If you have big dreams about creating a horticultural oasis in your backyard but have little budget to do so, you should consider DIY landscaping. Creating your own backyard version of Versailles or Kew Gardens on a budget is easier than you might think. Considering that most homeowners spend between $5,336 and $7,558 on professional landscaping services (Home Advisor) you can save big money by doing it yourself.
Assuming that the snow has melted in your town and it actually feels like Spring where you live, you should first start by asking yourself this question:
What do I want out of my landscape?
Spend some time thinking about what you truly want from your landscape. Do you seek a quiet spot to read and reflect? If so, a meditation garden may be what you want. Perhaps you love flowers, in which case a cutting garden would be ideal. Or maybe you’ve always wanted an outdoor room where you and your family and friends can kick back and enjoy the sunset over cocktails.
Once you know your purpose, you can decide on your theme, which will dictate the types of plants and hardscape items you’ll want, as well as the configuration of your garden. For instance, if you want to feed yourself and your family from the land, an edible landscape is perfect. This means focusing on pretty plants that bear produce like fruit trees and placing the garden near your kitchen door. If alfresco entertaining is what you seek, setting up an outdoor kitchen and dining area surrounded by potted plants is what you want.
1. Clean up your space
Before you can get a clear view of just how much space you have to work with, it’s important to prune back any overgrowth in the yard and clear out items that may be sitting around, such as yard tools. This gives you an open palette from which to plan, and helps ensure that you buy the correct amount of plants and other materials.
2. Leave foundation plants
Avoid summarily removing any foundation plants, such as trees or large shrubs, because they could very well become an integral part of your dream landscape. Keep in mind that established plantings take time to grow and removing and replacing them can be costly.
The same goes for hardscape items like decks and patio covers. When at all possible, try to fix such items up and make them a part of your design. Clean and re-stain and re-seal your deck, instead of getting rid of it. If you have cracks in a pathway, rather than pulling it up and replacing, consider planting ground-cover in the open areas.
3. Draw up garden plans
It’s hard to know where you’re going without a roadmap. As professionals do, draw up plans of your proposed garden on paper or the computer. Determine where all of the elements will go, including plants, hardscape and accessories. Doing this will help you decide if you like the potential look you’ve envisioned and will reveal any potential space issues.
Afraid that you aren’t creative enough? Don’t skip this step for a lack of skill–it doesn’t have to be a perfect, designer-quality mockup of a landscape. There are plenty of garden designing apps in the iTunes Store.
4. Build up your soil
The state of your soil is critical to plant health. Avoid buying plants and watching them perish along with your hard-earned money by amending and feeding the soil prior to planting so that the plants thrive. Save even more money by getting your soil tested by your local cooperative extension office. Such tests generally cost a nominal fee but give you invaluable information, such as the organic and mineral content of your soil. This saves you from needless amending and fertilizing.
5. Start with a small section
Okay, maybe not that small. But rather than taking on your entire backyard, consider redoing a portion, which will cost less in materials and allows you to experiment and find out what works best for you. The same goes for plants. Generally, the smaller the plant, the less expensive it is. This will usually mean having patience while the plants grow, but it can save you a substantial amount of money while practicing your gardening skills.
6. Don’t forget to accessorize
Fun items like bird-feeders, wind chimes and outdoor art can add pizzazz to your landscape without costing a fortune. Scour garage sales, thrift stores and the dollar store for fun items to decorate your outdoors.
Save money doing your own landscaping, and you can afford to celebrate by throwing a fabulous garden party.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.