It’s fun to have a hobby of growing plants in containers. But it can become an expensive hobby if you’re not careful.

I’ve started container gardening myself but I only had a limited budget to spend. I’ve written details in this post to help you if you’re looking for container gardening on a budget.

How much does a container garden cost?

A container garden will cost you about $100 if you grow five plants in 5-gallon containers. This will be money you spend on buying seeds or transplants, potting soil, compost, containers, fertilizer, and support. This cost can increase or decrease depending on how many plants you are growing.

However, some ways can help you reduce the money you need to spend growing a container garden.

1. Choose the right plants to grow

If you want to start container gardening on a budget, the first thing to pick is the type of plants you want to grow.

Some plants such as succulents are hardy and don’t need much maintenance. You can throw some seeds into the potting soil and they will grow well on their own without needing much watering or fertilizer.

But there are other plants such as edibles that may need a lot more care. You need to give them the right watering and fertilizer to get good growth and harvest.

You will need to spend more time and money on some plants than others. So remember to pick plants that you know you can spend the required budget on.

You could also save money growing perennial plants because they will continue to grow for many years. Annual plants only grow for a year and you need to replant them the next year. Many flowering plants are perennials but most edible plants tend to be annuals.

If you want to grow annuals, make sure to save some seeds so you can grow them the next year without having to purchase seeds.

2. Get yourself free or cheap seeds

The first thing you’ll need to start a container garden is seeds. These are required if you plan to start plants from seeds. I would recommend starting from seeds because they’re usually much cheaper than buying plants.

The best way to get seeds for free is to ask your friends and family who grow the plants you want to grow.

You can get seed packets from a nursery, garden center, or online store. You can get them for a good discount if you pick them up after the growing season has ended. The seeds can be used for the next growing season without any issues.

I searched online and found a store that sells affordable seeds. I bought some tomato and pepper seeds from them. They were kind enough to give me some chamomile seeds for free.

You can also try to use the seeds from the vegetables you bought at the grocery store. You can collect the seeds and dry them with a paper towel before use. These seeds may have low germination rates than the seed packets but you can plant more to compensate.

If you plant a garden, and you are on a tight budget, then you will soon find that growing plants from seeds is much less expensive than purchasing seedlings. (gardeners.com)

3. Get yourself free or cheap transplants

If you don’t want to grow from seeds, you’ll need to get transplants. These are already germinated and grown seedlings.

The best way is to get them from your family or friends who have started seeds and have some spare seedlings for you.

Many plants can grow with the help of propagation. This is a method to use plant cuttings from roots, stems, leaves, or branches to grow new plants.

If you can get the plant cuttings from your family or friends, you can start growing these plants for free.

Another option to get such plants is to visit your neighbors and ask them if they have some plants they no longer want. You could also visit garage sales or thrift stores to check if they have some plants to give away.

You can buy the transplants from a nursery or garden center though they will cost you some money. These stores may sell transplants with poor growth or problems for a discount but I don’t recommend buying those. 

The plant may end up dying and may also affect the other plants in your container garden if there are problems due to pests or diseases.

Get creative with your search for plants. You can periodically search for plants on the Facebook Marketplace the LetGo store . Sometimes, people are moving or downsizing, so they’re looking to get rid of a few items – including their plants! (facebook.com)

4. Get some free or cheap containers for your garden

The best thing about container gardening is you can grow your plants in different types of containers. There is no limitation on what you use as a container for the plants.

If you are on a budget, I recommend reusing containers lying around your house. These could be items like pots, paint cans, soda bottles, or milk jugs. You could even use bags to grow your plants. These could be jute bags, cotton bags, or pet food bags.

If you don’t have such containers you could reuse, you can ask your family, friends, or neighbors. You could visit stores such as grocery stores, hardware stores, or pet shops and ask if they have some spare cans they wish to give away.

The next best option is to buy the containers but at a really discounted cost. You should choose containers that are not specifically made for gardening. If you get such general-purpose containers, they tend to be lower in cost.

The first thing you can do is check Craigslist or Facebook groups giving away or selling any containers. You can also check garage sales or thrift stores in your neighborhood to get such containers for cheap.

If you don’t have any such options, you can get 5-gallon or larger containers from Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, and Amazon. 

These could be cans, buckets, whiskey, or wine barrels that you can use for container gardening. You may have to buy them in bulk to get the discounted prices. And check that they are food-grade quality.

I managed to get some cheap containers and grow bags from a local nursery. Looking forward to using them for growing those tomatoes, peppers, and chamomile.

The important thing is that whichever container you pick has the right width and depth to hold the potting soil and plant you want to grow.

Many of these containers may not have drainage holes at the bottom as they are not specifically created for gardening. But you can drill some holes yourself with a drilling machine.

You may also find that choosing larger containers works well for a budget. You can grow more plants and it will take less space than growing plants in many containers.

