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Mr. Picky Pincher and I were both born with a green thumb. We love being outside and taking in all of the beautiful trees, flowers, and plants that grace the planet. We both have the itch to dig in the dirt and grow something meaningful from it.

But there’s a problem.

We live in a second story apartment without a  yard.

What’s a Picky, green-thumbed couple to do?

Start our own mini patio garden, of course! While we aren’t able to grow much on our north-facing apartment balcony, we’ve been able to make it work. It’s been pretty dang useful, since we fulfill small bursts of our gardening urges while growing edible plants to save money.

Why Patio Gardens Rock

So why bother with the hassle of a patio garden? After all, it costs money to start, takes time to care for the plants, and you can always buy food at the grocery store, anyway!

Sure, all of those things are true to an extent.

But we’ve found that the money saved by eating our patio plants negates the startup costs. The effort to take care of the plants just means you’ll get outside for a little bit, which is always nice!

1. They are small

Our patio is full of crap.

We have tools, a grill, vacuums, etc. that permanently reside there, since our itty bitty apartment can’t contain all of our outdoorsy supplies. Even though space is limited, our patio garden is just chillin’ there. You can make a patio garden as small or as large as you’d like. While we opted for large planters, you can also try hanging baskets that fit on your balcony railing, like these.

Some people like their patio gardens to be adorable and cutesy. Go for it if that’s your thing! Pinterest has no shortage of adorable patio garden ideas. I love the vertical patio gardens I’ve seen; those are particularly useful if you have limited outdoor space.

But since we’re close to buying a home and starting a full garden, putting in the effort for a cute, short-term patio garden just didn’t make sense for us.

2. They are cheap to set up

The cost of a patio garden depends on how many bells and whistles you want. Here’s what we bought for a no-frills garden:

  • Soil

We got our organic soil during a big sale at Lowe’s.

If you aren’t in a hurry to set up your garden, wait until a hardware or department store is advertising a sale on their potting soil. You’ll probably only need one bag if you’re setting up a small garden. We bought two bags for our large planters and only paid $7!

  • 3-4 planters in various sizes

The planters we use are repurposed from previous patio gardens, so we didn’t have to buy any this time around.

I do have to say that planters can sometimes be expensive. If you’re in the market for a planter, check out your local Freecycle site or Goodwill.  I would recommend checking out Pinterest for creative planter ideas, too.

Just make sure that the container you choose is safe for growing plants for food!

  • Plants/Seeds

We bought full-grown plants at HEB, mostly because we were impatient.

Unfortunately most of our local nurseries have gone out of business (sad face!), so we’re stuck with big box stores in our area. Fortunately, HEB’s plants were pretty cheap and were decent quality. They had fully grown herbs for $2 apiece. We picked up chives, thyme, oregano, and a loooot of basil (Picky eaters love basil!).

As luck would have it, one of Mr. Picky Pincher’s coworkers is a gardener and gave us a couple of extra green onion plants, too. At first we didn’t think these little guys were gonna make it, but they’re flourishing!

If you’d like to really save money on plants, see if you have a local seed bank. They give out free seeds, as long as you return to replenish the seeds that you borrowed once your plants mature. You can also join a gardening group on a site like Meetup to see if anyone has extra plants or cuttings.

3. You can grow food in them

This was our true motivation for creating a patio garden.

We are quite fond of basil. Unfortunately, a pack of fresh basil leaves costs $4 at HEB. At first we dismissed this as an essential expense, but over time I got more ticked off about it. Four bucks was a lot of money to me, especially while we were trying to reduce food costs.

One day I noticed that HEB was selling large basil plants for $2.50. These plants had at least three times the amount of leaves that were in the $4 pack. That’s outrageous! It would have made more sense to buy an entire plant instead of just six leaves from the plant!

Not cool.

So now we grow all of our own fresh herbs. This has easily cut $4-$8 from our grocery bill each week, since we prefer the taste of fresh herbs anyway. It’s been a game changer for our food quality and costs.

The Bottom Line

The good thing about patio gardens is that they’re cheap to set up, easy to maintain, and can reduce your food costs.

What’s not to like?

Even if you don’t know a thing about plants, a patio garden is a great way to get started. You can start a small herb garden for $20 and make back that money in a few months. Our patio garden has enabled us to shave more costs from our food budget, and that means more savings.

We want to know: Do you have a food garden?

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