Q: How can I save money while gardening this year?

A: With a little effort, the improvements you make to your garden can dramatically increase your home’s value. Here’s how El Paso County gardeners can get the biggest bang for their buck.

Free or Cheap Landscape Materials

Colorado Springs Freecycle is an internet group with Yahoo! where Colorado
Springs residents offer and get free items to keep them out of landfills. Landscape
items are commonly offered. To find out more, visit www.freecycle.org.

Craig’s List is a website where people post classified ads. Some people offer
free landscape materials and others are inexpensive. To find out more, visit cosprings.craigslist.org.

Local manure is a good (and free) soil amendment option. Horse stables and alpaca farms usually are willing to give you their manure free of charge if you are willing to pick it up. Make sure you are getting aged manure. Put your hand in the pile. If it still feels warm, it’s not aged enough.

Free mulch is a great way to save money. Two local options include the Black
Forest Slash and Mulch Program or Colorado Springs City Forestry. Both have free mulch piles. The Black Forest site (www.bfslash.org) is only open in the summer, but has a front end loader. City Forestry (springsgov.com, click on Parks and Recreation, then Forestry) site is hand shovel only.

If you don’t have truck but still want free mulch, try calling a local tree care
company. They generate much more chippings than they can use. They will drop
off mulch to your house for free.

Buy in bulk when you can. Mulch and compost are half the price when you buy
them in bulk rather than bags. To find companies that sell mulch and compost in
bulk, look in the yellow pages under, “Landscape Materials.”

If you want to buy bagged landscape products, look for broken bags at the big
box stores. They will often sell broken bags for 50% off. However, the manager
often has to discount them at the register, so go to the store at a time when there is
low customer traffic.

If you want to use straw as mulch (for example, on a vegetable garden) try
getting loose straw from a feed store that sells straw bales. They often will have a
pile of loose straw they will give you for free. Be sure to bring a truck or some
garbage bags to transport it.

Make your own compost. Refer to Colorado State University’s fact sheet at www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07212.html. You can make a compost bin from old or damaged pallets (sometimes free). You can also use straw bales ($4 each) to confine your compost as it will decompose with the compost over time. Fill it with yard waste and produce your own soil amendment. Many grocery stores will give away old produce. Collect coffee grounds from the office or Starbuck’s for your compost.

Use creative containers. Rather than buying expensive pots to plant as container
gardens, look for creative items that could be used as containers. Bowls, flour
sifters, rusty wheelbarrow, buckets with a hole, and boots can be fun. Some can
be purchased at the thrifts store for a few dollars. Just make sure that you have
holes for drainage and the container is big enough for roots.

Cut back on watering by planting xeric plants and creating watering zones in your yard. Hand water or use soaker hoses to meet higher water needs of specific plants.

Use newsprint rather than landscape fabric to prevent weed growth. Layer 3 sheets of newspaper on top of soil, then top that with 3-4 inches of mulch.

Free or Cheap Plants

Buy plants when they are small, but give them room to grow.

Look for deals on plants. In fall, many nurseries are trying to get rid of their
plants stock. They often will sell plants as “buy one, get one free.” At other times
of the year, nurseries will often reduce the price of plants if they have too many
(overstock) or the plants have degraded in quality. It’s fine to buy perennials and
shrubs that are low quality if you can nurse them back to health. Don’t waste your
money on low quality trees, since they often have structural defects that will
compromise the tree’s future health.

Grow plants from seed. Rather than paying for annual flower or vegetable
transplants in May, try growing them from seed. Contact the Extension office for
assistance. Perennials such as soapwort, catmint, coreopsis and snow-in-summer
can all be grown from seed.

Try growing a lawn from seed rather than installing sod. For 1,000 square feet
of sod, many companies will charge $200-300 (double if they install it). Seeding
1,000 square feet of grass would require $20 to 30 of grass seed.

Use plants that reseed heavily. They can cover an area until you have money to
landscape it with other plants. Examples include cosmos, zinnia, marigolds, and California poppies.

Buy long-lived plants. Some perennials, shrubs, and trees live longer than
others. Aspens only last around 20 years on the Front Range. Peonies can survive
more than 100 years. Penstemons usually only live for 3 years. Short-lived plants
must be replaced frequently and cost more over the long run.

If you have large areas of bare soil, start with aggressive plants. They will
spread easily and cover the soil. As time passes, you can remove the aggressive
plants and replace them with more desirable plants. Russian sage, Virginia creeper, and bugleweed are two examples.

Trade plants with others. Gardeners often have extra plants. By getting to know
other gardeners in your community, perhaps through a gardening club, you will
have many opportunities to receive free plants from other gardeners. Watch your neighbors when they divide their plants or clean out their garden. Offer to help them and take some of the plants home with you.

Getting it Right the First Time

Buy a professional consultation. This is a great way to get professional advice
without having to pay big bucks for a professional landscape design. Many local
small landscapers and gardeners will do a professional consultation for around
$75. They will help you generate ideas for your yard. They can help you avoid
costly mistakes. To find a landscape consultant, visit a local independent garden
center like Good Earth, Phelan Gardens, or Hillside Gardens. They will be able to
refer you to a consultant.

Attend CSU Extension spring or fall classes to get more gardening information: elpasoco.colostate.edu/horticulture/sp09class.html.

Buy durable plants. Find out more about the renowned “Plant Select” program at www.ext.colostate.edu/Ptlk/2037.html. These are plants that have proven to be reliable and resilient in our climate. Buy plants rated a hardiness zone lower than the one in which you live. For example, if you live in zone 5, choose zone 4 plants. This increases the likelihood that the plants will survive the winter.

Mulch heavily in fall. By adding extra mulch in fall, you help insulate plants
from temperature and moisture extremes. This helps them survive the winter.

Do It Yourself

By doing the work yourself, you avoid paying labor costs for someone else to
do the work. For example, paying a professional to install a sprinkler system to
cover 1,000 square feet will cost around $1,000. About $700 to $800 is labor

Doing it yourself allows you to spread the cost of landscaping over time. You can
take the “pocket approach” and work on only one area of your yard at a time. Then
you take on another area when money becomes available. The other approach is to do
the whole yard in phases. For example, you might amend the soil and cover it with
mulch. Then, when you get more money you could install a sprinkler system. When
more money comes along, you could plant.

If you need to get rid of branches or a lot of yard waste, don’t take it to the
dump. Instead, take it to Rocky Top Resources on a Saturday. If you bring a
couple of canned goods to donate to Care and Share, they will take your yard
waste for free. www.rockytop.us/careshare.html

Prevent Expensive Damage

Regular winter water is the key to winter plant survival. Providing plants with
supplemental water protects them from dry winds and bare soil. Refer to the CSU fact
sheet 7.211, Fall and Winter Watering, for more details at www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07211.html.

By training young trees, you ensure the tree will be structurally sound over its
lifetime. When you correctly prune a young tree, it will resist weather, insect, and
disease damage. Refer to Garden Note 614, “Structural Training of Young Shade
Trees.” (Call our Help Desk for a copy.)

Blow out your sprinkler system. If you have a sprinkler system that does not
contain drain valves, it’s important to have it blown out. Most sprinkler
professionals will charge about $75 to blow out a system, which is much cheaper
than repairing a system with freeze damage.

Contributed by Catherine Moravec, Horticulture Agent. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 636.8921 or CSUmg2@elpasoco.com (A version of this article appeared in The Gazette on 2/28/09.)