Have you been admiring gorgeous gardens forever, dreaming about having your own perfect yard one day for years? Whether you’ve recently bought your first home, moved to the country, or finally have the time to devote to creating the garden of your dreams, you may have no idea where to start. Landscaping is expensive — and that applies to garden design and landscaping projects as well as everyday backyard maintenance.
Is landscaping too expensive to transform a fairly barren yard space into a well-designed and beautiful garden, though?
The answer, thankfully, is no. Even if you’re on a very tight budget, it’s entirely possible to pour love and energy into building that yard you’ve always wanted.
To create a wonderfully-functional and aesthetically-pleasing yard, you’ll need some money, time, applicable skills, and creativity.
It’s perfectly OK if you have access to some of these handy things in larger quantities. If you’re hoping to perfect your landscape on a smaller budget, you’ll have a great chance of doing a great job if you have time and gardening skills, as well as a creative vision.
Not sure how you can make it happen? Keep reading, and you’re bound to walk away with at least one tip you can put to great use.
What Is Landscaping?
Before we can set out to investigate how to save some of your well-earned money on your quest to create a yard that you love, we’ll have to take a quick look at what precisely can be said to fall under “landscaping”.
The process of landscaping can be defined as any work that improves the functionality or aesthetic of the land, from the homeowner’s perspective. This includes large projects that greatly alter the landscape, but also everyday maintenance tasks that would include mulching and pruning plants, or even mowing the lawn.
A finished landscape is made up of countless different larger and smaller elements. Some of the most important aspects of landscaping include:
- Vegetation — a category that can itself be made up of flower beds and other small plants, lawns, larger trees that function as centerpieces or accents, shrubs that often serve as edging plants, and sometimes vegetable or herb gardens, too.
- Lawns can be highlighted again as a separate category, as they often serve the purpose of creating larger empty spaces that tie the other elements of garden design together, as well as offering a wonderful space to entertain, play games, or relax.
- Walkways and driveways form an integral part of landscaping, too. They have a clear function — allowing residents and guests to get to their destination and walk around the yard without causing any damage to delicate plants. Walkways and driveways simultaneously contribute to determining the overall aesthetic of a yard.
- Fences and walls can be used to create confined and cozy areas within your yard, allowing homeowners to separate entertaining spaces from children’s play areas and butterfly gardens, for instance. They can also serve as privacy or security barriers, guarding the property perimeter.
- Water features such as ponds or waterfalls can attract wildlife and offer much enjoyment.
- Seating areas, decking, summer kitchens, barbecue areas, and similar socially-minded yard areas can play central roles in defining the look of a yard, too.
- Practical features like irrigation systems and trenches, which work in the background to improve the look and function of the yard, can also be considered to be essential parts of landscaping work.
- Finally, maintenance work, which can range from lawn care to tree surgery and from having the gravel on your driveway replaced to cleaning the pond in your yard are all active parts of landscaping as well.
How Much Work Do You Still Have to Do? What Does Landscaping ‘on a Budget’ Mean?
Just looking at that extensive list of the elements that go into landscaping is a little overwhelming, right? If you were to start off with a completely empty piece of land and you had to create a beautiful and functional yard from scratch, there’s absolutely no question that that would require a significant investment — yes, even if you came pre-armed with a great set of DIY skills and you weren’t planning to hire any landscape contractors at all.
That’s not usually the scenario we face, fortunately. People who have recently moved into a new home will almost certainly start off with something, and that something typically includes a lot of elements that they can work with, even if they aren’t thrilled with the status quo.
If you recognize that general scenario, and you are hoping to landscape your yard on a tight budget, the first rule is that you must, unquestionably, make peace with the fact that you will not be able to enjoy the yard of your dreams overnight. Achieving fast and beautiful results takes money, so you will have to create your garden gradually.
Getting a better idea of the work that needs to be done to make your vision come to life is a great way to start deciding how you can best save money while still getting the yard you want. Start by answering these questions:
- What elements in your current yard are perfectly functional, safe, and in good condition? Which of these elements do you like enough to keep them? This may include walkways, driveways, lawns, and even garden beds. Leave those in place, at least for now. Save changing these things for later.
- What elements in your current landscape do you actively love? Leaving those in place is a no-brainer, and you’ll want to make sure that any changes you are planning do not impact these elements.
