Start from Seed: Tips to Grow Your Garden Cheaply

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Last year, I spent a bunch of money on annuals and perennials for my small backyard plot. This year, I've vowed to be more like my dad, who always jump-starts his garden indoors (see above). To that end, I've bought some flower seeds and begun my research.

Costs add up quickly at nurseries, and the savings of seeds versus plants is obvious. The five flower seed packets I bought, including low-fuss zinnias and bachelor's button, cost $10 and change. In comparison, my husband and I easily spent 10 times that amount on grown plants (many annuals and a few doomed perennials) last year. Here are a few ideas to help keep costs even lower while having happy seedlings.

1. Plan ahead (often sooner than you think) and read carefully. Some seed packets will tell you the number of days until maturity. Others, like the packets I bought, will tell you to start the process indoors x number of weeks from the last spring frost date. To figure out that date so you can count backwards, consult The Old Farmer's Almanac's First and Last Frost Dates Calculator. Here in Baltimore, that date is already less than two months away.

2. Reuse materials for containers. My dad's containers of choice are old ice cube trays and paper egg cartons. You can also use eggshells, make biodegradable newspaper pots, employ empty toilet paper tubes, or clean and reuse commercial trays from small plants purchased the prior year. This kind of divided container is preferable to a large open one because you won't disturb other roots when you eventually transplant each seedling.

3. Don't forget to label. Something as simple as Popsicle sticks — a few dollars from the craft store — makes easy and inexpensive markers. If you're feeling more creative, try one of these DIY seed marker projects.

If you're tired of winter and inspired to care for some seedlings, consider consulting these sources for more information:

(Image credits: Kim R. McCormick)

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