10 Cheap Ways to Landscape

house garden
A tastefully landscaped yard can increase your home's worth by up to 11 percent. See our collection of famous garden pictures.­
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­Picture two brick ranch-style houses, side by side. There's nothing remarkably different about their architecture or aesthetic -- except for the yards. One lawn is well-tended with neat beds of vibrant plants splashed among freshly mown Kentucky bluegrass. The other looks pitifully neglected with yellow, parched grass and scraggly shrubs that conceal the house's front­ windows. If you had pick between these two houses solely based on the curb appeal, which would you choose? The one with the nicer landscaping, right?

Thoughtful landscaping can improve your overall satisfaction with a home while you live there, as well as the chances of luring of potential buyers when you move. In fact, landscaping is an investment that can boost the value of your home up to 11 percent [source: Garskof]. If done well, you can recover up to 200 percent of landscaping expenses when you sell your house [source: American Nursery & Landscaping Association]. But to reap those benefits in the long term, you have to spend some money initially. Depending on how drastic of a transformation you're going for and how you go about it, a landscaping budget can grow as quickly as summertime weeds. Some experts recommend allotting between 5 and 15 percent of your house's worth to pay for a lawn makeover [source: Archer].


­What if you don't have thousands of dollars to spend? Alt­hough it will require a little more sweat and strategizing, you can pull off a landscaping project easily on a lean budget. Here are 10 tips to revamp your yard thriftily, organized from the beginning of your landscaping endeavor to when everything's in the ground.

10: Plan ahead

man with blueprints
Before you start landscaping, plan ahead.
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­When grocery shopping on a budget­, it's a good idea to go to the store with a list instead of relying on memory. Knowing precisely what you need keeps you on task and away from frivolous extras. Likewise, before you plant a single seed in your yard, come up with a plan of action. The notion of having a backyard koi pond surrounded by lush vegetation may appeal to you -- until you research the accompanying price tag. Gardening books and Web sites are smart places to search for initial inspiration. Or take a stroll around your neighborhood or local botanical garden to see what other gardeners have created and take note of what appeals to you.­

Chances are, you'll want something that fits smoothly into the surrounding aesthetic. A bright, tropical-style theme might clash if you live in an older, more traditional neighborhood. Perhaps a lush urban oasis or English garden might suit your house better. Think loftily at first, and then tally up the hardscaping and softscaping expenses required to make that vision a reality. From there, you may have a better idea of what you can practically afford.


Hiring a landscape architect to design a garden may be out of your price range. But if you can sketch out an idea of how you want to landscape, you can arrange a consultation with a landscaper for a couple hundred dollars. Some specialty nurseries may also have knowledgeable staff who can offer free advice on the best types of plants to achieve your desired layout.


9: Do It Yourself

man holding shovel
Want a cheap, reliable landscaper who's always on time? Do it yourself.
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­Three words should become your motto for frugal landscaping: Do it yourself. If you aren't prepared to get a little dirty and sweaty, you'll have to pay the premium for professional help. For instance, a zinnia that you pay $3 for to plant yourself will cost around $12 if installed by a landscaper [source: Archer].

There may be some jobs that are too big or complex for one person, but when you're brainstorming goals for your landscaping project, think about what you can do alone and when you might need to call in the pros. Also, consider asking for help from friends or family who might be willing to share the workload in exchange for dinner or a favor.


Clearing brush and planting flower beds should be manageable on your own, but you should also take into account the hardware and manpower necessary for more complex tasks. Have a troublesome hill that causes flooding every time it rains? You may need a small bulldozer to level it off. What about disease-ridden trees that are not only an eyesore but also a liability when the weather turns rough? Or what if you want to pour cement for a new walkway through your garden? If you know how to operate heavy machinery, you could rent, but it may be worth your time to call around for estimates for professional services.

8: Find the Freebies

compost pile
A compost bin is a free source of soil-enriching material.
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­Take a freegan a­pproach to your landscaping project. Instead of racing to the nearest home improvement store or nursery and purchasing every supply, think about free resources at your disposal. Have a friend with a green thumb? Ask for clippings of your favorite plants from his or her garden that will grow well in your yard. Know someone who works at a nursery? Find out if you can inspect the plants the nursery throws away for any salvageable ones.

Some city governments will give away mulch or wood chips as well. If you start a compost bin early enough, you can convert your trash scraps into an enriching additive for your soil. Also, evaluate which trees or plants in your yard could stay put instead of totally clearing your yard.