- What do you need in your yard as soon as possible to make it easier to maintain, safer, or more enjoyable? Make this your priority. The answers will vary from one person to the next. You may have a privacy fence or living hedge as one of your top priority or you may want a lawn your kids can play on. You may have a dead tree, which poses a fire hazard as well all kinds of other hazards, which will need to be removed as soon as possible. There may be a low-lying area where rainwater collects, which you are committed to dealing with in the very near future.
- What easy steps could you take to make your yard that much better, without investing much? That often means planting flowering plants or shrubs, but it could also include steps like painting a (currently) ugly fence to give it a new leash on life, or adding garden lighting to your walkways to make your yard safer and more enjoyable. These are things you can do yourself without breaking the bank, and that can transform your yard almost instantly.
Considering Future Maintenance Costs As You Plan Budget-Friendly Landscaping Options
Some people are able and willing to invest now to create the yard they have always wanted — and being budget-minded does not only involve being mindful of the upfront costs associated with planning a yard, but also considering the ongoing costs associated with keeping a yard in tip-top condition.
Budget-friendly landscaping usually equals low-maintenance landscaping; or at least landscaping you will be able to keep on top of yourself, without needing to hire professionals or investing in expensive materials every year.
Lawn care is one of the most expensive aspects of garden maintenance, and budget-minded gardeners may wish to consider having a smaller lawn to reduce the costs they will have going forward. In terms of the plants you choose to grow and care for in your yard, going with native plants is a great choice for people who are hoping to save money and effort as they maintain their yards.
In other words, create a native garden that works with your climate and cultural conditions such as soil type, rather than having to fight your environment to keep your landscape looking great.
In some cases, larger upfront investments can save money later on — automatic irrigation systems, for instance, will help to keep your lawn and plants healthy, so that you will not need to invest time, care, and money into nurturing them back to health or replacing them.
With that framework in place, it will already be a lot easier to decide what changes to make to your yard, but if you’re new to landscaping, you may still not know what you can do to improve your yard without spending much money. We come armed with actionable tips!
1. Adding Color to Your Yard
The colors in your yard will inevitably play a huge role in determining the overall atmosphere you end up with. The approach you take greatly depends on your own aesthetic preferences, but no matter what they are, there are always cheap ways to add color to your yard and create a more finished-looking landscape.
Some people prefer to harmonize everything in their yard, even matching the style they choose for their landscape to their property. This tends to be the more expensive approach, and if you’re a fan of a fairly wild and romantic-looking yard, it is much easier to stick to your budget.
You can add color, to complement or contrast with other elements, in a wide variety of ways:
- Planting flowering plants in a gradient, or with contrasting colors.
- Placing bushes with colorful leaves in your yard as edging plants.
- Painting wooden garden chairs, tables, benches, or fences.
- Adding fabric accents to your yard, whether in the form of a parasol, canopy, or colorful cushions for your yard furniture.
- Adding new planters or pots, or painting existing clay pots or wooden container beds.
- Adding a new stain to your deck.
Especially if you are working with a relatively well-manicured landscape that you have “inherited” from previous owners, you’d be surprised how much of a difference this little changes make — and how affordably you’ll manage to get this done.
As a bonus, even people who aren’t seasoned DIY enthusiasts can easily add some color to their yards.
2. Reducing the Size of Your Lawn
Lawn care is a big expense, and that’s true whether you are planning to maintain your own lawn or to hire a lawn care service — especially if you’re the kind of person who hates it when weeds encroach on the lawn.
(Mind you, another great way to reduce costs would be to learn to live with harmless weeds, which can even beautify your lawn.)
You can quickly reduce the size of your lawn by adding flower beds or container gardens instead — and choosing plants that are cheap or free to acquire, and easy to maintain (more about that in a bit). It is possible to use mulch to kill the grass off, but some people also use newspapers laid on top of a portion of their lawn.
While it may be tempting to create flower beds with complex patterns, like wavy and asymmetrical choices, budget landscapers should keep in mind that trimming the lawn around irregular edges can be quite challenging, and may even call for specialized equipment. It is usually easiest to opt for a lawn with straight edges.
3. Getting New Plants Cheaply
Plants play an integral role in your landscape design — they are, so to say, both the foundation and the crowning glory. Decorative flowers, ornamental grasses, dense shrubs, ferns, vines, and herbs can all take your yard space from barren to beautiful very quickly.
