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Don Kinzler, Published May 31 2013

Plant more, spend less: Tips for a great garden that won't break the bank

Someday, I want my home’s yard to look like the gardens at Versailles Palace. The only problem is I’ve got an orchid taste on a petunia pocketbook.

Some of my horticultural dreams can wait until my Powerball ship comes in. But in the meantime there are some practical methods for planting more without spending more.

I am not suggesting that we all begin gardening on the cheap, which could be detrimental to our greenhouse growers. We need local growers, and they are well-worth every dollar we spend. Can you imagine trying to request North Dakota’s Sheyenne Tomato from retailers whose buying decisions are made in a corporate office in Arkansas or Mississippi?

As always, I’m suggesting that we increase our gardening, landscaping and flower planting to make our homes ever more beautiful. If budgets are tight, we still can accomplish increased plantings with relatively easy horticultural practices.

Annual flowers. Make the usual purchases for flower beds at the usual date. But for some additional large, eye-catching annual beds, we might find some clearance prices in late May and early June. Greenhouses may be long on certain types and run sales.

We also can get more mileage from annuals by stretching the planting distances a bit. If the directions indicate 6 inches to 12 inches apart, the wider spacing usually works fine, and a larger flowerbed can be created with the same number of plants.

Perennial flowers. When buying, look for plants with multiple shoots arising from the basal crown. They often can be immediately divided, yielding two or three plants.

This division can be done using a sharp knife or shears, cutting down through the root mass. I’ve found another method that I prefer. Submerge the soil/rootball in a large bucket of water. The soil will loosen and begin to wash away, allowing you to carefully pull the intertwined roots apart and separate the plantlets. Keep the roots in water and plant immediately, followed by a thorough soaking.

Older established perennials can be divided to increase your own plantings or share with friends and neighbors.

There’s a neat rule of thumb for remembering the proper seasons for division. Divide during the season farthest from the bloom season. For example, peonies bloom in late spring/early summer, so dig and divide in September. Tall Plox paniculata blooms in mid to late summer, so dig and divide in spring as new growth begins.

Flowers in containers. Rather than crowding outdoor planters for an immediate full-grown look, use fewer plants per pot. Each will enjoy a little more room to develop, and the extra plants can fill an additional container.

Trees. There is an old saying: “The best time to plant an oak tree was 30 years ago. The second best time is this morning.” Gardening teaches patience. Daughter Sara planted an acorn behind our home 20 years ago this fall. Today, the oak tree is a beautiful, straight-trunked 25-foot-tall feature. Sara is a beautiful recent college grad, but less than 25 feet tall. The acorn was free.

If a $200 10- foot potted tree is out of the financial question, maybe a 6- foot $49 specimen is for you. The smaller tree usually will establish quicker and soon surpass the “gotta have it now” size.

Shrubs. Planting too closely is a common landscape mistake because plants look so cute when they are small. Check labels for mature width, then space accordingly. For the same expenditure, you can space farther and develop a wider, larger shrub planting.

Lawns. Taller mowing height of 3 inches will reduce weed competition, and reduce the cost and overuse of weed-killers. Allowing clippings to filter into the lawn instead of bagging adds nutrients to the soil, which is the equivalent of one fertilizer application per year. We just saved the cost of one fertilizing, and avoided a trip to the yard waste collection site.

Do not scrimp on lawn seed prices. Bargain seed often contains a high percentage of annual rye grass, which grows rapidly but dies over winter.

Vegetable gardens. I usually seed lettuce, radishes and carrots too thickly, which results in the wasteful need to “thin” the rows as the seedlings grow. This year, I promised myself to seed more thinly at planting time. As a result, the seed packet planted extra feet of row.

About sales. During our 20 memory-filled years in the greenhouse, Mary and I chuckled a bit when certain customers would annually question “When is this going on sale?”

End-of-season sales can help growers turn overages into cash and give gardeners bargains. But during the peak of the season, certain prices are needed to meet expenses and keep things profitable.

We are “Growing Together,” and we all need one another.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Don Kinzler writes a weekly yard and gardening column in SheSays. Readers can reach him at donkinzler@msn.com.