How to Landscape Your Home on the Cheap

Here is a list of ideas to maximize your landscape while retaining your hard-earned cash.


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    Consider your options:
    • Hardscapes, however beautiful, will kill your budget. Items like decks, patios, gazebos, and arbors always cost more than you think. However, there are many sophisticated landscapes that use recycled materials. Used wood, bricks, and even broken concrete can be inexpensive alternatives to pricey pavers and new materials.
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    Ask friends for 'starts' of hostas, irises, and all kinds of perennials.
    • Think about dividing & Propagating your existing plants. There are so many plants that can be easily divided or propagated, there might be no need to buy new plants.
      • If you must buy plants, never purchase at the beginning of the season. Fall is usually a better time to plant and nurseries have racks of discounted plants. Most likely they won't be in bloom and the leaves will look ragged and spindly. Pop the plant out of its container and take a quick look at the roots. If they are not 'mushy' and the base (or 'crown')of the plant at the soil level looks in relatively good condition, you can be fairly sure of a safe purchase. Next spring when the plants come up or leaf out they will look just as good and be just as healthy as the plants that your neighbors paid three times as much for.
      • Ground covers can often be divided into dozens of individual plants and spaced several inches apart. A 4" pot of creeping thyme, for example, can cover a 4-foot square of your garden within a matter of months using this technique.
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    Plant en-masse. Plant in groups. Don't just think in three's. Think twenty, or maybe even more. This simplifies maintenance and replicates more closely how plants grow in the natural environment. Find two or three inexpensive plants that go really well together and fill an entire bed keeping like varieties together. For example, if a friend is pulling out a large clump of over-grown Sedum or iris or whatever, claim it and divide the plant into as small parts as possible (make sure each division has healthy connected roots). Plant each division several inches apart (depending on size) and within a year you will have what looks like a 10-year old landscape. Way too often a single large plant that costs $40 or more is planted 5' from the next. It take years for the landscape to fill in.
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    Buy perennials. As tempting as all those beautiful annuals are on the nursery shelves, think ahead. Every year you will need to replace them, as they die. This is one of the quickest ways to burn through a landscape budget. If you are willing to start annuals from seed (or any other plant for that matter) go for it! Just don't buy them in a pot (or pony packs, or flats). Perennials on the other hand get bigger and more attractive year after year. A single $2, 4" potted perennial can be a 8-foot mound of color within three years. The annual will be about the same size as the pot and will have cost three times as much.
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    Invest in big pots. What goes in the pot is what makes the planting. Go large! Just keep in mind that you can easily blow $100 or more on a pot. Small pots (anything under 12") are very hard to maintain and look terrible in the enormity of the outdoors. They are best suited to the scale of a windowsill or a table top. Two or three large pots with only a variety or two of plants will serve any landscape well. Take a look at any stylish home and garden magazine featuring outdoor furniture. You don't see 30 little pots running down the side of a porch. They are all big, big, big. Terra cotta is an excellent choice for color (weather plastic or the real thing). You can find dozens of styles and they will all match. For some reason this color is usually much less than other finishes. Let the plants, not the pots steal the show. If you don't have a green thumb, use drought tolerant perennials for those days you forget to water. Sedums, Heucheras, thyme, Alliums, and Artemisias make great choices. Grab divisions of your favorite plants right out your landscape, it won't cost a thing. If you are pretty confident that your thumb is a shade of green, a few annuals in select pots can add an all-summer splash of color (plant them from seed if you can). A restrained quantity of flashy accent annuals is justified in any budget. For example, a single 24" pot of petunias on the front porch can add plenty of wow.
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    Add boulders to your space. Do you have rock that occurs naturally in your area of the country? Do not purchase rock. See what you can do to obtain it free. Visit construction sites sometimes works. Native stone looks so much better than extremely pricey rock that doesn't belong in your landscape in the first-place. Get the biggest rocks that you can safely lift and nestle them in your garden beds in small groups. However, don't over-do it. Three or four rock 'out-croppings' close to sidewalks or patio edge are plenty to spruce up your yard.
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    Buy trees first. If you have to spend money on the landscape spend it first on trees. you should always put trees in your landscape before anything else. It is worth a little extra money to get a good landscape tree. There are a lot of trash trees that will send up suckers, leave huge messes on your lawn, require hours of pruning, and die just as your landscape matures. For shade trees, named hybrid maples, oaks, and sycamores are almost always a safe bet. Avoid birches, most elms, poplars, and some ashes which grow fast, but are ultimately short-lived.
    Buy small.It is better to spend money on a small quality variety than a large trashy one. Most likely in five or six years you won't be able to tell the difference in size. Smaller trees also fare better when transplanted.


  • Paths
    Instead of a brick path through a perennial bed, use a nicely edged lawn path. Many world-class public gardens use this almost-free technique.
  • Patios
    Broken concrete or recycled masonry products can be laid in a bed of sand and then inner-planted with all kinds of hardy ground covers.
  • Get reference books.
    Just a little information goes a long ways. You don't have to love plants, but if you can look up specific information on the plants you purchase it will go a long way in saving money and keeping you from needing to replace improperly planted or cared-for plants. Almost every dead plant that you see in a landscape stems from not knowing what the plant needs. For those that live in the Western U.S. the Sunset Garden Guide (available almost everywhere) is an excellent and inexpensive resource. Sunset also publishes a national guide.
  • Arbors, Gazebos & Trellises
    Found objects with fast-growing vines are the key to an inexpensive solution. Once a vine has fully covered a structure who cares how much you spent on it? However, don't skimp on the connections. All objects should be securely fastened to each other and the structure should not wiggle. Try to make the structure climbable. If you can climb it, it should withstand many years of use.
  • Be responsible and respectful.
    Don't collect stone from natural areas or parks or private property. It is easy enough to obtain it through honest means.

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Categories: Landscaping and Outdoor Building