1. Do your research. County extension agents and horticulturists at local universities offer free advice that can save you from making costly mistakes. Learn from your favorite books, magazines, and gardening Web sites, too.
2. Trust your instincts. When it comes to free advice, you sometimes get what you pay for. Keep in mind that profit motives may make some landscapers or garden-center staff overzealous. If you’re not sure about something, don’t buy it.
3. Comparison shop. Nurseries may differ drastically in price and quality. You may find great deals from online garden centers, too.
4. Avoid impulse buys. Make sure you have an appropriate spot for a plant before you purchase it. Otherwise, you may end up watching it die.
5. Shop cooperatively. Buying in bulk is less expensive if you share the costs with gardening friends or neighbors. The same goes for renting equipment such as tillers, lawn aerators, etc. Likewise, combine mail-order purchases with friends to cut down on shipping costs.
6. Buy used when you can. New isn’t always better. You can often find great deals on plants or tools at garage and estate sales.
7. Don’t overplant. Landscape with mature sizes in mind, or you may end up paying to move crowded plants.
8. Collect inspiration. Instead of hiring a professional, clip pictures you like from gardening magazines, books, and Web sites to get ideas before you start a new garden bed or landscaping project.
Here’s a hint: If there’s a landscape in your neighborhood that you really like, don’t be afraid to knock on the door and ask the homeowner if you can take pictures for your inspiration book. The homeowner may be end up giving you tips on getting the look.
9. Test your soil. A simple soil test will pinpoint what your soil lacks — so you won’t have to buy unneeded additives or the wrong plant. Many soil tests also recommend the best plant choices for your soil type, so you can grow a carefree garden without trying to amend your ground.
10. Pay attention to pH. If your ground is too acidic or alkaline, most plants can’t take up nutrients, no matter how much you feed your plants. That means fertilizers are wasted money.
11. Add manure. Check with local farmers to find a source of this all-natural soil amendment. Many will give it away for free — all you have to do is haul it.
Here’s a hint: Let fresh manure age before using it. Otherwise the high salt concentration may hurt your plants and introduce more weeds into your garden.
12. Stop weeds. Weeds compete with your plants for water and nutrients. If you feed your plants, keep in mind that the weeds are using the fertilizer, too.
13. Make your own compost. Convert garden and kitchen refuse into humus and improve your soil’s tilth, aeration, and water-holding capacity by making compost.
14. Pick the right grass. Different types of turf perform well in different conditions. Make sure you have the best kind for your yard so you don’t have to spend extra time — and money — keeping it looking good.
15. Feed your lawn sensibly. Cool-season lawns do great when fertilized only a few times a year, such as early September, late October, and mid-April. Don’t fertilize in summer.
Warm-season lawns can use a couple of feedings in summer, but don’t require it in fall or winter.
16. Leave grass clippings. Unless your lawn is especially prone to thatch, don’t bag your grass clippings. They’ll quickly break down, adding organic matter and nutrients to your lawn. This means you don’t have to fertilize as much.
17. Start from seed. While it takes longer to get established, you can save a considerable amount of money by planting grass seed instead of sod. Or for curb appeal, sod the front yard and seed the back.
18. Plant cool-season lawns in fall. There’s less likelihood of humidity-triggered diseases or hard-washing rains.
19. Don’t cut your lawn too short. Most lawns do best if allowed to grow 2 or 2 1/2 inches tall. The higher you let your grass grow, the deeper its root system is, so you don’t have to water as often.
Tall grass shades out weeds better, so you don’t have to spend on herbicides, as well.
20. Save surplus seeds. Many common flower seeds stay viable for years if stored properly. So if you don’t use them all one year, you can plant the rest of a packet the next year.
Here’s a hint: The best way to store your seeds is in a cool, dry place.
21. Sow seeds directly into the ground. You won’t have to outlay hard-earned cash for potting mixtures, trays, grow lights, etc.
22. Mix in annuals. Perennials are an expensive investment, so ease up on your pocketbook by purchasing some seed packets of your favorite annuals.
Here’s a hint: Self-seeding annuals such as cleome, bachelor’s button, and California poppy drop seeds — so you don’t have to buy them every year.
