Family Finance: Budget-Friendly Tips for Growing Indoor and Outdoor Plants

Enhance your environs or grow a vegetable garden with these cost-conscious planting tricks.

Jennifer Wray
Jennifer Wray

First, an admission: I hardly have a green thumb. I’m forgetful about watering, timid about repotting and neglectful when it comes to feeding or fertilizing my plants. But still, there’s something I love about having greenery in my home year-round.

And it’s not just me: According to Texas A&M research, being around plants can help improve your concentration and mood, help you maintain your physical health, speed healing and more.

Like any hobby, growing plants can be an expensive prospect if you opt for rare succulents, greenhouse setups and the like. But for a minimal investment of soil and containers, you can grow plants inside and out that provide beauty and even fruit, vegetables and herbs to eat.

Indoor Plants

I like to go with the classics. Pothos is an easy houseplant to start with since it tolerates wet or dry soil, direct sun or low light. To propagate pothos, you’ll need a cutting. I have family members willing to give their plants a trim on my behalf, but if you don’t, Facebook groups are terrific resources for cuttings under $5.

You’ll want one that’s long enough to have root nodes—bumps on the stem where roots can form. Four to 6 inches is a good length; you also want to ensure the cutting has several leaves since that’s how a plant produces energy from the sun. Remove one or two leaves closest to the cut end and submerge the stem in a jar or glass of water. Change out the water weekly and in about a month, your plant should be rooted and ready to pot.

Spider plants are another favorite. Where you see a mature spider plant, you’ll likely see “spiderettes” hanging off runners. The knob-like protrusions on the bottom of each of these plantlets can form healthy roots. For the quickest propagation, plant spiderettes directly in potting soil. Either snip off the plantlet from its runner and put it directly in a pot, or keep the baby attached to the runner and place it in a nearby pot with potting mix and wait until it’s rooted. Rooting in water also works.

Succulents have a reputation for being easy to care for, but I’ve found them to be more particular. Still, with patience and a light hand when it comes to watering, you can have a thriving succulent garden. The easiest thing to do is to find a succulent with plantlets growing alongside the mother plant. Those baby plants are fully formed with roots and can grow on their own—they just need their own space and succulent-friendly potting soil. Another option is to take a cutting from the top of the plant or an offshoot.

Wondering where to find containers for these plants? Some, such as pothos, can be kept in water indefinitely. If you don’t want to buy a bunch of new pots, there are loads of planters at thrift stores, or you can get creative. For example, a chipped mug can find new life as a planter or a plant holder.

Outdoor Plants

Through trial and error, I’ve discovered that many plants typically found in a vegetable or flower garden can be easily propagated or divided. For instance, you may have noticed that tomato plants have white hairs on their stems and branches. Those hairs are the beginnings of the plant’s root system. So whether you’re intentionally pruning your plant or you accidentally break off a branch, you can use those hairs to create a new plant. Just bury that piece in the ground (remove lower leaves first) and water heavily, or place it in water and give it a week or so to root before planting. The trick also works for broken marigold plants.

Basil is another plant I love to propagate. Sometimes I start with 3- to 4-inch cuttings from an existing plant, but at the beginning of the season, you are most likely to find me purchasing a clamshell container of fresh basil intended for cooking. I make a new cut on the bottom of one of the larger basil segments, strip off the bottom leaves and stick it in water to grow roots for several days before planting.

Dividing plants is another way to boost your inventory. Certain plants grow like gangbusters in my yard—Creeping Jenny, yarrow, daylilies, sage, chives, oregano and thyme among them. Some could certainly be propagated in water, but I’ve found quick success by digging up a portion of the plant, gently teasing apart the roots and either replanting it elsewhere, trading with a friend or potting it to create a lovely container garden gift.

One more tip: I’ve been slowly but steadily adding to the flower bed in my front yard by purchasing heavily discounted end-of-season perennials at my neighborhood garden shop. They typically look a little sad when they go into the ground, but they rebound the following year and make for a beautiful (and cheap!) addition to my landscape.

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer, mother and fan of all things pop culture.

This story is from the Summer 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.