12 Surprising Tips: Create Your Dream Garden on a Low Budget

Views 6 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful
Yes, you can!
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Yes, you can!

Getting Started


When I started gardening I had a budget of $100 a year. If you're familiar with the cost of plants and basic garden supplies, and you have a bare yard, you know that does not stretch very far. 

What I'll show you here is all of the things I learned along the way as a new gardener with much more determination than money. 

While there was a lot of trial and error, what I gradually realized was, there are certain basic tips and tricks that, when followed, really help things progress—without any overspending. 

Your dream garden is not going to be the same as mine, but I'm quite confident these tips will help you make the most of the time, money, and effort you put into your new garden. 
My garden in the first few years (Ontario, Canada)
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
My garden in the first few years (Ontario, Canada)

1. Play the Long Game

If you're like me, you want a beautiful, thriving garden and you want it now! But plants take time to grow, and gradually, if you really love gardening and spending time outdoors, that feeling of urgency starts to diminish and pure enjoyment takes over. It sounds so cliché, I know. But it's true.

Gardening on a tight budget means you have to leave those giant, expensive baskets of annuals right where you found them at the store. And there's no sense in buying some fabulous garden décor that will swallow your entire budget in one gulp. 

We're here for the long game which means gradually building up a great selection of plants that are well-suited for your area, and finding garden art and décor (at bargain prices) that will last for many years—all while staying within your budget.

You may not find what you want right when you want it, but, with some patience and super sleuthing, it will eventually all come together. I discuss more shopping ideas in Tip #11.

Later on, when your garden is well-established, there should be room in your budget for the fun and frivolous stuff. But for now it's time to get some plants started.
My side garden in the afternoon sun
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
My side garden in the afternoon sun

2. Get Familiar with Your Growing Zone

The best thing I ever did when becoming a gardener was to get familiar with what was possible in my own growing zone. There's no sense in fawning over gorgeous gardens in magazines if the grower has a completely different climate than yours.
 
Gather ideas locally and get to know gardeners in your area.
  • Join local garden clubs or horticultural societies.
  • Start attending garden talks, tours, and events.
  • Take photos and keep notes. 
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos

3. Make (and Break) Your Garden Plan

It can be stressful figuring out where to start. Get a sheet of paper and simply draw the space you have to work with on the page. Fill in any existing plants or trees. Then start playing around with any ideas you have.

The biggest obstacle I see with new gardeners is the urge to know everything before they get started. The truth is, you'll never know it all, and, the best teacher is to simply dig in and get started. You'll be amazed how much you will learn as you go.

You'll also change your mind. A lot. And that's fine. Dig. Plant. Learn. Adapt. Grow. 

When planning, here's some questions to ask:
  • Do you want trees, shrubs, flowers, or non-flowering plants? 
  • Will you grow edibles like veggies, fruits, and nuts?
  • Do you want an entertainment area or a cottage garden packed with flowers?
  • Or perhaps you prefer an evergreen setting with just a few color accents?
  • Do you want privacy or an open space?
  • Do you want a large pond or smaller water feature?
  • Will you stick to organic garden practices? (I do because it's best for the environment, easiest, and less expensive.)
And, what is your budget? If you are serious about sticking to it, research everything you want to buy ( more on this in Tip #11) and track everything you spend.
New pond in the back garden-the pond form came from the garbage!
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
New pond in the back garden-the pond form came from the garbage!

4. Pencil in the Big Stuff

It's rather sad and a waste of money to have to tear out well-established plants to make room for a big project, so if you want to have large trees or big ticket items in the future (deck, patio, gazebo, shed, pond, or fences), leave space for them now.

Fill in the gaps with things like garden art or a veg garden.

Also, ask local gardeners about their garden regrets and mistakes. Listen when they tell you about invasive plants. This information can help you make much better choices!
Healthy soil is essential for a happy garden
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Healthy soil is essential for a happy garden

5. Make Soil Health a Priority

I would have saved myself a lot of money if I'd followed this!
  • There is no point in putting good plants in bad soil. Without healthy growing conditions, you are setting them up to fail.
  • Learn about manure and composting and do whatever you can to improve the quality of your soil.
  • Raised beds and containers are two very efficient ways to establish healthy garden beds without the expense of improving a large volume of soil.
Perennials in my front garden
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Perennials in my front garden

6. Focus on Perennials, Not Annuals (unless they're Veggies)

I mentioned in the opening that, if you really want to create a fabulous, long-term garden, there will not be room in the budget for those fabulous giant containers of flowering annuals that call out to you at the garden nursery. 

