1. Do your research. County extension agents and horticulturists at local universities offer free advice that can save you from making costly mistakes. Learn from your favorite books, magazines, and gardening Web sites, too.
2. Trust your instincts. When it comes to free advice, you sometimes get what you pay for. Keep in mind that profit motives may make some landscapers or garden-center staff overzealous. If you're not sure about something, don't buy it.
3. Comparison shop. Nurseries may differ drastically in price and quality. You may find great deals from online garden centers, too.
4. Avoid impulse buys. Make sure you have an appropriate spot for a plant before you purchase it. Otherwise, you may end up watching it die.
5. Shop cooperatively. Buying in bulk is less expensive if you share the costs with gardening friends or neighbors. The same goes for renting equipment such as tillers, lawn aerators, etc. Likewise, combine mail-order purchases with friends to cut down on shipping costs.
6. Buy used when you can. New isn't always better. You can often find great deals on plants or tools at garage and estate sales.
7. Don't overplant. Landscape with mature sizes in mind, or you may end up paying to move crowded plants.
8. Collect inspiration. Instead of hiring a professional, clip pictures you like from gardening magazines, books, and Web sites to get ideas before you start a new garden bed or landscaping project.
Here's a hint: If there's a landscape in your neighborhood that you really like, don't be afraid to knock on the door and ask the homeowner if you can take pictures for your inspiration book. The homeowner may be end up giving you tips on getting the look.
Save even more by trimming water use in the garden.
Continued on page 2: Soil Tips