The Real Cost of Gardening

Now that it’s officially spring, some of my friends are planning their gardens. My own gardening experiences have covered the full spectrum of emotions, from euphoria to utter defeat. So I was intrigued by the article “Is Gardening Really Cheaper Than Buying Fruits and Vegetables?” by Jeff Somers on the Lifehacker website (

Given the price of food, this might seem like a no-brainer. But gardening does have hidden costs, and not all plants are cost-effective. So are you really saving money? Mr. Somers’ answer is yes, if you are thoughtful.

Just like your teachers always told you, it starts with the math. Don’t forget your initial investment. Several years ago, the National Gardening Association conducted a costs survey and concluded that most home gardens required about $70 initially. That’s for everything from seeds, and soil and/or fertilizer to water (a major hidden cost), tools, and even fences if needed. The good news is seeds are really cheap compared to grocery fruits and veggies. For example, a packet of tomato seeds will be about $4 and each plant can yield as much as 30 pounds of tomatoes, as opposed to tomatoes on the vine costing about $2 a pound. So if things go reasonably well, you can get an annual return of about $600. Of course, a lot can go wrong, and don’t forget to put a value on the time you spend.

One key to saving money is deciding what to grow. In addition to tomatoes, other cost-effective plants are squash, leaf lettuce, berries, okra, green beans, herbs, cucumbers, and (that dinner-time favorite) kale. See the article for the detailed number-crunching.

The bottom line: a thoughtful garden can save you a significant amount of money if you don’t mind the time and effort, and you can control the hidden costs.

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