Seeds, swaps can keep flower gardening affordable
Gardening on the cheap
A flower garden may seem like a frivolous expense in these tough economic times, but experts say there are plenty of ways to cultivate a beautiful and varied collection of blooms when money is tight.Skip to next paragraph
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Options for gardening on the cheap range from the labor-intensive — growing flowers from seed — to the neighborly, such as swapping plants with friends or asking a successful gardener down the street for cuttings, cup-of-sugar style.
Even flower lovers without green thumbs can find ways to save. Those who lack the time or expertise to do anything but stop by a greenhouse for annuals can cut costs by choosing low-maintenance varieties that spread out in the garden, requiring fewer plants to fill a space.
Some annuals are cheaper when purchased as bulbs rather than plants.
Still, there is no way around it: Achieving significant savings can take time and effort.
"Growing things from seed is absolutely the cheapest way to go," says Ann Hancock, a horticulturalist at Michigan State University's DeLapa Perennial Garden in East Lansing, Mich. "You pay a premium for buying already-started plants from a greenhouse."
To novices, nurturing plants from seed may seem tricky and tedious. It can require close attention over several weeks, with no guarantee of success.
Ms. Hancock and other horticulturalists suggest some simple steps:
— Plant the seeds in sterile seed mix rather than potting soil, to avoid weeds and fungus that can weaken or even kill young plants. It's OK to plant the seeds densely. Start them about six weeks before you intend to plant them outside.
— Use clean containers with holes in the bottom for good drainage. Wash them in a solution of bleach and water for at least three minutes if they've been used before. There's no need to invest in new plastic pots — even paper cups will work.
— Keep the seed mix moist by checking it frequently and misting it with a sprayer, rather than pouring water on it.
— After planting the seeds, cover the container with plastic wrap to help prevent them from drying out.
— To ensure adequate light and minimize the risk of the seedlings drying out, put the containers under a fluorescent shop light or ultraviolet light rather than in direct sunlight. Hang the light about 3 inches above the containers.
— When the plants come up, remove the plastic wrap.
— When the plants become seedling size, transplant them to a tray with cells, using soilless mix and putting one plant in each cell.
— When the seedlings get three or four leaves, they're ready to go into the garden.
Plants that can be started indoors or seeded directly into the garden include zinnias, marigolds, snapdragons, sunflowers, and nasturtiums.
Sunflowers in particular can be started from seed pretty easily, and there are many kinds to choose from, says Charlie Nardozzi, a National Gardening Association horticulturist based in Burlington, Vt.