Budgeting for a New Garden Design

Determining How Much You’ll Spend to Create a New Garden

What to Budget for a Garden
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great garden, but it sure is easy to get carried away. Creating a budget before starting your garden will allow you to prioritize where you want to spend your money. If you're a little short on funds, you can always create your garden in stages, however first you need to know where the money is going.

If you’re not a budgeter in any other aspect of your life, you are not going to change your habit in the garden.

But to prevent sticker shock from arriving halfway through creating your garden, let’s look at an overview for you to price out and determine what you can reasonably expect to spend.

Preparing the Site

Unless your garden is going to be composed completely of containers, you will first need to concern yourself with preparing the garden bed.

This will generally involve:

  1. Removing Turf

    You may choose to rent or purchase a garden tiller to make the job easier, however it is possible to prepare a garden bed with just a garden fork and some hard work. This is when you will be very glad you decided to create a small garden. (Actually this is when a lot of gardens are scaled down.)

  2. Testing the Soil

    It’s tempting to skip this part, but don’t. Good soil is essential to a healthy growing garden. As they say, feed the soil and the soil will feed your plants. But you can’t properly feed or amend your soil until you know what you are starting with. You can get a basic pH soil test at many garden centers or at your local Cooperative Extension. Fees range from free to a few dollars. For a bit more, you can have your soil analyzed for the percentage of essential nutrients and minerals. There are even some simple homemade soil tests you can whip up in the kitchen.  Here’s the Dirt on Soil.

  1. Amending the Soil

    Your soil may be fine to work with as is. Unfortunately that isn’t usually the case and at least a good quantity (3-6 inches) of organic matter should be worked into the soil. Don’t skimp at this stage. Great soil is what makes a great garden. It’s not the fun part, but it will make every other stage of creating the garden easier and more successful. Here’s how to Make Good Soil Out of Bad.


    If you are going to create a garden with containers, you will still need to purchase, find or create containers. Containers can be costly, so look for containers that are well made and will last. Many of the new light weight containers are very attractive and can handle weather extremes better than old, vintage pots.

    While you won’t have to dig or till your garden, you will need to bring in soil. Plants in containers do better in a potting mix rather than straight garden soil. You’ll want a mix that is light weight and allows water and air to pass through. Garden soil will pack down, as it does in the garden, and make it difficult for the plant’s roots to get the nutrients they need.

    Because water will be draining out of your containers and taking nutrients with it, you are better off using a fertilizer than trying to amend the soil in the pot. There are many excellent time released fertilizers, organic and synthetic, that can be added at planting and forgotten about the rest of the season.


    Small gardens won’t require a tool shed full of equipment, but there are some basics you can’t do without like: a shovel, pruners and a good hose. It can take awhile to stock your garden tool shed, and eventually you will find yourself favoring one or two particular tools, but it helps to have [link=http://gardening.about.com/od/toolschool/a/Tool_Shed.htm]the right garden tool for the job.


    If you are going to be relying on a hose for water, when it doesn’t rain, then seriously consider choosing a site near a water source. Hoses vary in quality. Buy the best you can afford. At the very least, save yourself some frustration and get one that doesn’t kink. You will also want a good nozzle that has a misting setting, so you can water your young plants without knocking them over.

    Drip irrigation has become the ideal in gardening. It’s also become more affordable and much easier to assemble and use. Every good garden center sells the basic parts for drip irrigation systems and the staff is usually knowledgeable enough to help you determine what you’ll need for your garden. You may think a small garden won’t need drip irrigation, but watering is one of the most underdone garden tasks and believe it or not, drip irrigation is supposed to be cheaper than hand watering.

    You don’t just use less water, you waste less water.

    Embellishments and Ornaments

    Embellishments can get expensive and will vary widely with your choices for your garden. A vegetable garden really needs a fence. You can get by with rabbit fencing, but you may eventually want something more attractive. Unfortunately, with all the natural disasters lately, building materials just seem to keep going up in price.

    If your reason for planting a garden was entertainment, you will need some garden furniture and perhaps a path or paving.

    These are one time costs, but paths and paving require some prep work and additional materials. Pathways can be stone, brick, pebbles or mulch. Whichever, it would be wise to lay down fabric cloth to prevent weeds from taking over your path. Paving and stone style paths will require a layer of sand to level the work area and prevent the area from sinking over time.

    Fencing and hardscaping are the two most expensive and labor intensive embellishments. Garden art, boulders, bird feeders, trellises, etc. can all be incorporated into your garden design, but they can be added over time or created from found material. Unless these are a top priority, they should not eat a major portion of your budget.


    I put plants last because they could so easily take up your entire budget, if there were no restraints. If money is a problem, there are ways to cut corners when buying plants, without sacrificing quality.

    1. Start your own plants from seed.
    2. Get cuttings or divisions from a friend.
    3. Attend a plant or seed swap and bring something you have a lot of to exchange for something else you want.
    4. Start with smaller, less expensive plants plants.
    5. Buy a large plant with a friend and divide it between you.
    6. Wait until after Memorial Day, when plants go on sale.

      Each garden will have different needs. You may already have the tools and the patio or you may be starting from scratch. If your dream garden seems out of reach, take heart. There are many viable ways to keep costs down. You might also consider the 3 year plan, were you create your garden in stages. It can be hard to wait, but each year your garden will look that much more lush and in the mean time, you’ll have gotten to know both your garden and your gardening tastes.