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10 Simple DIY Landscaping Ideas for Your Home on the Cheap

By Mary McCoy

landscapingAs any seasoned landscaper or gardener can tell you, a home’s landscape is more than just a few haphazardly placed trees and shrubs. It requires careful thought, planning, and research – not to mention hard work. Not only can well-designed landscaping increase the pleasure you derive from your dwelling, it can boost curb appeal if you need to sell your home.

Unfortunately, beautiful landscaping doesn’t usually come cheap. However, with a little planning, you can get a gorgeous outdoor setting with only a small upfront cost.

Beautiful & Inexpensive Landscaping Ideas

1. Choose Easy-Maintenance Ground Cover

A lush front lawn is as American as apple pie, but it’s not the most financially savvy choice you can make – particularly if you live in an arid climate or struggle to keep your grass green and weed-free. Many homeowners deal with patchy and weeded lawns simply by re-sodding the yard, but this can cost several thousand dollars. In fact, The National Gardening Association notes that fresh grass sod can cost 15 to 35 cents per square foot, and more than double that amount if professionally installed. Grass also requires a hefty amount of water, and may need fertilizer and weed treatments as well, all of which impact your bottom line.

On the other hand, an easy-maintenance ground cover is a great and cost-effective alternative to grass. Thyme, bishop’s weed, and lamium spread quickly over room-sized sections of a front and back lawn, and remain hearty through temperature and drought swings. Simply plant around 10 creeping ground cover plants (more if you want faster coverage or you’re dealing with an area larger than a bedroom) for between $5 and $10 each. They should quickly germinate and take over portions of your yard with beautiful leaves and flowers.

Not only can you save money on ground cover over sod, the maintenance is easier and less costly over time. Stick to portions of the yard that are hard to maintain, such as heavily shaded areas, side yards, and transitional spaces, to make sure your yard doesn’t look overrun by a forest of plants. Keep grass in sunny areas, if you’d like. And if you live in an extremely arid region, consider xeriscaping your yard.

2. Mix Soil With Homemade Compost

If you’re putting in a few flowers or plants, it’s tempting to load your shopping cart with bags of expensive potting soil. Certainly this is important to give your plants the nutrients they need, but you don’t have to do it with soil alone. You can cut your soil costs in half by making the most of your family’s leftover organic scraps. Mix a bag of potting soil with equal parts backyard compost for a nutrient-dense mixture that your plants should love.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have the time or energy to create and maintain a compost pile. As an alternative, you can still mix in discards such as coffee grounds and the clay- or mud-like dirt in your backyard to get more bang for your buck. It’s also possible to add mulch, which is nutritious for plants and slightly less expensive than potting soil.

3. Start With Young Plants and Shrubs

Consumers are often drawn to mature plants and flowers at the nursery because they’re visually appealing. However, the only difference between a mature plant and a young plant of the same species is the price (tiny seedlings are an exception to this rule, as they can be easily scorched or killed). For instance, you can expect to pay $70 for a 10.25-gallon crape myrtle, but only $20 for a 3.25-gallon crape myrtle. Choose the smaller item for a big cost savings – you may be surprised by how quickly they grow once you’ve planted them.

At my old property, I planted numerous 2.25-gallon Indian hawthorns and Texas sage bushes. Within a year, the Indian hawthorns were the size of five-gallon plants, and the Texas sages had matured to a 13.35-gallon size. It just took a little patience.

planting a shrub

4. Create Clusters of Planters

Add visual interest to your garden by grouping together clusters of planters for added height and depth. Basic terracotta planters are classically beautiful and cost between $5 and $20, depending on their size. Group three planters of various sizes in a corner of your garden, and put an arrangement of flowers and creeping plants to give the illusion of a foliage waterfall as the blooms spill over the edge and into the main garden.

These arrangements look best when you combine plants with three different profiles – vertical (such as upright fuchsia or fountain grass), horizontal (like impatiens or heliotrope), and cascading (like the asparagus fern or wave petunias). This striking landscape display only costs about $50 for the planters and $30 to $50 for the plants, depending on the types you purchase.

5. Wait Until Season’s End

Just like clothing retailers, nurseries try to push last season’s plants, shrubs, and trees out the door through clearance sales to make room for new merchandise. These price cuts can result in huge savings for consumers who are willing to bide their time. Look for deeply discounted plants at the end of spring and summer. Even if the leaves and flowers look scorched and unkempt, a healthy, green stem means that they are perfectly salvageable as long as you plant them quickly and water them sufficiently.

