Gardening as economically as possible is a challenge, but when approached correctly, much can be achieved
Intense heat and dry winds are a challenge in mid-summer. This year there is a new poser for gardeners, and that is the need to garden more economically.
There are ways to help reduce the cost of gardening, yet still revel in the joy of your attractive outdoor area. Start by reassessing and simplifying your garden. Remove tired old plants taking up space or ones that have outgrown their area. The result is a cleaner, easier-to-care-for garden.
When replacing plants, choose species which are local to your area and that attract pollinators. Visit garden centres and nurseries that have the knowledge of this local approach to choosing plants.
Low water landscaping
Focus on low-water landscaping and waterwise plants. Create different water use zones by grouping plants with similar water needs. Grow those that need the most water near the house and in containers on patios.
Where there is a large area to be planted, choose drought-tolerant plants, such as agapanthus, day lily or wild iris (Dietes grandiflora). Plant these water-sensible species in large drifts. Capture rain run-off by planting trees and shrubs that help slow and filter heavy rain.
Install rain tanks under roof down spouts. Eco-friendly rain gardens capture and divert storm and water run-off from hard surfaces of roofs, paving and driveways and direct this into shallow depressions, where the water soaks into the ground. Use grey water recycled from bath and laundry water in the garden.
Mulch soil with an 8cm to 10cm layer of mulch of bark chips or nuggets, compost or pine needles, keeping away from plant stems. Fallen leaves can also be left as natural mulch around shrubs.
Mulch also smothers weeds and stops wind from drying out soil. The soil should be well moistened before applying mulch.
Make a compost heap
Use waste materials from the kitchen and garden to make compost and return this, in time, to the soil to enrich and improve the health of plants. Compost breaks up clay soils and improves sandy soils.
A compost bin will take up less space, particularly in small gardens. Trench composting is particularly suitable for growing vegetables. Dig a trench to a depth of two to three spades, placing soil to one side.
Place a thick layer of wet newspaper in the bottom of the trench and fill with vegetable peelings, leaves and any other plant material that is available, alternating with layers of soil. Plant vegetables in the filled trench.
Recycle and refresh
Why go to the expense of buying new containers? Paint old pots in colours to match or contrast with plants. Visit auctions and think outside the box about what to use as a plant container. Recycle a Victorian bathtub, an old sink, a rusted wheelbarrow.
Attach baskets of flowers to the handlebars and carrier of an old bicycle. Wooden barrels and crates are perfect for herbs. Kitchen colanders and old parrot cages make great hanging baskets. Just make sure that unconventional containers have drainage holes.
Flowers from seed
Growing from seed is the cheapest way to furnish a garden with plants. Seed companies are on your side by making it easy, with instructions on each seed packet. Growing in situ simply means sowing seeds directly into the ground where they are to flower.
Many plants, such as alyssum, marigold, sunflower and portulaca, can be sown directly into their permanent position. Other flowers are best started off in seed boxes. The most important part of sowing seed is soil preparation.
Prepare the ground by forking over the area and breaking up lumps before digging in compost. Rake the surface and water well the day before sowing seed. If seed is sown in rows it will make weeding easier and rows will not be noticed as plants mature.
Sow seed sparingly and cover with a thin layer of soil before gently watering to remove air pockets. To ensure germination, keep soil moist.
Vegetables from seed
Nothing is quite as satisfying as growing and harvesting fresh, nutritious vegetables from your garden, as well as lowering food costs. Vegetables don’t even have to be grown in open ground. They can be grown in pots, in wine barrels, in troughs and in raised beds.
Choose a place where vegetables will receive at least five hours of sun a day. Sow a few seeds at fortnightly intervals, rather than have too many maturing at the same time. Combine edible plants with colourful flowers to attract pollinators, and use trellis panels to grow vertical edible screens.
Climbing peas, tomatoes and beans produce as much, if not more, than their bush varieties. What can you sow now? Beetroot, broccoli, bush and runner beans, cabbage, carrots, celery, kale, lettuce (choose heat-tolerant varieties), peppers, radish, spinach and Swiss chard.