service centers have knowledgeable staff that can assist you with your selection. Some centers have a diagnostic location (plant clinic) with the ability to assist you if something untoward happens to your plant in the future. Another reason for patronizing a garden center is the same plant you desire may come in various sizes unlike mail order where you are often limited to small-sized plants. Note that small plants usually take longer to become established in the landscape. On the plus side, print catalogs and on-line catalogs may offer a greater plant selection than at a garden center. Some catalogs take the guesswork out of landscape design by showing pre-planned gardens including plant types and how many of each type. Other places to buy plants are the box stores and supermarkets. Their selection is miniscule when compared to garden centers and catalogs, but if they have what you want, then go for it, recognizing some of the problems noted above. The buying power of the box store is passed on to the gardener at a lower cost. Here you will often see labeled nursery cans from quality growers such as Proven Winners, Monrovia and First Editions. Purchase these plants shortly after they arrive at the box store as they may not receive the same TLC as at a garden center. Also, you will probably not find a knowledgeable employee to ask for advice. More positive places to shop for plants are at botanical garden vendor days and farmers markets. Often the seller and grower is the same individual and should be able to answer your questions. As a budget-wise gardener, you will appreciate the personal attention and shopping experience at these venues.

The last two chapters in this book emphasize design secrets for a variety of landscapes and how to save money and time. The chapter on containers differs in many respects from books that only emphasize container gardening. Some of the principles of design are employed alongside budget considerations. Containers are not limited to decks and patios. Also consider a special place in the landscape or even a space that was formerly occupied where spring bulbs have died back.

In summary, The Budget-Wise Gardener is about selecting the best plants for less money. This book has so many ideas and strategies that you are bound to have a beautiful garden and not break the bank or your back.