Backyard Gardening on a Budget

Filed under: City |

From the Duncanville Parks and Recreation Department | Garrison Stinnett – Spray Tech
Turf Specialist and Mike West – Horticulturist

Gardening is literally as old as man itself. Since the first man put the first seed in the ground, plants have been cultivated for beauty, medicinal purposes, functionality, and of course food. Gardening has become a staple in many households. During the Great Depression, families grew gardens for survival in many cases. People became experts at using small plots of land to grow their own food. However, as refrigerating became more common place, grocery stores began to buy from large truck farms. It then became easier to drive to the market than to produce a garden. However, as our food bills increase, and some worry about things like pesticides or GMO vegetables, gardens are once again becoming popular. More and more people are growing food for themselves. But how do you do it when you have a 4000 square foot lot and a budget?

beds_001One thing people don’t take into consideration is the fact that a garden doesn’t require much real estate to be successful. Some people believe that you need an acre to produce enough food to feed a family. This leads to people being intimidated by the setup alone, even for those with large properties. Garden growing areas can be created with minimal space. People grow gardens on apartment balconies. The first step is to get away from the traditional rows. Plants can be jammed into tight areas. As long as there is sufficient sun light, water and nutrients, vegetable plants compete with each other quite well. A person could put 24 tomato plants in and 8 x 3 bed. Also remember that you don’t need many plants to produce a good amount of food. One squash plant can produce hundreds of pounds a year in ideal conditions. Raised beds allow you to organize plants in tight areas. It also gives you the benefit of amending soil specific to the plant requirements.

Raised beds are easy to construct. With some 1 x 12 boards and a few stakes for bracing, you have what you need for a bed. One great thing about raised beds is that they can be constructed from just about anything. Old truck or tractor tires, bath tubs, barrels or hot water heaters ripped down the middle, or any container that can hold soil can be used successfully for beds. Please note that it is important to consider what used to be in the container as it might contaminate the plantings. Be sure the container has a few holes in the bottom so water is able to drain. The container needs to be at least 6” – 8” deep. Lining the bottom with some type of woven horticulture cloth from your local hardware store can help reduce weeds from growing up from under the bed. Once the bed is acquired, put a couple inches of gravel in the bottom. This allows water to drain from the soil. Fill 2/3 of the remaining space full of potting soil or compost.

At this point, you can put a few handfuls of a slow release fertilizer. Then put garden soil to fill it up. Fill it level as it will settle. Once you water it, it will be ready to plant. Getting the plants for your garden is easy. Most hardware stores and several grocery stores carry plants in the spring of the year. Select the healthiest plants on the shelf. Make sure the leaves are solid green with no sign of fungus. The stems should be strong and stable. Make sure there is some moisture in the substrate the plant is growing in. If the plants are overly dry, they could be stressed and, therefore, over stress when planted and die.

beds_002When planting container grown plants, plant them as deep as possible. A good rule of thumb is to plant them to the first set of leaves. Seed shelves are also a good place to look as the selection is greater. Keep in mind that seeds typically need to be started indoors for a couple of months before you move them to your garden. Seeds can be started in foam coffee cups or aluminum baking pans to name a couple of containers. Put the containers on top of the refrigerator for warmth. Once the seeds have germinated, move them to a sunny window until they are ready to move to the garden. If you wish to keep seeds from your plants for next year’s garden, remember to select non hybrid varieties so they will grow true to the variety when planted.

Maintaining the garden is pretty standard. Apply fertilizers once a month. Treat pests as needed. When treating pests, remember that insecticides or fungicides could have an effect on harvest. One good technique to help in this battle is to research the vegetables varieties. Certain varieties are bred to combat these issues. For example, if tomato blight is an issue, Celebrity tomatoes are a good choice as they are resistant. Zucchini Rampicante is a zucchini variety that is vine grown and, therefore, resistant to squash borer. Water the beds when the plants wilt. Do not over water or the plants could drop their blooms and not produce vegetables.

Garden grown vegetables are better than grocery store varieties because you can grow the flavor or type you like.

Following these simple steps will allow you to have a successful garden in any space. Gardening can be a great hobby as well as provide healthy vegetables to your family. As an added benefit, it can be done with very little overhead cost.

Happy gardening… and happy eating!

Plant Selection and Design

Proper plant selection is one of the most important elements in successful landscaping. Plants and colors are critical to the appearance of the landscape. They are also elements that can be used with purpose such as screening, shade, erosion control, dividing, focal points, noise control, etc. Choosing the right plants for the right place and purpose is helpful for professional looking, and manageable landscaping.


There are common mistakes that people make with plant selection. Typically, this is simply a case of a lack of knowledge of the growth habits and characteristics of individual plants. The mature size, light requirements, hardiness zone and soil considerations, are the most common.

Landscape construction is a process. It doesn’t start at the nursery. It starts with information and a plan. Select a landscape design that fits the architectural theme of your home. Don’t be afraid to call a consultant. You can save yourself a lot of headaches by paying a few hundred dollars for a planting plan. Do some homework and have a material list in hand when entering a nursery. Select materials that are specific to your winter hardiness zone. Be prepared to select some alternates, size and availability may vary and require some flexibility on your part.

Considerations for selecting landscape plants:

  • Height and width
  • Form: the shape of the plant and how it will fill the space. For example columnar, round, vase, weeping, oval, creeping, etc.
  • Texture: the fineness or roughness of foliage.
  • Seasonal interest and color: the special features a plant has at different times of the year. Foli age, fruit, flowers, winter color, changing colors.
  • Insect and disease resistance
  • Sun or shade
  • Moisture/drought tolerance
  • Soil type

Considerations for planting layout

  • Check your resources and pay special attention to bed layout if you are building beds. Theline, shape and form of the beds themselves is critical. Stay away from ellipses and large islands.
  • Much of planting arrangement is common sense. Arrange plant material the way you would arrange a subject in a photograph. Arrange the material by size and place them such that they don’t block the view of others. Use appropriate spacing for each plant type. Keep the spacing regular and even.
  • Visualize your winter landscape. Provide enough evergreen material in the foundation planting so that you have something to build on in the winter months. Avoid using all perennials and annuals that will be dormant or absent in the winter.
  • Plant in odd numbered groups (3,5,7,9,11). It always seems to work better.
  • After planting is completed, I always recommend a dark top-dress material. Fine shredded hardwood mulch works well and provides the necessary contrast with turf areas.

There are tons of resources on the internet to help you get started. If you are concerned about water usage, research xeriscape design. Native plant selection is also something you should consider. There are even pre-planned landscape designs if you wish. After all of your research and planning is done, then you are ready to enhance the value and appearance of your home with a solid landscape.

oringially printed in the Duncanville Champion