5. Get some cheap potting soil for your plants

This is one thing I recommend spending some money on if you can make sure the potting soil is of great quality. If you try to use poor quality potting soil the plants won’t grow well.

I don’t recommend using garden soil or topsoil for growing container plants. They don’t have the right texture to allow good drainage and aeration. They also might contain pests, diseases, and chemicals that you don’t want near your plants.

The best way to get potting soil for free is to reuse old potting soil if you already have some. Or get it from your friends and family that have been growing container plants and don’t need it.

Note: If the plants grown in the potting soil were affected by pests or diseases, I would suggest you not reuse that potting soil.

The old potting soil may have lost some of its texture and nutrients but we can add those back to the soil. You just need some perlite, vermiculite, peat moss or coco coir, compost, and fertilizer.

You can use a wheelbarrow or spread the old potting soil on a tarp. Mix in 25% compost, 25% perlite, 25% vermiculite, and 25% peat moss or coco coir with the soil.

You can also add some slow-release organic fertilizer to the mixture. The amount you need to add depends on how much potting soil there is. So refer to the instructions on the package.

Make sure to spray water as you’re adding and mixing these materials because they can blow in the wind. Make sure to wear eye protection and a face mask so you don’t inhale the materials.

If you don’t have old potting soil you can still save some money. You don’t need to buy ready potting soil as that can be expensive. You can mix the ingredients and make your own potting soil that is a lot cheaper.

You can use a wheelbarrow or spread the old potting soil on a tarp. Mix in 25% compost, 25% perlite, 25% vermiculite, and 25% peat moss or coco coir with the soil.

You can also add some slow-release organic fertilizer to the mixture. The amount you need to add depends on how much potting soil there is. So refer to the instructions on the package.

According to Better Homes & Gardens , a good type to use is a potting mix made from 8 parts potting soil (with perlite or vermiculite included), 4 parts compost or peat moss, and 1 part coarse sand to improve drainage. (moneycrashers.com)

I bought some ready potting soil for growing my tomatoes and peppers because I found it really cheap. I bought it from the same online store that I used to buy the seeds.

6. Get some cheap fertilizer for your plants

You don’t always need to use fertilizer because some plants can survive without them. But some plants especially edible ones may do well if you add fertilizer.

I recommend you use organic fertilizer rather than synthetic one because it is safer for the plants and the environment.

You can try to get some free fertilizer from your family or friends if they have some to spare. If you can’t get the fertilizer, you can use compost that you may have.

Compost contains nutrients that will help the growth of your plants. So you could apply compost every 3-4 weeks to the plants.

If you don’t have compost, you can make some organic fertilizer using natural materials such as eggshells, coffee grounds, bananas, aquarium water, cooking water, or chicken manure.

You just need to crush or grind the materials and add them to your container plants and they will provide good nutrients. You will need to mix several of them together as each may give different nutrients to the plants.

The last option is to buy organic fertilizer from a nursery, garden center, or online store. It’s best to buy them after the growing season as you can get a hefty discount on them.

I bought some neem-based organic fertilizer for feeding my container plants once they have germinated into seedlings. I found it at a good discount and managed to bargain with the seller to lower the cost a bit more.

7. Find some free or cheap gardening tools

The good thing about container gardening is you don’t need many gardening tools that would be used in in-ground or raised bed gardening. So you already save some money with container gardening.

The cheapest way to get these tools is to find used ones at garage sales, thrift stores, nurseries, and garden centers. You can also ask your family, friends, and neighbors if they have some old ones they want to give away.

If you are unable to get some old ones, you have the option to buy some from stores like Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, and Amazon at a reasonable price.

You may need a pair of gardening gloves if you want to keep your hands free from dirt while working with the plants. They will also protect your hands from any cuts, scratches, or allergies you may face working with soil.

You may need to handpick harmful pests from your container plants and using gardening gloves may make it a bit more comfortable.

The other tool I recommend is a hand trowel that will be beneficial to dig into the soil. You may need to use this when transplanting, adding compost or fertilizer, or digging weeds out.

You need seed-starting trays when you’re starting plants from seeds. But these are easily available in your house. You can use egg trays, paper or plastic cups, yogurt cups, or empty food cans for starting seeds.

You can find some cheap seed trays like I did if you just search a bit on some online stores. But only do that if you don’t want to reuse some household items that I mentioned above.

It’s good to get a watering can and spray bottle for watering the plants. The spray bottle will help water the seeds while the watering can will help water the seedlings and mature plants.

It’s also good to have a pruner that will help you prune the foliage of the container plants. You will need to do this as part of maintenance to keep the plants in check. Or to cut off foliage affected by pests or diseases. You may also use it to harvest some vegetable plants you grow.

If you grow vining plants, you will need to give them some support. If you can tie the vines to some vertical support already near them, you don’t need any external support. Otherwise, you need something like a stake or trellis to tie them to.