The first thing you should know when landscaping on a budget is that time is your friend. Time is one section of what I call the Landscape Triangle. The Landscape triangle consists of three things, time, knowledge, and money. The more you have and use of one of these things, the less you need of another. For example, if you know that generally small plants establish more quickly than large plants, and you are willing to give it time to grow, then it will cost you less money for that spot in the garden. If you take a long term vision for accomplishing your landscape and gardens, then it becomes more affordable from year to year. It can allow you to ultimately have gardens that are the envy of the neighborhood.
To do this, you need to start off with a landscape design. Going back to the Landscape Triangle, this is part of the knowledge you need to move forward. If you do not have the knowledge already, then you might consider hiring a designer. The reason is that a good landscape designer provides you with information such as what plants do well in your area, what are their mature sizes, etc. If you buy plants that do not do well in your yard, they might die. Or you might plant too many plants in an area. Each of these problems will end up costing you money. It doesn’t take too many extra plants to have paid for a design; whether too many from the very beginning or from replacement.
One element in your design that you should consider, if you are trying to keep costs low, is to plan an area taking the dollars per square feet to plant it into account. Most people will walk right by the $20 hosta and buy a $4 primrose because they are on a budget. This might be a big mistake. Say a primrose will ultimately fill 1 square foot in your garden. However, that expensive hosta will cover 12 square feet. That means to fill the same area, the hosta will cost about $1.67/sq.ft. where, the cheap primrose will cost $4 /sq.ft. In other words, the hosta will cost $20 for that spot. The primroses will cost $48. Another advantage to budgeting by the square foot is that if a plant that you really want in your garden is expensive per square foot, you can balance that out by using less expensive plants elsewhere. That way a 100 square foot garden can average $2.50/sq.ft. and still have a few of those $4/sq.ft. primroses in it.
Now that you have a design, you can start your budget. A budget is a plan on how one should use their assets. Landscaping on a budget is essentially planning how you get from where you are now, to where you want to be in the future. Even if you have limited dollars to use for landscaping, that does not mean that you have to be cheap. If you buy cheap, you get cheap. If you always buy cheap, you always get cheap. Having a budget helps you get a quality landscape at affordable prices. The key is to get the best values when purchasing landscape materials.
So what are your assets? Most people make the mistake of not taking stock of all of their assets. They think I only have $300. That won’t buy much at the garden center.’ They do not consider their other assets. Here are some other assets that people typically have:
1. Plants already in your yard. Can you use them as a foundation from which to start your gardens? Can you transplant them?
2. Plants in your family, friends, and neighbors yard. Can you get some divisions or starts from them? Be willing to share your extras with them. A note of caution, only accept plants that are in your plan.
3. The amount of time and effort you will put into your garden. Sweat equity can amount to over 50% of the cost of a landscape.
4. Take advantage of the Landscape Triangle. If you know how to care for your plants and take the time to do it, you can afford to buy smaller (less expensive) plants and save money.
Now that you have an idea of what you have, you can create a strategy for what you need to get. The knowledge you have from your design will help you with this. Choose a part of the design to start with. It might be to plant all of the trees first. Or you might want to finish the front yard before you proceed to the back. In any case, try to define a small chunk that you will concentrate on. Make a list of the number and type of things that you need. Then determine what things you already have, such as plants you can transplant, some hostas from Aunt Sue, etc. Those things left on the list are what you need to obtain elsewhere.
By keeping the Landscape Triangle in mind, you will ultimately obtain a quality landscape at the best price. At this point you can research which stores have good quality plants and the best prices for the things you need. Find out if they have sales at certain times of the year. You can take advantage of a local arboretum that has an annual sale to encourage use of native plants or your local garden club that has a plant swap.
With a little patience you will have a glorious landscape at a very affordable price of which you can be very proud!