Is gardening to save money possible? If you grow the right things, yes! Here are ten high yield, low cost, easy to grow, vegetables, fruits, and herbs to get the most bang for your buck.
One question I get often is, "Does vegetable gardening really save money?"
Now, if we were talking about how to grow vegetables, the answer would vary a lot:
- You can transform an area of grass with plastic to kill the grass and then layer a couple loads of new soil and compost for very little out of your pocketbook.
- You can build a raised bed or two for a bit more money, but save a lot of time later on with maintenance and weeding.
- Or you can plan a huge area with permanent raised beds, pretty pathways, arbors and more - and pay a lot more.
Obviously, if you choose the latter, you will be out a significant amount that will take years to make up in fruits and vegetables produced.
But we each make our own decisions about how to grow vegetables, because while the most expensive option is a lot, it also adds value to your landscaping and home and provides enjoyment to look at.
But what I want to talk about here is what you choose to grow and how picking the right fruits, vegetables, and herbs can definitely help your food budget.
I have found that growing our own food is one of the most rewarding uses of my time that 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 the gardening to save money question: "Sometimes."
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…)
Gardening to Save Money: 10 Best Plants To Grow
Through both 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.
And 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?
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 and parsley are the two herbs I use the most, with chives and thyme a close second.
One to two plants will provide you with enough leaves to keep you in pesto all summer and 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 producing leaves as long as the weather is mild ("cut and come again" lettuce), 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!).
- If you pick the large outer leaves at first (versus cutting the whole head), 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 in the same way.
- 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.
Cherry, paste, and slicing tomatoes all have long harvest seasons and little upkeep after planting and caging or staking, other than moderate watering - and lots of harvesting!
And if you plant heirloom varieties of tomatoes you will see a huge return on your investment, since they go for $3-4 per pound in stores. My favorites are Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and Black Cherry.
Find more on how to grow tomatoes, plus recipe & preserving ideas in The Ultimate Tomato Guide.
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 squashes 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!
There's more on growing and cooking with zucchini in The Ultimate Zucchini Guide.
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. Once I started growing my own, I find I'm always disappointed with store bought beans.
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.
Here's The Ultimate Green Bean Guide for more information and growing, preserving, and cooking.
When you grow cucumbers on a trellis you can harvest more in less space, plus get even more 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.
It's been years since I bought pickles, my own pickles are so much better!
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 it type of vegetable (other than watering, of course) when planted in a raised bed and mulched with red or black plastic to retain moisture and speed production.
Find more on growing, preserving, and cooking with hot peppers in The Ultimate Hot Pepper Guide.
8. Blackberries & Raspberries
IF you grow the right varieties, blackberries and raspberries 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. This is probably the best fruit to grow to save money.
However, 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 footprint is small for a cane berry. Every backyard should find a corner somewhere to plant a couple bushes - you won't be sorry.
Read all about growing, preserving, and cooking with blackberries and raspberries in The Ultimate Caneberry Guide.
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. The smaller varieties 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 to buy, even in season. They freeze easily to give you blueberries all winter, too.
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, find are lots of preserving recipes and ideas to choose from in The Ultimate Blueberry Guide.
Once established after the first year or two, 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.
Another reason to grow rhubarb is because it isn't always easy to find in the stores, making it one of the more expensive fruits to buy.
You can find more tips for growing and using rhubarb in The Ultimate Guide.
What about other vegetables?
There are other plants that are fun to grow for food, but don't reliably produce as much, require a lot of room, 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, so have to keep planting.
- Pumpkins - they need a LOT of room.
- Sweet corn - Not a lot produced for the square foot, but again, really fun to grow.
- Asparagus - I love to grow it, but it does need a lot of room to produce enough and takes a long time to get established.
Wait, 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.
I included hot peppers in the list above because we regularly pick when green but I didn't include sweet bell peppers because:
- I find them finicky to grow where I live (zone 8, maritime PNW), 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.
- They take a long time to actually mature - a green pepper isn't a mature pepper.
- A plant may only produce 3-6 full size peppers.
So while you can harvest a number of green peppers, they aren't ripe peppers - which is why they are bitter, not sweet like the colored peppers that are allowed to mature. 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 - 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.
This article has been updated - it was originally published in February of 2017.
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