There are some exceptions, but basically, annuals are single-season plants. They put on their big show and then they're done. Your money is best spent investing in perennials that will continue to grow year after year. 
  • Focus on perennials that are native or well-adapted to your area, requiring minimal care and watering. 
  • Plants that are suited for your climate will have the best chance at thriving (in good soil).
  • Planting diversely (with a variety of plants) helps decrease possible pest problems.
  • Native and naturalized plants will attract pollinators like birds and bees. Pollination means fruit and flowers and more.
If you really want some of those flowering annuals, see Tip #8.
Keep plant tags on a key ring for future reference
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Keep plant tags on a key ring for future reference

7. Read Plant Tags

This one may sound obvious but so many people ignore the instructions provided on plants tags.
  • Plant tags often contain valuable information both for planting and what to expect long term.
  • Believe them when they tell you how wide and tall a plant will become!
  • Keep all your plant tags for future reference, noting plant locations. 
Also see:
 
24 Smart Uses for Household Items in the Garden
Save money with indoor and outdoor seed starting
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Save money with indoor and outdoor seed starting

8. Learn to Grow Plants from Seeds—Indoors and Outdoors

I start seeds indoors in the winter and by spring I have hundreds of plants to add to my garden at very little cost. 

The supplies are simple: a basic fluorescent shop light, seed starting mix, containers, and seeds. 

Helpful Resources
Collect water with a rain barrel
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Collect water with a rain barrel

9. Collect Rain Water

Rain barrels collect rain water and provide a chlorine-free alternative to tap water. 

They are particular useful if you live in an area with watering restrictions and/or seasonal droughts.
  • Attach rain barrels to each of your downspouts and you'll have fresh, warm water available as needed.  
  • Also look into using reusing 'grey' water (water safe for reuse) from your home.
Make low cost garden art from repurposed items
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Make low cost garden art from repurposed items

10. Make Garden Art

Homemade garden art is a creative, low-cost way to fill in gaps in the garden and add interest while you're waiting for the plants to grow. 

Plus, it's a different set of rules out there in the garden: if you see something interesting (made from materials that can withstand the weather) and the price is right, grab it! Trust your over-the-top art sense and make some cool stuff.

Garden Art Ideas
Fresh veggies from the garden
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Fresh veggies from the garden

11. Be a Bargain Sleuth (and Share Your Dream!)


You've made your wish list—now it's time to let people know about it.

  • Many homes and garages are filled with unused stuff! It's amazing what people have to offer if you simply get the word out. Let your wishes be known!
  • Do your homework and start sleuthing.
  • Know retail prices so you'll recognize a bargain when you see it.
I check yard sales, thrift shops, online ads (and place wanted ads), and setup alerts on eBay.

I also check the curb on garbage day. It's amazing what people throw away—especially at the end of the gardening season.
  • Be willing to trade or barter.
  • Keep an eye open (both online and in your town) for freebies, trades, garden club plant sales, off-season discounts, yard sales, and auctions.
  • Consider giving your time in exchange for plants or patio stones or whatever your heart desires.
The more willing and able you are to dig stuff up and haul it home, the luckier you'll get.
Take lots of garden photos to track your progress
Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Take lots of garden photos to track your progress

12. Take Photos

Keep track of your progress before, during, after, and all along the way. If you can make the time for some notes too—great. 

Whenever you get discouraged or think things are progressing too slowly, look back at your photos and see how far you've come.

Yes, it takes a couple of years for a garden to get established, but the sooner you get started, the sooner you get there!

Love it? Share it!



Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page

More Creative Gardening Ideas



Edit Link Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page

Join Me

Love creative gardening ideas? 

Be sure to follow my eBay guides

And happy gardening to you!  
Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides