Pricey HGTV landscapes and frugal gardens

by Sandy L on November 9, 2011

I’ve been remodeling homes for as long as I remember.  First it was at babci’s (one room at a time on the cheap), then it was with my 1950’s fixer upper. Finally, at the peak of the market, we bought my mom’s 1890’s split roof colonial…which needs everything.   What that means is that I’ve been a big fan of HGTV.  I think part of it is because when I walk through a dumpy house, I can always imagine the ‘after’ in those before and after shows. I know by the reactions of some of the people who visited our house shortly after we bought it that they didn’t possess that gift.

Our Garden Frog

I love house hunter’s international. It’s so interesting to see the different styles of homes around the world.  Anyway, I noticed recently that my perception around design has gotten I dunno, a little jaded recently, especially with the outdoor shows.   Or perhaps it’s just that I have a lot of experience with landscaping and I see things that may not be as obvious to the inexperienced dreamer.  My frugal side cringes when I see the curb appeal show and they transform a horrible grassy house front into a gorgeous blooming utopia.  I look at the yard and I can’t help but pick out all the annuals in the mix and calculate how much 25 flats of annuals and 12 yards of mulch will cost to get the yard to continue looking like that in years 2 and 3.

I was watching outdoor spaces this morning and it was the same deal.  A gifted designer transformed a barren grassy outdoor area into a planting wonderland.  The grass was replaced by flower beds and lots and lots of decking. There was not a blade of grass to be seen.   Most decks require some kind of annual maintenance and flower beds require constant weeding and  annual mulching. Cushions have to be brought in during the rain so they don’t mold and ponds need treatment so they don’t turn into a fungus mess. It all looks really nice at the end of the show, but I when I see the gorgeous spaces and water features, all I see is cost and maintenance and more cost.

This year, there are whole sections of my perennial beds that I didn’t mulch because of the cost.  Instead I put the time in to weed.  This fall, I’m going to save my pine needles and use that as mulch for next year.  I already do that in my backyard beds as they naturally fall into that area, but now I’m going to relocate some of it to the front and sides of the house too.  The pine doesn’t look quite as nice as cedar, but I’ve gone a little too crazy with my beds and now have more square footage than I care to pay to cover in expensive mulch.

Tips To Keep Gardening Costs Low

I still love watching HGTV but it would be nice if they shared some frugal tips once in a while.  I spent a lot on my garden in years 1 and 2, but it’s been fairly low cost since then.  Here are my tips:

  • Free Pine Needle Mulch – Although I have an abundance of pine needles at my disposal due to the trees in my yard, not everyone does.  This year, my husband saw a lady at the dump on Saturday morning picking through the bags of yard waste in search of the perfect pine needles for mulch.  In our area the pine needles come down thick over a period of a week or too, so that is the perfect time to go to your local dump and have at it.
  • Perennials vs Annuals – My yard is almost all bulbs, shrubs or perennials. Sure I’ll throw a few cosmos or spider seeds in the yard in spring, but generally I don’t buy a lot of plants in the spring.
  • Find your Gardener Friends –  The worst thing in the world is thinning out a perennial and throwing it in the trash. Wait til spring or fall and ask friends what they would have to spare that they would be okay sharing.
  • Trade Plants – You’ll eventually get to the point with perennials where you have excess.  This spring I managed to trade 3 garbage bags of clothes in exchange for my extra plants.  Both of us were thrilled with the exchange.
  • Share with Others – Offer plants to new neighbors who are just starting out. It does a world of good to welcome people to your street without any cost to you.
  • Find Sources of Free Manure – start a compost bin or call up a horse farm and see if they have any manure to spare.  If it’s fresh you may have to throw it in your compost bin for a season before you use it.  My uncle lived in the city and he used to shovel up pigeon manure from the inside of bridges.  That was not the best source because of the broken glass and trash in it, but if you really don’t want to spend money on gardening, you will find cheap sources of fertilizer.
  • Get Seeds from people or places– Babci is always scouring shopping malls for perennials that have gone to seed and she grabs a handful when she sees them.

Do you have any free or low cost gardening tips?  I know I’m missing some.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos November 9, 2011 at 7:02 AM

I pick up mulch from our city’s green waste site. All you want, free (*) for the taking. If I take some time to root around the site, I can usually find a couple of piles that have actually turned into compost.

Take advantage of re-seeding plants like tomatoes and greens. Whenever they sprout up, I try to relocate them in a better spot or a dedicated container.

I’ve also swapped seedlings and plants with other gardeners, especially at the end of spring when I have more seedlings than I have space.