Markdowns usually start slowly at the end of the season, boasting price cuts of 10% to 20%. However, if you wait until you’re deep into the next season, you can find incredible markdowns on plants from anywhere between 50% to 90%. Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate, since managers are typically eager to clear their shelves. It never hurts to ask.

6. Make Homemade Stepping Stones

Stepping stones are a nice addition to any landscape design because they connect components of your lawn with an easy-to-walk pathway. Unfortunately, however, store-bought stepping stones can cost anywhere between $20 and $50 each, which can set you back several hundred dollars for even a short garden path.

Instead of purchasing stepping stones, create beautifully homemade pathways. You need a 40-pound bag of quick-setting cement (less than $8), a shovel or hand-shovel for mixing ($5 to $15), a paint bucket ($3), a ruler ($1), a bag of decorative marbles or shells ($5), and several shallow cardboard boxes. Mix the cement with three pints of water in your paint bucket – you can adjust the amount of cement and water, but the general rule is six pints per every 80-pound bag (check the directions on your bag). Once mixed, pour the cement into a square-shaped cardboard box to create a form. Then, simply place marbles or colored glass in the cement and let it dry for adorable stepping stones with a homemade touch.

You can check on the dryness of the cement after 24 hours. If it’s sufficiently set, simply cut or peel away the cardboard.

7. Choose Perennials

Annual flowers are beautiful, but you’re likely to find yourself shelling out a lot of hard-earned cash if you select varieties that die every year. Instead, buy lovely perennials such as alstroemeria, catmint, and coreopsis that return each year with colorful leaves and flowers.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $6 to $30 for an individual perennial, whereas entire flats of annual flowers with many separate blooms are often available for less than $15. Even though the initial cost of perennials is slightly higher, they remain in your garden as a permanent fixture, not as a quickly fading annual flower or plant.

8. Divide and Conquer

Perennials are an excellent way to “divide and conquer” your landscape. Any time you plant a perennial, you can count on it to grow in size for several years. Instead of buying new flowers each year, simply uproot and move new blooms that germinated from last year’s perennials. You can turn a $10 perennial into $40 worth of savings if you divide its blooms and replant them in four different portions of your garden each year.

planting flowers

9. Use Your Community’s Mulch

Many communities offer free mulch to residents – you just need to know where to look for it. Cities that pick up tree cuttings in the spring and fall often process the waste by putting the cuttings into a wood chipper and turning it into mulch. This mulch is available to residents who make the trek to the city’s park or public garden for pickup.

Mulch is a great addition to a landscape because it adds a finishing touch to gardens and flowerbeds while also locking in moisture and nutrients for the plants. Call your city’s parks department to determine if you have a mulch program in your area. It can give you information on pickup locations and whether there are any caveats, such as residency or limits on the amount of mulch you can take.

If your city offers free mulch, you may need a truck to haul it home. It’s not typically bagged, so be sure to bring a shovel with you to move the mulch into the bed of the pickup. Residents who use free mulch can save tens if not hundreds of dollars, since a bag that covers 20 square feet can cost about $10.

10. Support a Good Cause

Plant trees for a good cause, and you can quickly transform your yard into a shaded paradise. By joining the Arbor Day Foundation for just $10 – or more, if you’re able – you will automatically qualify for 10 free trees. You can pick any trees you want for your yard, including oaks, flowering trees, and other beautiful varieties that are hand-selected for your region.

These are shipped as very small trees, which means it takes several years for your yard to truly benefit from their shade. However, keep in mind that once these trees mature, they can take over a substantial part of your yard – so be sure they are allowed by your homeowners association before planting.

Final Word

Don’t forget that your landscape is more than just a way to increase the curb appeal of your home. Indeed, a welcoming landscape is the perfect way to turn it into an inviting outdoor space for family and friends. Incorporate small elements of your personal aesthetic into your design to increase comfort and warmth. It’s perfectly okay to splurge on a couple of items that you absolutely love, especially if the building blocks of your landscape design are both frugal and beautiful.

What’s your favorite landscaping trend?

Mary McCoy
Mary McCoy, LMSW is a licensed social worker who works closely with individuals, families, and organizations in crisis. She knows first-hand how financial choices can prevent and mitigate crises, and she's therefore passionate about equipping people with the information they need to make solid financial decisions for themselves and their loved ones. When Mary isn't on her soap box, you can find her hiking, jogging, yoga-ing, or frolicking with her family.

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