low-cost gardening in the SF Bay Area
February 14, 2014 12:54 AM   Subscribe

Landscaping on a budget! In the San Francisco Bay Area, what seeds should I be starting now, or what tiny six-packs should I be repotting, to jumpstart the effort? What are good sources for low-cost gardening supplies?

I have this torn-up yard of grass, weeds, and dirt. I want the yard to look nice to attract renters to its two apartments -- one as early as 4-6 weeks (*knock on wood*), one not until sometime around late summer.

It's a corner lot near the Bay in Oakland with southern and western exposure. Clay soils. I need mostly low-water plants that qualify for our utility's lawn rebate, though I'm willing to set aside a few areas for moderate water plants.

I'm planning to level it, put mulch down thick, and then do a few planting areas:
- something a bit eye-catching at the corner of the lot (like this?)
- about 15 linear feet of planting area (maybe 2-3' wide) along the western fence (blue fescue and...)
- big grasses or shrubs in front of the front porch (about 12' wide and up to 10' deep since the front stairs extend out that far) (maybe a phormium and something else?)
- an area around the utility pole (just across from that southwest corner) that has super-shallow soils

My questions are:
- Plant suggestions? All are welcome!
- What will get going quickly enough to look nice for these early renters (if anything)?
- Since I'm waiting for the utility's pre-inspection, I thought I'd save some money by starting seeds indoors or buying six-packs now instead of larger seedlings in 3 weeks. Tips here?
- Sources for cheap compost (besides my own kitchen)? Has anyone done the thing where you go to a nearby horse stable? If you don't want to share your secret with the world, you can memail me.
- Sources for cheap or free lead testing and pots of various sizes?

All thoughts are welcome! Thanks!
posted by slidell to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know anything about what to plant in the Bay Area, but I bet these folks could help and you can get seeds for free.

posted by aetg at 6:57 AM on February 14, 2014

Some thoughts, I don't garden in your zone but have gardened in a desert climate and am currently gardening in zone 5.

Anything involving horses and their poo will be full of weed seeds from the grass and hay they eat, it it's good for gardens but best if composted first as is all poop but rabbit. A call to a rabbit breeders club may find you some members happy to give you poop if you'll haul it away. My MIL does rabbit's and our local community gardens takes all they can get from her for this reason as they are fed pellets net hay there are no weed seed worries..

I can't help you with cheap pots as every gardener in townis after those right now with spring coming. Raid your neighbors recycling bin and repurpose anything you can punch drainage holes in that will hold dirt.

Google winter showers. It might be too late where you are but you might get some ideas.

Dollar store seeds are not to be sneezed at. They are usually good reliable breeds that have been around a while

Potting out seedlings for just a few weeks might be counter intuitive. The stress of being disturbed twice will set them back and I imagine fresh seedlings bought right before you plant them will have been through les stress so will actually over take them in size. If you are planning on growing them for a few months for the second garden though don't worry.

Trays of cheap filler seedlings from supermarkets aren't as bad as everyone makes out if you shop carefully and pick you trays. .
posted by wwax at 7:09 AM on February 14, 2014

Have a look at the website of our local treasure, Mostly Natives Nursery in Tomales. (North Bay, Marin County, 4 miles from the coast). The things they carry there (look at the "our plants" section) will most likely do well where you are with minimum to moderate care.
posted by Lynsey at 10:36 AM on February 14, 2014

The botanical garden in Golden Gate park has a great library that's nothing but gardening and botany books. No membership required. They also have monthly plant sales. I'd take an afternoon to go there and hang out.

The Sunset Western Garden book is a tried and true classic for finding the right plants for your yard. When you read it, sure that you find out what "zone" you're in and take a look at the special requirements plant guide towards the front of the book. This will help you figure out which plants will thrive in that windy, shady corner of your yard.

Sloat Garden Center, Flowercraft and Annie's Annuals have great websites full of useful tips for gardening in the Bay Area. Annie's has one of the most amazing nurseries I've ever seen; worth the drive out to Richmond.

The Bay Area's lack of dramatic differences between seasons means that a lot of plants that would be annuals elsewhere are perennials here. If you're interested in drought tolerant plants that are inviting to local flora and fauna, here's a resource page from the county department of public works.
posted by echolalia67 at 9:00 AM on February 16, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Lots of great ideas at the links you provided!
posted by slidell at 10:07 AM on February 16, 2014

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