Gardening is a popular, though pricey, hobby. According to the National Gardening Association, Americans spent a record-breaking $47.8 billion on their gardens in 2018. But those greenbacks put green thumbs to good use — beyond maintaining an attractive landscape, there are many physical and psychological benefits associated with spending time outdoors tending to plants, including more exposure to sunlight (and, in turn, Vitamin D), stress relief and increased physical activity. One study even found that daily gardening could lower one’s risk of developing dementia by 36%.
With summer winding down, you can still reap the mental and physical rewards of your plant-based investment. Below, we’ve offered a series of tips and tricks for maintaining your budget while transitioning your garden into cooler seasons.
Plant fall-friendly plants and veggies
Levi Gardner, founder and co-executive director of Urban Roots, a nonprofit community farm, market and educational center, said that although we primarily think of spring as the prime season for planting, there is still room for growth once the weather cools down.
“Whether it’s adding a discounted fruit tree in the fall or planting more cold-hardy veggies, the end of summer and fall is still a great time for planting,” said Gardner, who is also an adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
Spinach, for example, can still grow even when it’s as cold as 15 degrees outside, Gardner said. Kale, chard, broccoli, garlic and leeks are also worth considering when it comes to cold-weather-friendly plants.
“Don’t give up on the garden just because the days are getting colder,” Gardner said.
Save your seeds for next year
One great way to save money when transitioning your garden from summer to fall is by harvesting seeds from your plants and saving them for the next growing season. In order to ensure your harvested seeds last until the next season, dry them and store them in an airtight container somewhere that’s cool and dry.
Gardner recommends people take a look at the book Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners for a primer on seed saving for both edible and ornamental plants.
If you can’t save your seeds, purchase some at a discount
At the end of summer, many big-box retailers have seed donations, as well as discounted seeds for sale. Taking advantage of free or cheap seeds can help you prepare for your next growing season without dipping into your savings.
“Germination rates may be low, but sometimes places like Family, Farm & Home or Tractor Supply Plus have discounted seeds,” Gardner said. Johnny’s Selected Seeds also has a sale section online, so be sure to check there, too.
With low germination rates, however, you can expect some to be duds. To save yourself disappointment during the next planting season, use this trick to judge a seed’s viability: let them sit in water for about 15 minutes, and if they sink, they’re still good to use. If they float, they most likely won’t sprout.
Separate mature perennial plants and sell what’s leftover
One way you can make a little extra cash come the end of summer is by splitting your mature perennial plants. Some perennials (think hosta, sedum and daylilies) spread easily, so once they’re mature, you can carefully divide them and plant (or sell) the extras.
With cooler temperatures than summer, splitting perennials during the fall can help improve your chances of success — just make sure you give them enough time to root before the really cold weather kicks in.
Compost your food waste
Gardner said composting is not only a great way to save money on waste, but also to grow a more beautiful garden and be more environmentally conscious. Because composting is a form of fertilizer, it’s a DIY project that helps you save money on future lawn maintenance expenses.
“Fall is a great time to set up a composting system if you haven’t already,” Gardner said. “Coffee grounds? Spread them right on the soil. Anything else can fit in a small, DIY compost area to put on your garden before winter shows up.”
In order to remain nutrient-rich, compost needs to maintain some moisture when being stored. If you have the space, consider leaving it outside covered with a tarp. It will be protected from the elements, but still allow for some rain and snow to keep it fresh. Otherwise, try keeping it in garbage bags or cans, just make sure to check the moisture levels and stir it regularly.
Mulch to save water and suppress late-season weeds
Another great way to save money while transitioning your garden from summer to fall is by mulching to save on water expenses, which will also suppress late-season weeds. “Water bills generally don’t cost too much, but if you are like me, you don’t want to spend any more than necessary,” Gardner said. “After mowing your lawn, use the grass or the weeds you pulled to mulch around the base of your plants.”
Whether you’re growing edibles or ornamentals, Gardner said, using any available organic mulch will help cut down on what is called evapotranspiration, which is the combination of loss of water through both the plant and the surface of the soil.
Although mulching can be done with weeds or grass, it can also be done using newspaper or old straw (but not hay, Gardner noted). “Organic mulch will help suppress late-season weeds while also cutting back on your water needs for the season,” he said.
Extend your growing season a bit longer
If you’re looking to extend the growing season where you live, Gardner said you can consider using a cold frame, hoop house or mini greenhouse to keep your garden producing plants all year long. If you’re an avid gardener and anticipate growing plants for years to come, this could be a worthwhile investment in the long run.
“From repurposing old windows to building a low tunnel with old conduit, there are lots of options to add length to your season, keep your garden producing and learn a new skill in the process,” he said.