Is gardening to save money possible? Here are ten tried-and-true, easy to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs to get the most bang for your buck.
One question I hear often is “does gardening really save money?”
I have found that growing our own food is one of the most rewarding uses of my time I could ever have imagined. It’s mentally stimulating (and sometimes relaxing connecting with nature), a way to be active outside, and provides healthy food for our table.
But I’ve also found that not all vegetables, fruits, and herbs are easy to grow – and some can end up costing a lot of money for little return. Plus there are some things that are just cheaper to buy at the store in the quantities most families need, like onions and potatoes. Not to mention the amount of room they need to grow well.
So here’s how I answer that question: “Sometimes.”
Helpful, right? Okay, here are a few more details, because you absolutely can save money by growing your own food – if you think about some things first. If you’re just starting a garden, keep it small and plan for easy care. Then to keep costs in check as you’re planning what food to plant keep these three things in mind:
- What your family likes (food waste = money waste)
- What you have room for (to get the most from your space)
- What will produce the best for you where you live (it costs a lot more to grow one melon in the north than a bunch of heads of lettuce…)
While I’ve had good years and bad years growing a vegetable garden, I’ve found ten stand-out vegetables, fruit, and herbs that produce the most with minimal care and loss to pests or disease. When you garden organically, these 10 money-saving plants are some of the most expensive to buy the equivalent, so why not grow your own?
Gardening to Save Money: 10 High-Yield Low-Cost Plants
1. Herbs. Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, since they’re rarely bothered by pests, thrive in mediocre soil (some herbs actually do worse with fertilizer!), and need minimal water one established. Basil & parsley are the two herbs I use the most, with chives and thyme a close second.
Basil, though, stands apart since it is essential to making inexpensive pesto, it freezes well on it’s own, and you can preserve it lots of other ways, too. 1-2 plants will provide you with enough leaves to keep you in pesto all winter long – and that will pay for itself multiple times over. Oh, and if you do find your basil bothered by pests, this homemade spray works wonders.
2. Lettuce & Greens. Lettuces and salad mixes, especially leaf lettuce that just keeps on producing leaves as long as the weather is mild, is a great savings for people who eat a lot of salad. Per pound, Romaine is the highest-yielding type of leaf lettuce (bonus that it’s one of the healthiest, too – even more than kale!).
TIP: If you pick the large outer leaves, a couple of leaf lettuce plants will produce enough for your family’s salad and then in a week the same plant will be ready to harvest again. Greens like arugula, swiss chard, spinach are just as easy to grow. To have a constant supply of fresh greens through the season, plant a small number of seeds every couple weeks. (Find more growing tips plus recipe ideas in The Ultimate Lettuce Guide.)
3. Tomatoes. Cherry, paste, and slicing tomatoes all have long harvest seasons and little upkeep after planting and caging/staking other than moderate watering – and lots of harvesting! (See more on how to grow tomatoes here, plus recipe & preserving ideas.) If you plant heirlooms you will see a huge return on your investment, since they go for $3-4 per pound in stores.
4. Squash. Zucchini & yellow summer squash as well as winter squash (if you have the room) are super high-yield plants. One zucchini plant is legendary for feeding entire neighborhoods at the height of its season. While they do take up some room, zucchini at least will do well planted in containers making them within reach of most people. Bring on the zoodles – and no-fail zucchini bread!
5. Green Beans. While you might be able to find green beans cheap during the growing season, they will most often be older and starting to brown. Growing your own will give you the freshest, best tasting green beans ever. They are SO easy to grow and when you plant pole beans like Emerite they will provide more pounds per square food than bush beans, since they produce over a longer period. Eat them fresh and freeze them easily for eating later and you will reap double the savings.
6. Cucumbers. When you grow cucumbers on a trellis you can harvest more in less space, plus get all these other benefits. Whether you grow cukes for pickling or fresh eating, growing your own will save you money with their abundant harvest and give you the freshest produce possible.
7. Hot Peppers. Since hot peppers like jalapeños, ancho, and Anaheim are usually picked green they can be easily and successfully grown in both warm and cooler climates. They are a plant-and-forget vegetable (other than watering, of course) when planted in a raised bed that doesn’t need weeding. And they are ripe just about the same time as tomatoes which will allow you to make amazing fresh salsa and perfect canned salsa if you have enough plants.
8. Blackberries. IF you grow the right variety, blackberries can be grown in a smaller area and still produce a huge crop for you over a long period. For WAY cheaper than buying those little tubs of organic berries for $4-6 a pop. I’m not sure blackberries would’ve made this list before I started growing Triple Crown Thornless Blackberries. These berries are simply amazing in both harvest and flavor and I’m on a mission to tell everyone about them. I don’t know if they’d grow in containers, but their foot print is small for a cane berry. Every backyard should find a corner somewhere to plant a couple bushes – you won’t be sorry.
9. Dwarf Blueberry Bushes. Some list-makers might not agree with me on this one, but hear me out. While regular blueberry bushes can grow 6-8 feet, the dwarf varieties are between 2-4 feet making them perfect sizes for landscape shrubs and containers. They still produce a good harvest and are easier to cover to protect from the birds if they are a problem. And blueberries are still fairly expensive, even in season. Since you’ll most likely want a few pretty shrubs in your landscape anyway, why not make them fruit producing? If you grow enough to have extra, here are lots of preserving recipes and ideas to choose from.
10. Rhubarb. Once established, rhubarb can grow without any maintenance at all – I’ve seen neglected homes with huge rhubarb patches. Of course, if it’s planted where it doesn’t like it that’s another story, but overall it’s a perennial plant that will reliably produce for you every spring. Rhubarb isn’t always easy to find in the stores and you’ll want to make sure you grown enough so you can make butters, muffins, and chutney. You can find more tips for growing and using rhubarb in our Ultimate Guide.
What about other vegetables?
There are other plants that are fun to grow for food, but just don’t reliably produce as much, or are needy to maintain. You can grow them, of course, the return may just not be as big. They include:
- carrots (need very loose soil, slow to germinate, tedious to thin)
- cilantro (goes to seed just a few weeks after maturity)
- pumpkins (need a LOT of room)
- sweet corn (not a lot produced for the square foot, but again, really fun to grow)
Where are the sweet peppers?
While researching this list to see how my experience compared with others, I found a lot of “must grow” lists that included sweet peppers. While I included hot peppers that we regularly pick when green, I haven’t included sweet bell peppers because I find them finicky to grow where I live (zone 8, cooler summers) and needing staking, covering, and babying through our cooler spring and fall weather. The fruits are often misshapen and the plants can break from the weight.
You can harvest a lot of green peppers, but they aren’t ripe – which is why they are bitter, not sweet like colored peppers. Harvesting truly sweet peppers that have been allowed to color takes TIME (ALL green peppers will turn a color when fully ripe), making them not as much of a cost-savings as the other 10 plants that made the list.
Compared to a cherry tomato seedling you stick in the ground, add a metal or wood cage, water every few weeks and then reap produce from midsummer on – sometimes more than you can handle – with very little work, you can see why sweet peppers didn’t make the list.
So to answer the question, “is gardening to save money possible?” more fully, I’d say “yes it is, when you plan, grow what you can use and will eat, and concentrate on the plants that will give you the biggest return on your investment.” But more importantly, you’ll be enjoying your experience of growing, harvesting, cooking, and eating the freshest, tastiest food you can get.
And that may be priceless.