A Ten-Best List for Saving Money While Gardening

Propogating plants from cuttings or seeds is economical in a home greenhouse. This example is of the author's former backyard.

The Malibu Times introduces a new garden column by Peggy Harris, which will be published once a month. During her 26 years of gardening in two Malibu homes, Harris ran a backyard subtropical nursery, Edible Landscape Nursery, and learned “‘hands on” gardening in Malibu soils. After studying at the UCLA Landscape Architecture program, she now operates her own residential design office, P.M. Harris Landscape Design. Harris has also written the Malibu Garden Club monthly newsletter, including garden ideas, for seven years.

With income taxes due April 15, it’s time for Malibu gardeners to examine how cultivating your backyard and improving your garden can bring inexpensive thrills and unexpectedly high returns on investment. As a landscape designer, I ask a client, “How much time have you got? How much space? How much sun, shade, or flat land? How steep are the sloped areas? Where does the water drain? What colors of flowers and foliage go best in this garden? What moods do you want to create? Who will enjoy this garden? Kids? Soccer kickers? Older persons? Dogs? Rosarians?” All these questions come before: “How much money do you want to spend?” Many improvements can be made in gardens without large expenditures.

10- Like any good financial investment, plan ahead. In gardening, foresight is always worth the effort. Check the eventual size of the phormium tenax (New Zealand flax), which looks beautiful as a young plant. Perhaps a Jack Sprat grass will fulfill the need for a maroon strap-leaf look. Sun, shade, slope and soil conditions all contribute to plant choices. Irrigation, lighting and wildlife management also need planning. Learning the plant characteristics, which will create a desired effect, can take a lifetime of learning.

9- Recycle. Use cuttings and scraps (salad cuttings, fruit rinds and cores, eggshells-no meat products) to build organic compost. Piling healthy (not diseased) garden cuttings saves the time and trouble of disposing of them. Chipped garden waste can become the best organic material for your garden. Small cuttings are best and a compost pile should get sun and air, and be situated where it can be “turned” with a pitchfork. There are rotating bins available, which are very easy for the home gardener to turn. A simple covered black plastic box will also suffice and is probably the cheapest. Homemade versions are wonderful-often with three bins for the different levels of decomposition. Once the organic materials break down and become usable compost, this home-recycled addition to soil can improve the life and productivity of your plants.

8-Buy low, sell high. When shopping for a shrub, purchasing a one-gallon container and planting it in a generous hole has been proven to produce a larger plant within three years than buying the five- or 15-gallon variety. The patient investor is rewarded for purchasing the smaller plants and letting their roots expand in the soil rather than in the container at the nursery. When the one-gallon salvia leucantha is in its second summer, no one would ever suspect it started life in your yard as a one-gallon plant.

7-Take advantage of free energy from the sun. Solar lighting can save you money. No wiring is necessary. Garden lights are easy to place whereever sun will recharge their batteries each day. These are available at most hardware and lighting stores.

6-Getting something for nothing. Pick up a “slip” or a cutting of a purple “Wandering Jew,” a succulent, a philodendron or any of a wide variety of plants, which propagate from cuttings. Once a frugal gardener becomes familiar with which plants will grow roots when placed in a cup of water above the kitchen sink, he’ll be hooked on creating new plants for free. Plant rooted cuttings of brightly colored coleus or streptocarpella and make new plants from cuttings. My Malibu neighbor lined his street side with pieces of large aloes, which all rooted and became a beautiful, cost-free border.

5-Stock splits-like getting twice the number of shares, only better, you can “divide and conquer” in the garden. Agapanthus, which have crowded themselves and their neighbors, can take the sharp shovel slice once every five years or so. Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily) can take division every few years. Society garlic tends to clump and crowd. Divide the clumps and replant to spread this lovely easy-to-grow lavender blooming plant, but don’t take the malodorous flowers into the house.

4-Eat your profits. The tax free dividends of garden investments include the best tasting tomatoes, green peppers and onions that ever went into a salsa. Tree-ripened fruits, avocados and citrus from the overcrowded trees are all benefits of good Malibu gardening practices.

3—Long-term health insurance benefits: Exercise your body by yielding the shovel, the prunes, the rake or the broom in your garden. For a successful stock investor, knowing when to “get out” is important. For the gardener, get out as often as possible-into the fresh air and check on the garden. The results will be better if the gardener takes an active interest. Do the clipping, push the lawnmower, haul the branches and water as needed. Take advantage of the opportunity to move about, lift container plants, dig holes and prune trees yourself, and use your gardener or tree man for things you cannot do.

2-The mental health payback of communing with nature has been proven many times over, scientifically as well as spiritually. The nourishing arms of Mother Nature are ready to embrace any one who cares to work with her organically to grow healthy plants. Mother Nature is very kind and forgiving to the Malibu gardener. If you feel lonely in your garden, join the Malibu Garden Club and meet fellow gardeners at the informative monthly meetings. (See The Malibu Times Calendar for meeting times.)

1-You can’t spend money while you’re out in the dirt. Get away from the day trading, commuting and shopping. Spend less and enjoy more. Spend more time at home creating and enjoying the beauty of Malibu. What you really want in life is not found at the mall, on the highway or on the Internet. Whoever said money doesn’t grow on trees needs learn to grow a little further outside the planter box.