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The Greencheapskate

5 Frugal Fall Gardening Tips

Spring Fever is for spendthrifts. For cheapskates, Fall's the time to garden.


digging in the garden

Sure, everybody's green thumb seems to blossom with the first warmish day of spring, just about the same day the green blades of the daffodils pop up in the flowerbed. But by autumn, most fair weather gardeners have long ago hung up their hoes for the season and planted their butts firmly in front of the TV to watch football.

That's a shame, because in most parts of the country the Fall is the best time of year for all kinds of garden activities, including planting and transplanting my types of plants. It's also the time of year when you can save a bushel of cash on gardening equipment and nursery stock, and save even more by properly tucking in your garden and equipment for its long winter's nap. Here's how:

Great deals on end of season nursery stock:
In most climate zones, Fall is actually a better time of year than even spring to plant or transplant trees, shrubs, and many other perennial plants. The soil tends to be warmer which promotes root growth, and — unlike with spring planting — there's not the potential of a long, hot, dry summer facing the young upstarts. And, even though I'm an anti-lawnite, if you're going to put down sod, Fall is also generally the best – and cheapest – time to do it. Many nurseries dramatically discount their remaining container-grown plants and other nursery stock, both to avoid over-wintering them and to make room for the soon-to-arrive Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees. I've found it's a great time to negotiate an even better deal by simply asking for an additional reduction on already discounted nursery stock.

Best prices on garden tools and equipment:
By shopping around, in the Fall you'll likely find the best deals of the year on all types of gardening tools, equipment and other supplies – with the possible exception of snow blowers, chain saws, and snow shovels. It's also a great time to go hunting for used lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and other lawn and garden equipment, since many people dump their used equipment at thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales at the end of the season. And if you're in the market for something major – like a lawn or garden tractor – it's worth calling some area landscaping companies to see if they plan on selling off any of their used equipment now that their busy season is over; a few years ago, I bought a heavy-duty (and lightly used) weed trimmer from a local landscaper at the end of the season for about ten cents on the dollar compared to what he'd paid for it new six months earlier.

> Related: 6 End-of-Season Fall Shopping Deals

Time to put away and tune-up equipment and tools:
Lawn and garden tools can cost a bundle, even when they're on sale at the end of the season. It pays to take care of the equipment you own, and Fall is the perfect time to give then a little TLC. One of many great uses for aluminum foil: it makes a great scrub pad to remove dirt and rust from shovels, hoes, and other metal gardening tools. And when you're done scrubbing them, sharpen your pruners and other gardening sheers by simply cutting through the aluminum foil scouring pad a few times. Oil all metal surfaces on your tools – used motor oil works fine for that – and put the business ends of your gardening tools in a plastic bag along with a couple of pieces of leftover summer charcoal to keep tools from rusting. (See all of my handy alternative uses for charcoal.) Lawnmowers and other gas powered garden equipment should be thoroughly cleaned. Air and fuel filters should be changed (along with the oil). And, most experts agree, the gas tank should be kept filled with gasoline that has been treated with a stabilizer; this keeps the gas fresh and prevents condensation and deposits from developing in the engine (run the engine for about 10 minutes after adding the stabilized gasoline).

Build a compost pile and mulch:
If you don't already have one, you definitely want to start a compost pile in the Fall to provide a receptacle for all the leaves, pumpkins and other yard debris you should rake up before winter sets in. Building a compost pile can be as simple as staking up a hoop of three-foot-high "chicken wire" or other mesh fencing; just so long as it allows for air circulation from the sides and is deep enough for leaves and other organic matter to compress itself thanks to the law of gravity. Also, keep your eyes open after Halloween and Thanksgiving for leftover bales of straw that might be discounted – or even put out for the garbage man – now that they've served their decorating purposes; straw makes great mulch or can be added to the compost pile. Mulching garden beds in the Fall with wood chips, compost, or other suitable organic matter helps to retain ground moisture and protect plants sleeping underneath. Check with local landscaping and tree removal services in the Fall for some of the best prices of the year on mulch.

> Related: How to Compost Almost Anything, the Cheapskate Way

Divide and multiply:
In addition to being the best time to plant most springtime flowering bulbs (e.g. tulips, daffodils, crocuses, irises, etc.) as well as trees and shrubs, many perennial plants and vegetables can be divided in the Fall. Dividing most perennials – once they're sufficiently mature – will both make them healthier and create multiple plants out of a single one, all for the cost of nothing more than a little light labor. Do your research in advance to determine which types of perennials should be divided in the Fall and the best methods for doing so. In general, perennials should first be thoroughly watered and the entire plant dug out of the ground, with its root ball intact. The root ball should then be separated into smaller plants by pulling it apart with a pitch fork or, in some cases, even cutting it apart with a shovel or other sharp tool. The smaller plants should then be immediately replanted in the ground and watered again.

> Related: 8 Perennial Vegetables Almost Anyone Can Grow

Once I've buttoned down my garden and yard for the season, I'm reminded of a quote from author Stanley Crawford: "Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do – or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so."

Jeff Yeager is the author of:
* The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less, and
* The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means
* Find more of Jeff at www.UltimateCheapskate.com, Twitter and Facebook

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Being a Green Cheapskate isn't just about saving money; it's about living lighter on the Earth and sharing more with those in need. From frugal tricks to thrifty planning, cheap is cool and ultra-green. read more.
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