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This spring, penny-pinch your way to a great garden

The Compleat

Home Gardner

Need dirt-cheap inspiration this spring? You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a beautiful garden. From making your yard more beautiful to enjoy on your “stay-cation” to joining the “grow your own food” movement, you can penny-pinch your way to a great garden. Growing flowers and veggies from seed is so popular this spring that you’re encouraged to buy your seeds now, even if you won’t be planting them into the ground until the weather warms in May. In this weak economy there is a strong and renewed interest in gardening. Plant a garden for an investment that pays back real dividends.

The middle of March is a good time to fertilize the lawn, plant cool season crops like peas, lettuce and beets and perk up your planters with spring blooming primroses, pansies and bulbs. Now here are the money-saving answers to staying within the budget this month:

Q. It is foolish of me to wait and buy bare root roses, berries and shrubs when they are on sale (often half price!) later on in the spring? I know you should plant bare root things when they are dormant, but I’m trying to cut costs and still put in some fruit trees and berries. Thank you. T.W., Bonney Lake

A. Go ahead and gamble by waiting for the deep discounts on bare root rose plants, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries later on this month. The secret is to look for plants with the least amount of sprouted leaves and then once you get your bare root bargains home soak the roots overnight in a bucket of water. Loosen the soil in the sides and bottom of the planting hole, following the planting instructions. I will say the earlier you buy these winter-dormant plants the more likely they will survive the transplant, but plenty of bargain shoppers have had good luck buying bargain plants. Often the best varieties and healthiest looking plants sell first, so you may be left with little to chose from if you try to hold out until April. Buy bare root bargains now.

Q. Do I have to buy fresh potting soil for my containers each spring? I grew geraniums and lobelia in window boxes last summer and although the plants are dead, the potting soil looks just fine. C.P., Bellevue

A. No way do you have to repay. Recycle and reuse your potting soil but only if you first stir or fluff up that old soil to get more air into the compacted root zone. I also like to mix a few inches of fresh potting into any recycled containers of old potting soil. Over the winter potting soil tends to compact. Always remember that plants in pots need to be fertilized; this is especially important when you reuse last year’s potting soil.

Q. What vegetable do you think I should plant for a family of four if we just want to save money on the grocery bill? We only have a very small area that gets any sun. T., e-mail

A. The clear winner is tomatoes. Not only are tomatoes expensive to buy but home-grown tomatoes are easy to grow in a pot against a sunny west or south facing wall and have much more flavor than grocery store varieties. (If you’re a beginner, grow the Early Girl and cherry tomatoes.) You should also plant pole beans with their summer-long harvest season, Swiss chard and spinach that will produce through the winter and cut-and-come again “Mesclun” leaf lettuce for ultra fresh salads. Add two or three zucchini plants and you’ll find that feeding your family with fresh vegetables is easy for beginning gardeners. You don’t even need a patch of ground. Turn an old old metal wash tub, giant plastic nursery pot or half whiskey barrel into a bountiful container gardens. Don’t forget to mix in some flowers with your vegetables. Blooming plants feed the soul and attract the birds and the bees.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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