Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Starting a frugal garden, Part 3: Finding affordable sources of soil

Do you wince at the cost of soil? Click through to find out a secret to getting 50% off at a major home improvement store.

When we first moved here, I was excited to see that our home had two large garden plots in the backyard. The following spring, I planted a variety of tomatoes in the back plot and zucchini and parsley in the front. The zucchini and parsley did well, but the tomatoes all struggled with blossom end rot.

Soil can make or break your garden. As I learned that first year, dirt is not just "dirt." It's a complex combination of microorganisms, nutrients, minerals and humus that can determine whether or not your garden will thrive or be a source of constant frustration.

In 2014, I decided that rather than battle with our clay soil that had numerous issues with crabgrass, we would invest in square foot gardening. I had used this method before and found decent success with it. The only problem was, I would have to spend more to create the ideal soil that the author recommended (it was a mixture of vermiculite, peat moss, and a variety of at least 5 different composts).

If you have ever gone to purchase potting soil at a garden center, you will find that it's not cheap, especially if you want high quality ingredients. We were still in law school at the time and on an extremely tight budget, but we were able to build our gardens partly through the advice of our next door neighbor.

Mark used to work as a landscape employee at the nearby college campus. He also had a variety of projects going on in his backyard, and every now and then in the middle of winter, I would see bags of soil stacked up in his driveway. Always one who loved a deal (he's an avid couponer as well) he told me that the best time to buy soil is either at the end of the season or in the middle of winter when the managers need to get rid of old inventory. He would often go into places like Menards with $50-$100 and make an offer to "take their inventory off their hands." And it worked.

The other tip he gave me that we have used at any time of the year is that Lowes will give you a 50% discount on soil, mulch and compost if the bag is ripped. It is not advertised - you need to mention it, but our local Lowes has always honored this deal (just make sure to check in advance before you stack up 10 bags of soil :)).

If you have time to plan things in advance by a year or two, you can also start a lasagna garden from everyday materials you find in your backyard. You can read more about that method here.

Even though I've just shared some ways to save on soil, I would also hasten to add that investing in it can be the most important thing for your garden. Hold off on the expensive varieties of seeds you can only find from online catalogs the first year and invest in your garden - it will be worth it in the years to come.

Have you found ways to save on soil in the past? I'd love to hear them!

If you missed the other parts of this series, you can find them here:
Starting a Frugal Garden, Part 1: Finding cheap sources of heirloom seeds
Starting a Frugal Garden, Part 2: Starting seeds


  1. Starting a composting area is also a great way to improve your soil. It won't be immediately ready, but by keeping it going you'll be able to add rich compost to your garden over time.

  2. Yes, I should have mentioned this too - thanks for adding it!


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