10 Landscaping Tips (That Keep Your Budget Low)

by Ben Bowen

Everyone has a budget. Even if you don't know how much you want to spend on landscaping, you probably know how much you won't spend.  If you are a DIY-er then you will need some tricks of the trade to keep your budget in line.

Portland Landscape Design On A Budget

Lake Oswego landscaping on a budget.

You probably have a vision in your head of the perfect landscape.  Making that vision a reality may not be easy though.  What if your budget just doesn’t have room for a new yard right now?  Should you give up on the dream?

Absolutely not!  Here are three ideas that will help you improve your garden with almost any budget.

1. Use What You Have. Look around at your existing landscape and take an inventory. How many plants do you have?  What varieties? Transplant some of your existing plants to high impact areas of your yard.  Bringing plants together to form groupings maximizes their impact. You may find that your garden brings more to the table than you expected!

2. Shop Like A Pro. Where do local landscapers buy plants? I can tell you where they don’t- the retail nursery or big box store down the street. Google “wholesale nursery [your city]” to locate the places the landscapers are going. While many wholesale nurseries will not sell to the public, some will.  Many have one day a month when they allow anyone to come and shop. Expect to pay around half of retail for plants at a wholesale nursery. That really adds up! Here are 5 great Portland nurseries to get you started.

3. Like Eating An Elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Divide your property up into “small bites”- manageable areas that you can focus on one at a time. If you are new to landscaping you might tackle a less conspicuous area first. Once you have your style nailed, move on to the focal point portions of your garden. Get started now. You will be surprised how quickly your landscape can come together!

4. Boulders! Boulders cost between $60 and $80 a  ton.  Even with a delivery fee, it's hard to find a more economical way to impact your landscape. Set 3-5 boulders, in groupings, and your landscape will be on it's way to greatness. Get some pointers for setting boulders here.

5. Seed Your Lawn. I understand the appeal of sod- instant lawn! But applying seed should save you a bunch of money and time. Yes, you will need to do it at the right time of year and pay close attention to it for a couple of weeks, but the end result is EXACTLY the same. Here in Portland you can buy JB seed at many home improvement and garden centers.  JB is the largest sod grower in the NW, so your lawn will match everyone else in the neighborhood's- if that matters to you.

6. Simplify Your Materials... not your dreams. You see this amazing patio on Houzz or Pinterest. After doing a little research you realize that a tumbled bluestone patio is just not in your budget. That's ok. Look for a good substitute, like a paver that mimics stone. Can't afford pavers right now? That's ok too. Compacted gravel or decomposed gravel will do the trick. Don't give up on a patio or walkway just because stone doesn't work for your bank account. And while stone requires a good amount of skill to lay properly, pavers and gravel can be mastered by anyone willing to do a little reading and a lot of heavy lifting.

7. Start Small... with your plants. Many grasses and ground cover are available as flats of 4" size plants. Even at a retail nursery these will be 1/3 the price of a 1 gallon plant. And guess what, the plants mature to exactly the same size.

8. Damaged Plants. Many nurseries have a dark corner where they stash plants that have been damaged. They might have a broken branch, be sunburned, or actually almost dead. These are often priced at 50% less than normal retail. In most cases these plants can be installed and expected to rebound into a very healthy plant. 

9. Be Frugal... not cheap. Sometimes the savings just isn't worth the long-term cost. Plastic edging may seem like a good idea. But when was the last time a cheap plastic anything was the real answer? Steel edging is just slightly more expensive (and take a truck to haul) but will last so much longer. And yes, you could build a fence out of pallets, but it probably won't look like it does on Pinterest.

10. Use Placeholders. You have a barren corner of yard, a plant wish list, but no money to make it happen? Toss down some wildflower seed and let it wait a year. Just because you can't afford what you really want doesn't doom you to having nothing. The gravel patio suggestion above could be viewed the same way. A gravel patio would be a great placeholder while you save for the stone patio of your dreams.

The key to a great garden on a budget is patience. It takes time for small plants to grow, restraint to use a placeholder, persistence to find great deals on damaged plants- but it can be worth it. 

What is your DIY landscaping secret weapon? Leave it in the comments below, I won't tell anyone.