Yes, that's right. The gardening season hasn't even ended, and I'm already dreaming up next year's garden. The truth is, I'll change my mind weekly from now until next January or February when my seed orders must be in. With all this indecisiveness, I could end up spending far more than I can afford on plants and seeds as they strike my fancy. That just wouldn't do! I'm on a strict gardening budget, just as I am for everything else, so I have a system to help keep myself on the straight and narrow, budget-friendly garden path.
I've split my budget into three categories: the Edible Garden, the Other Garden, and the Annual Garden Project. Just for clarity's sake, there may be crossover between the two plant sections.
For the Edible Garden, I allow myself to purchase a set of plants or seeds for each of four sections:
~Annual Food Crop-- You could further divide this category into warm season and cold season crops if you like, but my budget this year is likely to be particularly small with a new baby on the way, so I'll be adding only one new annual veggie to my garden.
~Perennial Food Crop-- This could be anything from fruit and nut trees to grapevines to berry bushes or asparagus. Whatever it is, it's likely to be much more costly than the other edible garden purchases because most of these aren't purchased as seed. You can purchase seeds for most of them, but these usually take at least a few years to start producing. In the case of trees, it could be a decade or more. Keep that in mind and budget accordingly. Also keep in mind that many of the plants in this category need several plants or varieties for proper pollination. This can hit your budget especially hard.
~Herb-- These are useful little buggers, attracting pollinators to your yard, providing protection to your veggies when used as companions, providing flavor to your homegrown meals, as well as providing medicine more often than not. This is always my weak budget area. I see herbs or herb seeds, and I. Want. To. Buy. It's very important for me to stay on track here because even a few extra seed packets or plants can really add up.
~Edible Flower-- This is where the edible garden and "other" garden sometimes crossover. Edible flowers are a must in my garden. I use most of them in a manner very similar to herbs.
The Other Garden is also split into four sections, based on the time of the year in which they bloom or provide the most interest. This allows me to maximize the food and shelter for pollinators and other garden beneficials, like birds, throughout the year. The categories are:
~Spring Bloomer-- Um, obviously, plants that bloom in spring. Again, if your budget is larger than mine, you can further break this section down into early, mid, and late spring bloomers. I just try to alternate years, buying early one year, mid the next, and late after that. These plants are so very important since they provide the earliest food sources for beneficials just coming out of hibernation. The earlier your garden is in bloom, the earlier you'll see those happy buggies humming through it and the more likely they are to stick around for your summer veggies that need their pollinating powers. Spring bloomers are also a quick fix to my SAD.
~Summer Bloomer-- Plants that are at their height of bloom or interest in the summer months. Because this is also the apex of my vegetable garden, I usually end up picking an herb or edible flower for this category.
~Autum Bloomer-- It's important to keep those beneficials well-fed all the way up until hibernation, so fall blooming plants are a must. They're also the most difficult for me to choose because the selection at this point tends to shift from a plethora of flowers to a majority of shrubs and trees. In my small garden, there are only so many shrubs I can fit.
~Winter Bloomer-- These plants are more likely to provide winter interest than blooms, but the important thing is that they fill a niche. They could provide shelter, protection, or even food for beneficials, structure to the sleeping garden, a windbreak or snowbreak, or even decoration for my Winter Solstice celebration. Just as with the autumn bloomers, the focus here usually shifts to shrubs and trees, limiting the choices for very small gardens like mine. Of course, if you have a greenhouse (I don't), this broadens your selection. This section is often the first to go if I really need to pare the budget down.
So altogether, I have the potential for adding eight new plant varieties to my garden each year. This doesn't usually happen. I often make sure my herb and edible flower choices bloom at different times, enabling me to subtract the budget for spring, summer, or autumn bloomers or add that money to another category. Some years I simply have to make choices about what I want most because, especially with the perennial edibles, one category is maxing out my budget. The point is that I know I can only get ONE variety of plant for each category. If I buy, for example, a packet of borage seeds on sale in September, my edible flowers category is maxed out already. Period. This ensures that I wait until I'm certain about what I want before buying as well as keeping my money where it belongs.