Even those gardeners who don’t aspire to grow particularly expensive plants will discover that the cost of acquiring new plants quickly adds up. The key to landscaping on a budget, or doing anything else more affordably for that matter, is to cut costs wherever you can. Luckily for you, there are a few ways to get your hands on cheap garden plants, and they include:
- Plant swapping groups, which are a wonderful way to get your hands on amazing new plant species if you already have some great plants to share with others. Indeed, if the previous owners left behind garden plants that you are not particularly fond of, you may be able to trade them for plants that you do love!
- People sometimes include garden plants, often in large planters, in yard sales — so keep an eye out for yard sales, which you can easily find by joining local neighborhood social media groups.
- Plant nurseries often hold sales, or offer slightly damaged plants for a friendly price. Get to know your local nursery and ask them to keep you informed about sales.
- Getting to know your neighbors, who will often be delighted to help you get started with landscaping, not least because improving your yard benefits them, too. If they have cuttings to share, your neighbors will most likely be thrilled to do so.
4. Choosing Your Plants Wisely
It’s no secret that plants are cheaper to maintain than others, and your ongoing landscaping efforts will be a lot more successful, as well as much less costly, if you choose the plants you decide to grow and care for in your yard widely.
Beginning landscapers have a few different factors to consider here, and they include climate, function, and durability.
By choosing to create a native garden, filled with vegetation that is native to the area in which you live, your plants will naturally perform much better. They will thrive in your local climate and in your soil conditions.
Since these native plants will have evolved to thrive with the levels of precipitation your area naturally gets, you can also count on a lower water bill. Xeriscaping is the ultimate way to save water, and that’s not only true if you live in a desert area.
You can also choose to add plants that meet some need you have, and would otherwise have to find a different solution for. Edible plants are a prime example — everyone needs to eat, and by adding edible plants, at the very least some herbs, to your yard, you catch two birds with one stone. Your yard will look more attractive, and you can also enjoy some home-grown produce in the kitchen.
Plants can also serve different needs, however. Some are great at repelling insects like basil or chives. Others serve as ground cover plants to help control weeds and also fight erosion.
In terms of durability, landscapers will inevitably save money in the long run if they populate their gardens with perennials that they can enjoy year after year, rather than annuals that will have to be replanted at the beginning of every single growing season.
5. Adding a Pond or Other Water Feature
Adding a pond, a small waterfall, a fountain, or at least a bird bath to your yard won’t save you any money, but it will create a relaxing focal point that does not have to be very expensive. Indeed, if you are already great at tackling DIY projects, it is fairly cheap to purchase pond liners and pumps, and rocks for around your pump can often be found for free.
A pond can really bring your yard together, creating a space that feels finished and well-planned. Once it’s there, maintaining a pond is simple, too.
6. Creating Spaces for Entertaining
You don’t have to add an expensive patio — or if that’s a long-term goal of yours, at least not right away. Some of the most beautiful gardens feel intimate and cozy, and a few chairs and an upcycled table will do the trick just fine. Building a fire pit yourself can be inexpensive as well.
If you are interested in expanding your repertoire, it’s a great idea to keep an eye on local sales groups where people who are moving or upgrading their garden gear advertise their old garden furniture or barbecue equipment for a friendly price.
7. Considering Lighting for your Yard
Lighting doesn’t only brighten your yard up at night, making it a wonderful space to spend time in in the evenings, but it’s also important for security.
Solar garden lights have dropped in price of the years, and as long as these lights are installed in sufficiently sunny locations, they will save costs on your utility bill every month. What’s more, solar lighting does not have to be wired, which means that uprooting your landscape design isn’t required.
8. Watering Your Plants Strategically
By watering your plants early in the morning, you won’t have to worry about evaporation as much, and as an added bonus, you protect your plants from sun damage. Every little bit adds up, and this step will reduce your water consumption just slightly.
9. Getting Creative with Decorative Features
Shoe organizers can serve as a wonderful place to create a stunning vertical plant wall. Old tires add charm and form the base for small flower beds. Beautiful picture frames you don’t need can add a splash of color to your yard, and we’ve even seen people make unique little pots out of old teapots.
The sky is the limit when you’re willing to let go of conventional ideas and get as creative as you dare to be. Whether you’re going for a muted all-white shabby chic look, or a quirky color fest, the devil is in the details. The details, as it turns out, often find their way to you for free, or at least very cheaply.
Landscaping is a verb, not a noun — and your work will never be finished. Every little bit that you do goes toward creating the beautiful yard you have always wanted, and while some of the projects you embark on will inevitably cost more than you’d like them to, you can do a lot on a small budget, too!