How To Start A Garden For Next To Nothing

Each week, my living room becomes a little bit more like a rainforest. But as I’ve learnt, if you’re into plants then a student income can only go so far.

Nurseries aren’t as cheap as I’d like, so I learnt how to propagate on my own.

If you’re an obsessed plant parent, read on to make your garden as luscious as your bank account.

Plant Baby Steps

Succulents are the easiest plant you’ll meet. Succulents are any plants that have fleshy leaves or stems – a huge variety of plants, from the Black Prince to a String of Pearls.

To get started: take a cutting and place it in some soil. Or if you’re feeling especially lazy and are prepared to lose one or two plant children to root rot, place them a jar of water.

A good rule of (green) thumb is to find a sunny spot indoors or outdoors and water once or twice a week. You’ll keep your plants healthy by popping your finger in the top inch of soil – if it’s bone dry, give it a good glug.

If you already have a plant you want to propagate but it doesn’t have shoots to spare, you can propagate with its leaves. Tear the leaves off and place them on dirt. Water occasionally. In my experience, this has a success rate of 50 per cent so make sure you lay down more leaves than you’d like to grow.

If you’ve ever visited a hipster café or spent time on Pinterest, you’ll know that succulents are everywhere. Finding a cutting is as easy as a small snip from the nature strip when you’re strolling through your neighbourhood. Now, the ethics on doing this without asking are fuzzy. So, if you want to play it safe, ask your neighbours or better yet, ask a friend if you can go shopping in their well-stocked garden. Or have a look on Gumtree. Cuttings are usually only a dollar or two.

Keep Going

Once you’ve taken your first steps in plant parenthood, you can start on slightly more difficult but still very easy propagation. Some varieties of plants produce ‘pups’ (isn’t gardening fun, with cute names like this??) In these plants, you’ll see little baby plants growing around the mama plant. Steal those away, being careful to preserve the roots and repot. You’ll have your own mama plant in no time.

This works well with spider plants; they’ll have little plants growing from long tendrils. Pluck those (tip: with spiders, I find it is best to place the roots in water before planting to encourage root growth). But spider plants aren’t the only mamas; you can do this with agave and aloe as well.

Having a healthy supply of aloe is great for beginning gardeners as they’re not just there to look pretty – you can tear the leaves open and put the gel on burns or use it as an under-eye cream.

Eat Out on Your Propagation Skills

Okay, now you’re basically a plant genius. It’s time to eat out on your skills and to save yourself some cash. The easiest edible plants to propagate are spring onions and leeks.

When you buy a bunch of spring onions, keep the cut bottoms with their long, scraggly roots and put them in some soil. Keep them near sunshine, either indoors or outside, and they will grow in a few weeks. Water a couple of times a week.

When your onions are tall, don’t pull them out of the soil; just cut off what you need. You’re sorted for spring onions and leeks for the season.

Pineapple has is also a popular plant to propagate but as far as bang for your buck goes, it’s not that great. Lucky, it looks excellent. You can cut the green spikey top off the pineapple, remove a couple of layers of the spikes off at the bottom and plant in soil. You’ll get your own pineapple in a year or two.

If you’re feeling ready for a bigger plant challenge, you can propagate citrus trees from the seed. Cut open any citrus – I used a lemon – and remove the seeds. Be careful not to harm them with your knife as you chop. Once you pluck them out, you’ll notice that the seeds have a coating. Dry them and peel this off. Put four or five seeds in some wet paper towel, then secure this in a zip lock bag. Keep in a cool, dark place for two weeks. When you check on your seeds, they should have sprouted. Now you can plant them in soil and watch your lemon tree grow.

Katerina Bryant is a writer and editor based in Adelaide. Her work has appeared in the Griffith Review, Going Down Swinging and the Meanjin Blog, amongst others. She tweets at @katerina_bry.