However, stay away from becoming a green-thumbed Robin Hood. Stealing clippings from public places such as parks or botanical gardens often carries significant fines if caught. Plant thieves at parks in Bridgeport, Conn., for instance, must cough up $50 in fines [source: City of Bridgeport]. Also, digging up native plants in wooded areas and replanting them in your yard harms the biodiversity of the area.

7: Shop Offseason

plant price
As the weather cools, plant prices drop.
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­You may feel an itch to landscape once the weather turns warm, but it may be wiser for the wallet if you hold off. Just like the apparel industry, the prices of plants and gardening supplies fluctuate with the seasons. Since demand peaks in the spring and early summer, that's when you'll pay the most for petunias, pines and pansies. If you wait until the end of the growing season, you can find plants on clearance that are still in healthy condition. That's also a prime time to stock up on other supplies, including gloves, garden hoses, sprinklers and tools since few people will be putting things in the ground once the weather cools.

When bargain-hunting for plants, you'll probably have to pick through some duds, however. If you see a few discolored spots, but the rest of the plant is green, you should be able to nurse it back to health. Just stay away from plants that have turned completely brown or are wilted and pale [source: DIY Network]. Annuals on clearance might also be a poor investment since they'll die at the conclusion of the growing season.


If you can't wait for the end of the season to buy new plants, think small. Purchasing smaller plants and allowing them to grow can also be more cost-effective than buying large ones.

6: Buy in Bulk

field of tulips
Prices lower when quantity rises.
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­You may plant only one or two rose bushes or fruit trees in your yard, but you'll probably need dozens of bedding plants and tons of soil and mulch. For those plants or materials that you'll use in large quantities throughout the landscaping process, buy in bulk.­

Take bulb plants, such as tulips, for example. According to Better Homes and Gardens, you'll pay around 45 cents for a bag of 25 bulbs. Buy 100 bulbs, and the individual price drops to 30 cents.


This is the same principle that applies at the grocery store. The economy-sized box of cereal, jug of mil­k or block of cheese costs the least when you break the total price down per pound or per ounce. Some nurseries may also give bundled discounts when you buy large enough quantities. But just as you would with an 18-count carton of eggs, check out each individual plant in a flat to ensure that all of them are healthy. Don't sacrifice quality for a price break.

5: Go Native

oakleaf hydrangea
The Oakleaf Hydrangea is one of Georgia's native plants.
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­Native gardening has come into vogue in recent years. Native plants, or those that have grown naturally in your geographic area since before European settlement, often outperform imports. That's because they have evolved to withstand climate extremes, pests and diseases that spread in specific locations. You may need to do some research to determine what types of plants fill that bill. But they will save you money in the long run. A yard filled with native plants can cost one-tenth of that of a traditional turf grass lawn [source: Purdue University].

Most natives should be able to survive on their own without much assistance. In addition to growing well, natives eliminate the expenses of fertilizer, pesticides and water. That, in turn, reduces groundwater pollution and lowers your monthly water bill. Native grasses in particular come in a variety of shades, heights, scents and textures to complement any gardening space. To learn about natives where you live, you can contact local gardening associations or consult your state's agricultural cooperative extension.



4: Know When to Splurge

couple shopping for plants
Expect to splurge sometimes at smaller nurseries.  ­
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­There are many opportunities for finding free resources that can assist you with landscaping. Yet sometimes, it makes more sense to spend some extra cash. First, consider the quality of the plants that you're about to purchase. If you're shopping at a garden center in a large retail store, the plants may be a few bucks cheaper than a mom-and-pop nursery. Yet that savings may translate to a weaker plant. Smaller nurseries may have more robust plants and salespeople with more expertise on maintenance. For another alternative, you can find ­out where local landscapers get their plants and supplies.­


If your design calls for pricey focal point, such as a fish ponds, patio or exotic garden, you may want to reserve the bulk of your available budget for that. Pinching pennies on the less eye-catching aspects can allow you to splurge a bit more on flashier features. You may need that extra cash on hand as well to pay for help with installing complex hardscaping. When landscaping involves a pond, laying cement or other heavier duty tasks, weigh the pros and cons of hiring a professional. You may waste more time and money botching that pond project alone and then having to fix it than paying someone up front to build it for you.

3: Spend to Save

large home with trees
Strategically placed trees and shrubs can save you bundles on your home energy bills.
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­Just because you plunk­ down ­$500 at the gardening store doesn't mean that money is lost forever. As we mentioned earlier, a well-executed landscaping overhaul can boost the value of your home up an estimated 11 percent or more, depending on who you ask [source: Garskof]. In addition, landscaping can have between a 100 and 200 percent return on investment when it comes time to sell your house [source: American Nursery & Landscaping Association].