Learn to propagate roses instead of buying them from stores. It’s a small bottle of rooting hormone (or free willow tips) and a few rose bush cuttings, vs. $17.99 at the nursery.

(*) paid for through city taxes


Money Beagle November 9, 2011 at 8:21 AM

After the flowers die in the fall, we use the fallen leaves that we collect with our mulching lawn mower as a top coat that sits during the fall, winter, and early spring. This gives back the nutrients that the decomposing leaves bring, and means we need less soil and fertilizer in the spring.

I have no vision on perennials and as such most of the work I’ve done on trying to make perennials look good, well they don’t.


Sandy - yesiamcheap November 9, 2011 at 12:15 PM

I totally agree with you on the perennials. I converted everything over the course of 3 years and now I love it. I get exactly two annuals every year to put into two pots next to the front door and that’s it.

My tip is to check the “FREE” section of Craigslist too. Depending on where you are I see people just itching to get rid of logs, wood chips, manure, trees and plants.


Jacq November 9, 2011 at 10:35 PM

This dude stopped by my house and rang the bell yesterday. We ended up talking about plants and life for an hour outside (this is what happens to me when I don’t work!) He’s an arborist kind of guy and offered to prune my trees and whatnot next spring for a pretty low price. He lives in his RV and is off to Mexico for the winter. (I pretended I was married – and that my dog was vicious – as if a Golden could ever be vicious.)

Anyway, I’ve put his contact info into my daytimer for next spring. We’ve got a massive shrub that grows like a weed between my property and the next door neighbours (they cut it down every spring and it grows up to 7 feet by fall), and I’d like to somehow split that and plant it elsewhere as well.

What I find difficult to find online is just a basic landscaping for a front yard that is really simple but geared to my climate. I think what I’m going to have to do is drive around and take photos of mature yards that I like that look low maintenance, take it to a greenhouse and say “give me these plants.”


Linda November 10, 2011 at 9:33 PM

I’ve heard that it’s possible to request the city to drop off chipped branches when they are doing tree trimming in the area. I haven’t done it because I need a more solid schedule for getting mulch. Plus if I pay someone to bring mulch and apply it, then I have that much more time for other things like weeding, planting, cleaning, cooking, etc. I also mulch with leaves in the fall and have been known to pick out bags of leaves from trash in my area.

I know you’ve already mentioned composting, but I just don’t understand why more people don’t do it. It’s really easy and has so many benefits.


Molly November 11, 2011 at 9:34 AM

Andrew filled it in! We get manure free from the nearby horsebarns. You need a trailer for transport and space to keep it though.


growingmygirls November 11, 2011 at 5:18 PM

Just chiming in to second the perennials idea! We enthusiastically put in all these beds, and then I realized how much work it would be to maintain them. That and losing several beloved types of flowers (peonies, sob 😉 that simply don’t work at this climate. Xeric perennials save water and come back year after year without much care, or even not that much mulch because that’s how they’re used to growing. Didn’t make it to garden care this fall, still have stalks of hollyhock with seed pods looking like invading aliens out there. Hopefully will be organized enough by spring….


Crystal November 11, 2011 at 10:40 PM

I found plants that could live through me – the lady who will blow off watering even in Texas summers and never covers anything during a freeze. I have ended up with some awesome low-maintenance perrenials. My yard may not ever end up on HGTV, but my life stays low stress. 🙂


Everyday Tips November 12, 2011 at 12:31 PM

We are cut from the same cloth First Gen! I barely plant any annuals anymore. Too much money and too much effort, although I will add 1 or 2 a year just for fun. The problem I had this year was perennials had gotten too ‘overspread’.

I buy a lot through catalogs and capitalize on sales.


Niki November 13, 2011 at 11:15 AM

Ughh annuals. Never again.

We are not naturally inclined to work outside in the yard but I am learning to like it. It is something we used to spend too much money on but now we are at a place where we like what we have and only add one or two things a year. We also have a city yard dump where we can take stuff or pick up stuff that has turned to mulch. Much more cost effective.


Well Heeled Blog November 14, 2011 at 9:40 PM

If I eventually settle back in Southern California (or any other dry, desert environment), I am definitely getting climate-appropriate or native plants instead of having a lawn that I have to water every. single. day. I love the look of desert landscaping, but the money saved is very enticing as well.


Paula @ Afford Anything November 14, 2011 at 10:52 PM

I’ve often had the same thought about perennials vs. annuals … it also seems symbolic of free-spending vs. investing for the long-term.


Orlando Landscaping September 13, 2013 at 5:39 PM

Wonderful tips here! Thanks for sharing the suggestions for how to keep gardening costs low – a little pre-planning can go a long way with yard projects and maintenance.


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