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Wait for sales. Get the best deals when the traffic has died down at the garden centers: in the dog days of summer, after major holidays, and in fall. If your local supermarket has a temporary garden center in the parking lot (many do), find out when it closes for the season (likely midsummer) and show up then. You can get some amazing discounts because they have to move the inventory.
Photo: V J Matthew/Shutterstock
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Grass clippings hold both nitrogen and moisture, so they're a good summer mulch when used correctly. First, if you're putting clipping around edibles, make sure the clippings are from an untreated lawn—you don't want to mulch with pesticides and herbicides accidentally. Second, spread the clippings lightly so they can dry out and don't compact into a smelly mess. In fall, you can add shredded leaves to the mix. They'll improve soil texture, fertility and moisture-holding capacity as they break down.
Photo: Luke Miller
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More Free Mulch
Store-bought mulch has its place—the uniform material looks great up close by the front door where you can see it—but it's a money drainer when it comes to large beds. Most municipalities have free supplies of wood chips for the taking. If not, simply call a tree service in your area and ask if you can have some of theirs. Most will happily oblige, some may even deliver it if they're grinding a tree in your area. You can also save money gardening by buying mulch in bulk. Learn more about different mulches.