One of the most important things to know when starting up a new garden project is exactly how much it is going to cost. Knowing cost will help you get a good idea of the level of contributions you will need to seek out to help you get started on the right foot. If you are applying for any grants to help you build your garden, a detailed explanation of what you need will most likely be required by the donor, so it pays to be comprehensive when figuring costs. This page will help you by providing information on how to brainstorm with your group, figure the size of your garden, create a list of materials needed, calculate the cost of your project, and provide you with tips on minimizing cost.
And remember, it is better to find out that you have too much money than not enough!
What will I Need?
To get started, it is important to sit down with your gardening group to brainstorm about everyone's vision for the site. You may find that people have different conceptions about the types of features that they would like to see installed in the garden, or that there may be some points that everyone agrees upon. If everyone would like to see a gazebo built within the first few years of the project, for example, it will be important to work this into your budget.
Brainstorming will also help you find out what types of resources are available to gardeners in your group, and what materials may be donated or loaned to you. This will help you have a more realistic picture of overall costs. Download our brainstorming worksheet here (PDF).
Figuring the size of your garden is one of the most important first steps in the process of estimating costs. You can use a tape measure to measure the size of your garden, or a long piece of rope. Just mark the rope at the correct point, and then measure the rope.
Creating a List
It is important to have a comprehensive list of everything that you may want to include in your garden, beyond the basics of plants, soil, etc. See the cutting costs section for ideas on how to minimize expenses. Print out the following Garden Cost Checklist (PDF) to make sure you have everything covered:
Garden layout and design costs
Plot rental or purchase fees
- Plants and flowers:
Plant pots, tubs and containers
Slabs and paving
Materials to build raised beds
Patio paving materials
Concrete and sand
Bricks and path edging materials
Chipping, pebbles and stones
Cover Crop Seed
- Fittings and furniture:
Electricity supply and cabling
Chairs and benches
- Outdoor structures:
Children's play equipment
- Ponds and pools:
Water supply fittings and pipes
Fountain pump and system
Underwater lighting and bulbs
- Contractors' services:
Professional labor costs
- Other costs:
How Much will it Cost?
Download our basic Cost Estimate Worksheet (PDF) to help you get a rough idea of how much your project will cost you. You will need the square footage of your garden, as well as an idea of how much any special features like structures, ponds, or unique plant species will cost you. Our Garden Cost Checklist (PDF) should be used with the worksheet - it will help you not forget anything!
How Can I Cut Costs?
If your costs are higher than you would like them to be, a few strategies can help you reduce the amount of money you will have to spend on your project. There are a lot of creative ways to save money - get together with your team and brainstorm!
Rent, Loan and Trade
Rather than purchase expensive tools or equipment, see if there is anywhere you can access these resources for free or at a minimal cost. Some cities even have tool libraries, where you can rent basic tools and other equipment. Solicit neighbors, businesses, and even schools or universities for these types of materials - offering a trade, like fresh produce from your garden, may be as good as paying cash! Trades are a type of "currency" that can help keep your costs down. Letting people use the garden for parties or classes, offering gardening lessons, cleaning a neighbor's yard - these are all ways to save your money for other needs.
DIY is the way to go
Utilizing the skills of your project team is one way to minimize costs. Rather than hiring professional help to do work like building permanent structures or tilling the soil, find out what type of experience people in your gardening group have. You may be surprised!
Trash to Treasure
From using old barrels as planters to using milk bottles as mini-greenhouses, there is almost no end to the creative ways you can give old materials a new life in your garden. There are plenty of books out there that can give you ideas - check with your local librarian or explore the ACGA and Rebel Tomato website for ideas. Once you have an idea, you can collect supplies from thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets, junk yards, etc.
Plant for less
There are a few ways to reduce the amount of money you will have to spend on plants for your garden:
- Start your own plants from seed
- Collect seeds from your garden for replanting the next year
- Get cuttings or divisions from someone you know
- Attend a plant swap
- Check with nurseries to see when plants go on sale or if they will donate plants
- Contact a local community gardening association to see if they offer plants or seeds free of charge
- Check with local horticulture schools or programs - they sometimes sell plants, usually much cheaper than commercial growers, or may donate them.
Utilize local expertise
From advice on planting times to information on funding resources or inexpensive local contractors, your local extension agent may be able to provide you with some great practical and technical advice that could save you money in the long run. University extension services are housed out of land grant universities in every state, and usually have an office in every county. Simply conduct an internet search for "Extension Service" and the state where you live, and you will be able to locate the nearest office.