23. Save and trade. Of the perennials you do buy, plant those that grow quickly, such as daffodils or lily-of-the-valley, and in two to three years you will have three to five times as many plants. They’re perfect for trading with friends and neighbors.
24. Propagate your plants. Divide large clumps of perennials such as chrysanthemums, hostas, and daylilies into several plants. Take root cuttings from easy-to-grow shrubs such as pussy willows, azaleas, and forsythia.
25. Choose native plants. Select species that grow naturally in your region to avoid such costs as extra watering, pampering through winter, and soil correction.
26. Use mulch. Simply using mulch can save you money. A layer of mulch helps the soil hold moisture better, so you have to water less. Organic mulches break down over time and improve your soil, so you have to spend less on fertilizer. Plus, mulches cut down on weeds, so you won’t have to purchase weedkillers.
27. Recycle newspaper. Rather than buying black plastic or landscaping fabric, layer about 24 pages of newspaper over your garden bed, soak them with water, then anchor them with a thin soil layer or other mulch.
28. Gather fallen leaves. Don’t pay to have your city pick up bags of fallen leaves from your curb in fall. Instead, chop them up with your lawn mower and use them as mulch for your plants. Or add them to your compost pile.
29. Haul sawdust. Many sawmills will give you sawdust for free if you haul it away. It’s a great material for mulching garden paths — clean and easy to spread.
Here’s a hint: Sawdust can absorb nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down. So add some extra fertilizer when you spread sawdust around your plants. Sawdust is also great in the compost pile.
30. Gather wood chips. Many tree trimmers will give wood chips away, too. Just avoid walnut shavings — they can make your prized plants suffer.
Here’s a hint: Ask the tree trimmer if the trees they chipped had poison ivy growing on them. Poison ivy mixed in the chips can still create skin irritation.
31. Buy mulch in bulk. You can save a considerable amount of money by buying mulch in bulk. A pickup load of mulch may cost $40 compared to over $100 for the same quantity of bagged mulch.
32. Shop end-of-the-season sales. Fall is just as good a time to plant trees as spring. Many garden centers and nurseries are looking to get rid of their plants before winter, so you may be able save 50 percent or more.
33. Purchase small-size plants. While bigger trees give you instant impact by looking good the day you plant them, they’re also more expensive. You could get several times as much for your money with small trees.
34. Plant sturdy, slow-growing trees. Fast-growing trees sound great but come at a price. They’re usually more susceptible to storm damage, as well as pests and diseases.
35. Protect your foundation. Roots can damage concrete blocks. Plant large trees at least 30 feet from your house to prevent having to spend on foundation fixups.
36. Practice good pruning. Overgrown or badly pruned trees and shrubs can make your landscape look bad. A good pruning job can save you the expense of replacement plants.
37. Turn projects into social events. Gather friends and have a paving party. Your only labor expense will be refreshments.
38. Recycle bricks. Use brickyard seconds for a fraction of the cost of perfect, new bricks.
39. Make mulch paths. Instead of purchasing expensive flagstone, gravel, or other materials, consider making paths from inexpensive mulches such as wood chips, pine needles, or shredded leaves.
40. Look for quarry rejects. Flat-cut stones with minor flaws still make for handsome stepping-stones, walls, benches, and flowerbed and pond edgings.
41. Visit construction sites. Stones, old bricks, and other buried materials at construction projects are often just hauled to the landfill. Ask the landowner for permission and he or she may give the debris to you.
42. Mix materials. If a concrete patio is too plain, but flagstones are too expensive, incorporate some flagstones into the concrete to create a design. There’s no rule that says a patio needs to be made from just one type of surface.
43. Use screws. A deck built from screws will last longer and require fewer repairs than one made from nails.
44. Line ponds with castoffs. Ask a swimming-pool maintenance service for rubber liner before you buy a 60-millimeter one. It can save you a considerable amount of money.
45. Consider alternative materials. A septic-tank bottom, for example, costs less than a fiberglass pond. Since the structure is underground, the only difference you’ll see is in the cost.
Thanks to our friends from Better Homes & Gardens for these great tips!