Now that spring has sprung, we gardeners are itching to get some dirt under our fingernails. We are eyeing that hole in the flower bed and thinking about what new plant might fill the space. At the same time, many of us are mindful of our budgets. With that in mind, here are a couple of money-saving tips.
1 - Find friends with mature gardens who are willing to share plants. Plants, such as daylilies, lilies, daffodils, epimediums, are wonderful gifts. Part of the joy of plants collected this way is that the plants are a living reminder of our generous gardener friends.
That said, a word of warning is in order. Some plants that a gardener might be willing to give you need regular dividing and can take over a flower bed, the lawn and the house! Watch out for Goose-neck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), lily of the valley, beebalm (Monarda), mint, among others. Treat anything with a square stem with suspicion. Similarly, some plants, such as Nicotinas and thistles, which provide a lot of volunteers a gardener might want to share, seed so freely that they are a menace.
Know what you are getting and what you'll be in for. Monarda can produce wonderfully weird, flashy blooms that are stunning. If you are willing to engage in the hard work of annually digging it up and trimming it back (by the roots), you may decide that it is worth it. Also, you may have a special place where you can let lily of the valley run wild. Just know what you are getting into. A plant that requires a lot of work is not really free!
2 - Plant seeds. You can purchase mature Foxgloves (Digitalis) at the nursery, but for a whole lot less you can purchase a packet of seeds. The problem with doing it this way, is that you have to wait (a year in the case of Foxgloves). On the other hand, if you are willing to wait, you can have a lot more flowers for a lot less money.
3 - Stretch your dollar by dividing the plants you buy. This is helpful when you want to plant a drift of something, for effect, and need something like six plants. Buying six pots can get a little expensive. But, depending on the plant, you can sometimes get away with purchasing two or three pots and dividing the plants as you put them into the garden. Of course, you'll have to wait a bit for the full effect, but usually in a year's time, nobody will know that you cut your costs in half. Be aware that this approach can make larger, more expensive plants cheaper than smaller pots of the same plant. This generally works better with plants purchased from a local nursery as plants ordered from a catalogue are often too small to divide. It also works better with plants that do not have a central crown.
4 - Divide the plants you've got. You may already own the plant you need to fill that hole, all you need to do is divide that Iris or Phlox. This has the added benefit of repeating colors and textures, giving your garden a sense of design. Be aware that some plants (herbaceas peonies and Baptistas, for example) don't like having their roots disturbed. It is better to divide some plants in the fall. Others may be safely divided early in the spring. But I've done this numerous times to good effect.
5 - Let some plants go to seed. In my garden, I let a number of plants (including foxgloves, hardy geranium, columbines, and purple cone flowers) go to seed and produce what gardeners call "volunteers." I even scatter the seed heads in certain places to encourage them. There are several benefits from this approach. It allows me to become something of a plant breeder. For example, by weeding all the yellow foxgloves after they bloom and only letting the pink ones go to seed, I now only get pink foxgloves. I've found that volunteer Ligularias are much tougher and drought resistant than any I've transplanted into the garden. Given how expensive hellebores are, volunteers are a welcome sight. Like other volunteers, I move them where I want while they are small. A volunteer plant that has found the perfect crack in a stone wall, such as you could never squeeze a trowel into, is the sort of serendipitous gift that makes gardening a pleasure.
6 - Shop at the end of the season when plants go on sale. You'll need to exercise some caution, but this can produce good bargains. Many plants on the sale rack have been neglected and are in a terribly weakened state. Others are potbound. But others are fine. The only fault with most lilies, for example, is that they have finished blooming, but they'll bloom well next year. Even the potbound plants can have their roots teased apart. Just be aware that plants bought late in the season may need extra attention to get them through a hot summer.
Tip of the week: When the forsythia is blooming it is time to apply crabgrass inhibitor.