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Landscaping Your Yard on a Budget


Get the most bang for your buck by doing the work yourself and hunting down those supply bargains.

You want to design a beautiful backyard your family can enjoy, complete with an outdoor kitchen. Or maybe you want front-yard landscaping that’s creative and eye-catching, incorporating landscape lighting and retaining-wall masonry, adding value to your property.

But, of course, you want affordable landscaping. You can have it all, but your do-it-yourself ability, wallet, and your patience may dictate exactly what landscaping choices constitute “all” and how quickly you can get it done.

Professionally landscaped properties are beautiful. But landscaping is expensive. According to Forbes magazine (April 19, 2022), “Landscaping costs $4 to $12 per square foot, on average, for basic and intermediate services. A full makeover including landscaping design and remodeling can cost up to $40 per square foot.” At $40 a square foot, with an average yard of about a quarter acre—a little over 10,000 square feet—that’s $400,000.

Let’s talk about do-it-yourself landscaping and how to save money on the landscaping and garden project.

When you plan to landscape, decide what your centerpiece will be and work from there. Plan beyond simply placing plants around the perimeter of your house. Draw a box that resembles your home on a piece of paper, pencil in the driveway, outbuildings, fences, trees already there, anything that will stay in place. Then design your dream DIY landscaping. You’ll modify it as you go along, but start big. (There are apps that help you with this project, and we’re going to discuss those in an upcoming blog.)
Landscaping supplies on a budget can be part of the fun of improving your home. In case you’re thinking it’s not worth the effort, a 2018 paper from the Virginia Cooperative Extension, “The Effect of Landscape Plants on Perceived Home Value,” begs to differ. It states, “A home valued at $150,000 with no landscape (lawn only) could be worth $8,250 to $19,050 more with a sophisticated landscape with color and large plants. Interestingly, the multi-state study found that very minimal landscapes (simple design with small plants) detracted from the value of a landscape.”

So, let’s dig in. Where can you get cheap landscaping materials and design a “sophisticated landscape”?

Start looking around your own home with a fresh eye. What can you reuse or repurpose? Are you going to incorporate any of your existing lawns in your plan? (You should. It’s an inexpensive no-brainer.) Check out your in-laws overflowing garage and basement for gems they no longer want. Look for pathway lights that never got used. Outdoor furniture you can spray paint back to life, large rocks, plants that need to be thinned out and moved.

Join your local community’s Facebook group. It’s amazing what people are happy to give away just because it’s in the way. If you can wait till end-of-the-season sales, you’ll save there, too.
Mulch: How much mulch do you need? If it’s a very large supply, delivery will beat bagged every time. You can also sometimes find places to get mulch inexpensively if you’re willing to load it and haul it to your home. Check first with your town. If they’re picking up branches and lawn debris, they’re probably mulching it and distributing it at a reduced cost. Tree services sometimes allow you to take mulch they’ve accumulated, although chances are there will be a fee involved. Google “free mulch near me” to see what shows up.

Plants: Buy baby plants (they’re cheaper). Native plants (they require less work). Only perennials (they come back every year). You can add some annuals after you finish your project if you want that burst of color. Remember that landscaping plants grow quickly, especially if you’re wise enough to plant them properly with some fertilizing dirt that will give them a boost.
If you’ve got a brightly lit room in your house, you can grow plants from seedlings, which is a good way toward low-cost landscaping. Nurseries will start lowering prices in August and September to clear out existing stock, and yes you can still plant them. What matters to transplanted plants is the soil temperature, not the air temperature.

Finally, pay attention to spacing on perennials. They need space to grow strong and healthy, and you may have a year or two where things look a little sparce, but if you squish it all in, you’ve wasted time and money. You will eventually have to transplant stuff and give it to someone else on budget landscaping.

Trees: Choose trees that are native to your area. You don’t want to babysit them because it snows or doesn’t rain. Pay strict attention to what the tree’s expected height and width are. If it may grow too big, it could disrupt your plan. We once bought a Blue Spruce with a tag that says it was a dwarf Blue Spruce. We didn’t read anything more. Little did we know “dwarf” means it gets to about 25 feet in height instead of 75. We had to have it professionally removed as it was invading on the basement wall, and the wall was losing the battle. RIP.

Sidewalks/paths: Gravel is less expensive than cement and it’s easy to work with and transport. Have your gravel delivered. Bagged gravel is an expensive way to go unless you don’t need much of it.

A brick path is not at all difficult to do, and you can often pick up leftover brick on sale, on Facebook (or similar lists), and other local spots. You can also post that you’re looking for leftover bricks or pavers. Getting more than one color is not a problem if you’re creative in how you lay the brick.

Retaining wall: Masonry is difficult and expensive. If you don’t have experience building a rock wall, hire someone. Look into masonry tech schools near you to see if they’re looking for projects to take on. You’ll have students doing the work, but an experienced teacher will be watching them.

Landscaping timber: Again, sales, garage sales, Facebook group posts. Remember, though, that landscaping timber is not a long-lasting choice. Eventually, it needs to be replaced. But for a start, it can be cheaper and easier than rocks or walls for perimeters.

Finally, when you’re bargain hunting, think about the upkeep of what you’re considering. Mulch will need to be freshened every year. Gravel just needs the weeds removed. Lawns will need to be mowed, usually with a mulch bagger so you don’t spray clippings.

Is it worth it? It certainly is. You can take your time, save money, get exercise, and have the pride of raising the value of your home.

Posted on June 23, 2022

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