Home value isn't the only way that landscaping can pad your pockets. You can use trees, shrubs and drought-resistant plants to reduce your home energy spending. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the energy savings from strategic landscaping will make up initial cost of that landscaping in less than eight years. Short trees and shrubs can block the wind that strikes your house, lowering your heating bills. During the summer, shade trees and bushes planted around your air-conditioning unit will reduce your cooling expenses. Selecting drought-resistant plants -- which will often be those that are native to your area -- eases your water bill.


2: Divide and Conquer

couple planting flowers
Try splitting up your landscaping project into manageable tasks­.
Anne Rippy/­Getty Images


Once you have your lawn design ready and have purchased supplies and plants, it's time to roll up your sleeves and start to work. Just remember that Rome wasn't conquered in a day and your yard won't be, either. Determine priority areas and divide the project into multiple, manageable chunks. Some landscapers recommend starting with the basics. If you have poor soil condition, that will be the first task to tackle since you won't have much success growing plants in lackluster dirt [source: Archer]. One free option that can remedy sick soil is homemade compost.


Splitting up the work also allows to you to budget better. Consider that the American Society of Landscape Architects suggests spending 10 percent of the value of your home on landscaping [source: Carroll]. In other words, if you live in a $250,000 house, you can spend $25,000 on the outdoors. A lot of people aren't going to have that kind of cash lying around, so spreading out the project distributes the spending.

Of course, your project can come in far below that benchmark. One way to accomplish that is by dividing and replanting faster-growing plants, such as hostas. That way, you'll have to buy fewer plants and can add continuity to your garden.

1: Keep It Up

woman watering plants
Tend to your lawn and garden regularly in order to preserve the initial time and money you invested.
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­Whenever you start landscaping, you're never really finished. Plants grow, annuals die and roots dry out. For that reason, don't squander your hard work by neglecting your newly landscaped yard. Putting those plants in the ground costs a bit of money, but it also costs you time. Unless you want to do that over and over again, maintain the pristine appearance by spending time in your yard on a regular basis. Pluck some weeds from the flower beds every few days. Trim the shrubbery when it starts to lose its form. ­

If you don't relish the thought of becoming a weekend gardener, native plants could be the answer. Natives demand the least amount of attention because they're already tailored to your climate. Ornamental grasses, such as Pampas, are smart alternatives to turf lawns since they need only one cutting per season.

Or, with all of the money you saved on landscaping, perhaps you can afford to hire someone to do the dirty work for you. Whether recruiting a teenager from your neighborhood or bringing in a professional lawn care service, you have plenty of options for upkeep. Even if it costs a little extra, the enjoyment you'll get from having a beautiful landscape is priceless.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • "12 Money-Saving Landscaping Tips." Better Home and Gardens. (Dec. 8, 2008)http://www.bhg.com/gardening/landscaping-projects/landscape-basics/money-saving-landscaping-tips/
  • Archer, Ann. "17 ways to landscape on the cheap." MSN Real Estate. (Dec. 8, 2008)http://realestate.msn.com/lawns/Article.aspx?cp-documentid=409676
  • Carroll, Joyce L. "Landscaping for Increased Property Value." (Dec. 8, 2008)http://www.bobvila.com/HowTo_Library/Landscaping_for_Increased_Property_Value-Home_Selling-A1814.html
  • "Dirt-Cheap Landscaping." HGTV. (Dec. 8, 2008)http://www.hgtv.com/gl-design-tips-techniques/dirt-cheap-landscaping/index.html
  • Garskof, Josh. "7 Landscaping Tips." CNN Money. June 22, 2007. (Dec. 8, 2008)http://money.cnn.com/2007/06/01/real_estate/landscapingtips_juneissue.moneymag/index.htm
  • Grant, Kelli B. "Cheap Landscaping Tricks." Smart Money. March 24, 2006. (Dec. 8, 2008)http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/deals/cheap-landscaping-tricks-19227/
  • "Landscaping for Less: 8 Money-Saving Tips." Reader's Digest.http://www.rd.com/advice-and-know-how/landscaping-for-less-8-money-saving-tips/article15712.html
  • "The Dirt on Budget Landscaping." DIY Network. (Dec. 8, 2008)http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/gr_lawns_landscaping/article/0,2029,DIY_13852_5502354,00.html
  • "The Promises and Challenges of Native Landscaping." Purdue University. Updated June 29, 2005. (Dec. 8, 2008)http://www.purdue.edu/envirosoft/lawn/src/promise.htm#cheap
  • "The Value of Plants and Landscaping." American Nursery & Landscapers Association. (Dec. 8, 2008)http://www.anla.org/industry/statistics/index.htm