Budget Landscaping

Check out these smart ways to landscape your yard on a budget

Smart Ways to Landscape Your Yard on a Budget

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It doesn't have to cost a lot of money to landscape your yard. If you educate yourself and plan ahead, you can save hundreds if not thousands of dollars and take pride in knowing that you did it yourself.

  1. The first thing you really should do is educate yourself. Find out all you can about your climate and the types of plants that grow well in your area. Go to your local library and ask to see all the gardening books they have that are specific to your state or hardiness zone.

    I highly recommend the Gardening for Dummies books for any new gardener. Don't let the title fool you. There is a lot of quality information that is easy to understand in these books. Once you have read one of these books, you can move on to others and they will be easier to understand.

    Next talk to people at a real garden nursery to find out more information about what grows well in your area and the easiest plants to grow for new gardeners. Try to visit the nursery when they are not so busy; early morning or on rainy days. Stay away from the big box stores for information as many of their employees are not educated in horticulture and therefor may not be able to answer your questions accurately. Take note of what plants you like or dislike. Keep a notebook with pictures from magazines for inspiration.
  2. Once you have educated yourself, map out your yard and figure out what areas get sun and what areas get shade and at what times of day. This is very important in knowing where to place the plants you have purchased. It doesn't make any sense to buy a plant that needs to grow in full sun and then plant it in full shade because you didn't know where the sun and shade are located in your yard. Keep in mind that these areas will shift slightly as the seasons change.
  3. Before you begin to plant, you will need to know one other thing. What kind of soil do you have? What is it's pH? What kind of soil amendments are needed before you can begin to grow your plants successfully?

    Many people skip this step and then wonder why all the plants they planted grow poorly. In many cases the answer lies with your soil. Dig a hole or two in the area you want to start a garden. Look at the soil. Does it feel sticky and full of clay or is it fine and crumbly with a lot of sand? Is it rich in color and does it dig easily? When you fill a hole with water, does it drain quickly or does the water sit in the hole for hours or even overnight before it dissipates?

    To find your soil pH you will need to have an inexpensive soil test done by your local county cooperative extension office. This soil test can also determine what kind of soil you have and what kind of amendments may be needed to improve your soil. If your soil is too high or too low in pH this can cause your plants to not be able to take up the proper nutrients from the soil so that they can grow well. To find a cooperative extension office for your area, visit this link.
  4. Now that the important stuff is out of the way, you can start thinking about the fun stuff. Start with a plan. Draw on paper or use one of the many landscaping programs out there and figure out what you want the overall look to be. Another good way to do this is to take several pictures of your home and property from different angles and cut out plants you see in magazines and move them around the pictures to get a feel of what it might look like. Also realize that this vision can change overtime so be willing to be flexible as your needs change or your budget changes.
  5. I generally recommend planting trees before planning individual gardens, especially if you are on a budget. Trees take the longest to grow but they will add value to your property. It's not easy to move them once they've been planted, so they are more like the bones of your landscaping. Everything else can revolve around the trees. This is where some of your research you did earlier can really come in handy. You've read about all kinds of plants that grow well in your area, so you should be familiar with what you like and dislike, what characteristics each tree has and how large it will grow.

    Plant the largest sized tree you can afford, keeping in mind that a tree bought through mail order will be tiny (a stick really) and take many years to grow into a decent sized shade tree. If you can splurge a little and get a 5-gallon, 10-gallon, or 20-gallon tree at a local nursery, it will make a much bigger impact, much sooner.

    Before planting any tree, make sure you have the utility company come out and mark where all the lines are for electricity, sewer, water, etc. You don't want a costly expense when you break one of these lines. And you don't want to electrocute yourself either.

    Look for discounts on trees at the end of the season. Some nurseries auction all their inventory off in late fall. Fall is an ideal time to plant trees, so take advantage of any end of the season discounts.

    Don't be afraid to bargain with a nursery. This is where shopping at a local nursery where the owner of the business is on premises comes in handy. If you'd like several of the same tree and you notice that they seem to have a large inventory of that tree, ask if they will offer a 10% discount if you buy more than one. If you can offer cash, you are more likely to get a better price. The worst they can say is no, so it never hurts to ask. This technique can also work really well at a Farmer's Market towards the end of the day; vendors don't want to take inventory home.

    After the trees are planted, I recommend planting shrubs as they also can be difficult to move once they've become established. You can usually save money by buying shrubs off the Internet or in smaller containers at the nursery since they tend to grow a little faster than trees. Again, look for end of season sales or discounted plants at the nursery. Just make sure that when looking for discounts, don't sacrifice the health of the plant you are buying.

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