6 Rules to Make Landscaping Easy on your Budget (and the Environment)
“There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.” -Bob Ross
The landscape around your home is a place you can relax, spend time with your family and gather with friends. It adds another dimension to your home’s image, creating an instant appeal and upping your property value. But there’s just one catch.
Landscaping is expensive.
Costs can range from a few hundred to over ten thousand dollars. And that’s just for the initial work. Watering and maintenance add another layer of expense. Not to mention the time you have to spend on the weekend digging and planting and watering. For some, it’s easy to call in the pros and write a check.
But if you want to dive in and do a little of the dirty work yourself, you need to take a calculated approach if you want to save money. You need to come up with an overall plan for your landscape, determine the best plants to use and create maintenance routines that are cheap and sustainable.
The added benefit to all this is that while you’re saving yourself money, you’re also helping to protect the environment. By conserving water and making smart planting and soil decisions, you can minimize your landscape’s impact on the planet and your bank account.
1. Start with a Landscaping Plan
Maybe you have a perfect, vivid idea in your head of how you want your landscaping to look. You might think it’s time to rush to the gardening supplier and start filling up a cart. But the first step to saving money on your landscaping endeavors is to know exactly what you need to reach your goals.
It all starts with a plan.
Before you even think about spending money on landscaping, take some time and put your vision on paper. Get a pad of graphing paper and a pencil and start sketching out your ideal landscape. Some things to consider:
- How do you and your family spend time outside? If you plan on using your landscaped space for peaceful relaxation, you might want a more curving, meandering landscape with plenty of plants to attract birds and butterflies. But if you’re more of a social butterfly, you could plan for more open areas and straight lines to accommodate outdoor dinner parties and barbecues. Don’t forget about the rest of the family. Children and pets will need plenty of open space to play.
- How much time do you want to spend maintaining your landscape? Some people want a beautiful property with minimal upkeep. Others take great pleasure in letting the hours pass by while they tend to their herbs and flowerbeds. Determine how much you’re willing to commit to working on maintaining your landscape. Choose plants and projects that will match your desired workload.
- Think about the way your want your landscape to flow. It’s easy to forget about the first person perspective with paper planning. So grab your sketches and head outside. As you walk through your property, try to picture how things will look according to your plan. This is when you’ll figure out how to lay out your paths and walkways.
Some other decisions you’ll make when planning are plant selection and how much lawn space to have. It might seem like overkill, but knowing as much as you can before doing any work will help you save money by not buying the wrong things. The process can take a while, but it’s worth it in the end.
Bonus Tip: Landscapes don’t have to be made up of just plants and paving stones. Add a little rustic flair to your backyard by hitting up garage and estate sales. Old boots, lawn tools and furniture can really improve the look of your landscape.
2. Use Native Plants
In the drought-heavy Western United States, homeowners and landscapers have figured out a way to design pleasant outdoor spaces that can thrive in dry climates. The process is known as xeriscaping. One of the key components of xeriscaping is picking only native plants that are built for the local climate.
The great thing about using native plants is that they require little to no maintenance. They’re already suited to the soil type in your region and are adapted to the amount of rainfall common to your area. Which saves you money on fertilizer and your water bill.
3. Go For More Garden and Less Lawn
Another concept in xeriscaping is minimizing lawn space. Lawns generally require more watering than plants and trees to stay healthy. And while a huge expanse of green grass is a beautiful sight, you’ll notice all that watering when it comes time to pay your utility bill.
So strike a good balance between lawn and garden. Plants, shrubs and trees not only add variety to your landscape, they provide shade and help make your landscape more of an ecosystem.
Bonus Tip: You could get rid of grass altogether and go with synthetic grass or artificial turf. It costs a bit extra to install, but the benefit of never having to water or maintain it might sway your opinion. And the old days of ugly artificial turf are gone. Today’s synthetic grass looks stunningly real.
4. Get To Know Your Soil
Figuring out what kind of soil you’re working with will help you pick the right plants. Soil composition is made up of three components: sand, clay and silt. Different levels of the three components make for completely different soil types. Ideally, your soil has a healthy mix of all three, but there are plants out there for just about every soil type.
The other characteristic of your soil you should test for is its pH level. This lets you know if your soil is too acidic (or not acidic enough). A healthy pH level for soil is right around 7.5.
For a small fee, you can get a sample of your soil tested. Having your soil lab-tested gives you the benefit of knowing the exact pH level of your soil, its composition and any nutrient deficiencies you should be aware of. Most labs will even recommend a specific fertilizer for your soil type.
5. Start Composting
In some gardening and landscaping circles, there’s a “magic pill” for creating gardens that thrive, all while saving money and protecting the environment. That magic pill is compost.
Compost is meant to replicate the decay of organic matter that happens naturally in forest floors. Organic materials attract microbes and bacteria that break it down into a dense, nutrient-rich fertilizer. Compost features the same ingredients: brown material (sticks, twigs and dead leaves), green material (fruit and vegetable scraps) and water.
Setting up a compost takes some upfront work, but once it gets going you’ll end up with a great fertilizer alternative.
Bonus Tip: If your property isn’t flat, put your compost bin on the highest point. That way, when it comes time to start hauling compost over to your gardens, it’s an easy, downhill trip.
6. Avoid Overwatering
Along with sunlight, water is a vital ingredient to healthy landscaping. Typically our biggest concern is that our plants and lawn are getting enough water. But there’s a flipside to that — too much water can actually be harmful to your plants and your lawn.
Yes, it’s true. Too much water can kill your plants. By overwatering, you not only have to deal with a higher utility bill (30% of household water is used outdoors), but you might have to spend money replacing or rehabilitation your vegetation.
But you can take some measures to make sure you don’t overwater:
- Keep an eye on weather forecasts. Turn off your automatic irrigation system during rain showers. If you really want to go all out, get some large buckets or containers and collect rainwater for later use.
- Water along the perimeter of the plants’ canopy, not along its trunk. Beneath the soil, your plants’ roots spread out to about the same diameter as their canopies above the ground. It’s actually the ends of these roots that soak up the water.
- Water with a garden hose. If you have the motivation and don’t want to spend money on a state-of-the-art irrigation system, going the old fashioned route of hand-watering with a garden hose has plenty of benefits. You get to control how much water each of your plants and trees get. You’ll use less water than you would with sprinklers. And you can target just the areas that need watering, like the soil around your plants (and not the leaves).
Bonus tip: Native plants are adapted to local weather patterns. If you go the native plant route, you might not even have to worry about watering your plants at all. That’s a lot of water savings.
Being smart about your landscaping can seem overwhelming at first. All this talk about water conservation, plant selection and soil testing might be pulling you out of your comfort zone. But if you take the time to plan and research before you get into it, you’ll end up with a wonderful outdoor space you can enjoy for years to come.