How to save money on mulch and fertilizer

When gardening, mulch and fertilizer are essential—but the price can quickly add up. Save money and grow a beautiful garden with these three easy tips.

How to save money on mulch and fertilizer

1. Don’t bother to test your soil

  • If you only listened to the "experts" in gardening magazines, you'd fork over some green to a soil lab before you ever forked compost onto your garden. But some gardening professionals think this can be a waste of money.
  • Garden centre manager Connie Smith, for example, has never tested soil. In general, she says, if you're diligent about adding compost, manure and peat to your soil, it will achieve the required pH balance and essential minerals. If you want to learn more about the general nature of soils in your area, an expert at a local garden centre will tell you what to expect and make recommendations for additions to your soil.
  • When is testing soil a must? If you're having problems growing a plant that should succeed in your area, especially if your neighbour's plants do well with the same sun exposure, you might have an issue with your soil and a test could help point to a solution. Also, you may want to test your soil first if you plan to dump fertilizer on it every year: you may be wasting money and pouring unnecessary chemicals into your garden when all it needs is a dose of lime or a load of manure.

2. Get your mulch for free

  • Mulch is essential stuff for retaining moisture and inhibiting weeds, but the owners of your local garden or home centre will be laughing all the way to the bank if you buy it by the bag. Fortunately, arborists and tree trimmers are often looking to give away their wood chips—otherwise, they have to pay a landfill to take them.
  • Call a local arborist and ask if you can get a load of chips dumped in your driveway at the end of the day's work. Many are happy to oblige. Also, check with your town's parks or public-works department, because it often puts wood chips in a publicly available stash where you can load up for free.
  • If you don't have a pickup, place a large piece of sturdy plastic, a painter's drop cloth or even an old bed sheet in the backseat or trunk of your car, pile the chips inside, then pull it out at home with the help of a friend. Beware, however, of making mulch from the chips of diseased or insect-infested trees. Always ask about the source of the chips before taking them.

3. Whack those leaves into instant mulch

  • To quickly turn your raked leaves into mulch, dump them into a large trash can and lower your Weed Whacker into it. This process will reduce your leaves to a tenth of their former volume. They'll be easy to pack up and dispose of if that's your wish.
  • But ground-up leaves make excellent mulch too. Your garden store manager will shake his head with dismay when you start passing up on the bags of mulch.
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