Although planting seeds requires more effort, the rewards (and the savings) are well worth it.

Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
February 21, 2021
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Advertisement
Credit: Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

There are so many great reasons to start a garden this year. It is rewarding, fun, healthy and can be one of the most cost-effective ways to get fresh veggies on the table. But the price of supplies can add up when you are looking to get started. One simple way to save is by starting your own seeds, instead of buying seedlings. The cost savings can be worth the extra effort, especially if you have a little more time to spend with your plants. Plus, you can choose fun seed varieties without having to rely on what your local greenhouse is growing.

I am no master gardener, but I have had a small plot for the last four years and I learn a little bit more after each season. In fact, last year I was living with two other avid gardeners who I could compare notes with. We had close to 100 cups filled with seedlings we had started for our different garden plots. Even though it is more work, I would always recommend starting seeds for someone looking to garden on a budget—here's why and how to get started.

The #1 Way to Save Money on a Garden

Save money and get exactly the type of plants you want by starting your own seeds. Not only is the process rewarding, but you will have a leg up when you are getting ready for next season.

Tips for Starting Seeds

Before you get your hands on any seeds, it is important to make a plan. Consider the space you have, how much space the plants you are interested in need and the timing those plants require to grow. Also consider your climate. Seed packets usually recommend starting plants inside a certain number of days before the last frost in your area, which can vary by region.

Secondly, do you research. This may sound like a big task, but a little bit goes a long way in making sure your plants actually bear fruit. Look into the space, watering and sunshine that specific vegetables need. It can be helpful to look into plants that thrive together and help each other grow, like tomatoes and basil (talk about a match made in heaven).

Lastly, be sure to include flowers. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they will also help draw pollinators to your garden, another crucial ingredient for gardening success. There are plenty of easy, beautiful plants that help pollinators thrive. Plus, flowers make great gifts and centerpieces.

I also love this seed starting tray from Gardener's Supply for an inexpensive, organized place to keep seeds as they sprout. Get the 24 cell kit for only $16.95.

Growease Seed Starter Kit
$16.95
SHOP IT
Gardener's Supply

What Seeds to Buy

Seeds usually range from being $3 to $8 per pouch, which contains usually around 20 to 40 seeds and can be used for up to five years (this is way cheaper than seedlings that are around $4 each). Sometimes I splurge on cooler, more unique seeds, but you can get the classics, like romaine lettuce and zucchini, at your local nursery, hardware store or grocery store. Planting super perishable or more expensive produce, like herbs, heirloom tomatoes, strawberries and raspberries, helps you save more money at the store. Plus, you can pick only what you need to help reduce waste (you won't waste basil because you pick only what you need, instead of having to buy a whole bunch that goes bad).

I usually choose plants that hit peak harvest at different points of the growing season to help make the most of my space. As soon as I can, I start spinach, radishes and other tender greens for an early summer or late spring harvest. Plants like peppers, cucumbers, berries and tomatoes make up the bulk of the mid-summer haul. I reserve fall seedlings, like squash, Brussels sprouts, beets and carrots for later in the summer when I am finished with the spring crops, since they thrive in cooler weather (some can even withstand a frost!).

Where to Buy Seeds

You can find a variety of seeds at your local greenhouse or hardware store. For some of the more unique stuff, here are some of the website I love for buying seeds online:

This seed company is on the cutting edge of new, tasty vegetables. They are responsible for the creation of the now-beloved honeynut squash. I will definitely be adding their Midnight Roma Tomato to my list this year.

Not only does this company have pretty much every seed you are looking for, but they support a good cause. They preserve heirloom seed varieties that help protect pollinators and promote biodiversity.

This California farm started selling their seeds to help connect people to plants and the food they love. They have everything from fun fruits and veggies to unique flowers and grains.

This Arizona non-profit is to preserve arid-adapted crops that are native to the Southwest to help promote sustainability and food security. Their variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and wildflowers are perfect for any garden.