5 Tips to Keep a Landscaping Project on Time, Under Budget

DIY projects can give your yard a new look on a short timeline, even with a low budget.
Jun 3, 2021
mother and daughter planting flowers in yard

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Fresh landscaping can add a personal touch to a new home or spice up a backyard where you’ll host happy reunions.

But if you’re just getting into the planning phase, a DIY landscaping project may be the way to go this year.

Pandemic-prompted supply chain snags for materials like lumber and increased demand from homeowners in the last year mean landscape professionals are booked months or even a year out, says Kathy Valentine, president of the Michigan-based horticulture firm The Plant Professionals.

“Lots of people are like, ‘Hey, if I’m going to work from my laptop on my patio, the patio’s gotta look a lot nicer than it does,’” Valentine says.

A DIY project may mean more work for you, but it can also cost less and still give your patio a fresh look. Here are five tips to help you get the most from your landscaping project.

1. Decide what you want, plan for what you have

Free inspiration is easy to come by, Valentine says. Friends' and neighbors' homes, along with sites like Pinterest, provide endless ideas for yard makeovers.

But acknowledge the differences between the inspiration and the yard you’re working with, she says. You’ll spend a lot more money altering your yard to make a new feature fit than picking a feature that works with your yard.

Valentine also recommends considering long-term life plans when starting your project. Is that fire pit going to be in the way of a future swing set?

2. Start small and build over time

Rather than bundling landscape design with construction work, more homeowners are asking for designs but then doing the work themselves or hiring a professional as time and budget allow, says Phil Shearon, president of Phoenix-area Shearon Design Collective.

The design service at Shearon's firm costs $1,500 on average, and once you have a professionally planned yard, you can execute it yourself.

Shearon recommends starting with a focal feature you’re excited about and building around it over time.

Alternatively, start with a smaller project like a flower bed or garden to satisfy your short-term goals and save up for large expenses, says Samantha Gorelick, a New York-based hobby gardener and certified financial planner with the firm Brunch & Budget.

3. Repurpose, swap and sell

Before you toss out existing hardscape elements you don’t like, see if you can repurpose or sell them, Valentine says.

Can you turn the stones that surround your flower bed into a walkway? Would those extra two-by-fours from an old fence work as edging around a raised garden?

If not, try swapping something you have with a neighbor in exchange for their extras, she says. Or lean on each other's expertise rather than hiring a professional.

When you’re investigating a project in a new home, you may discover old broken flagstone or other minimally weathered materials you can resell, she says.

4. Find little things that make a big difference

Start with new plants if you want to spruce things up with little cost and effort. Evergreen plants — which vary by region — rather than perennials or annuals will keep maintenance costs low because they don’t need to be replaced often, Shearon says.

But Gorelick says perennials in bloom can inspire the post-winter dopamine hit we crave come spring.

“When winter is just going on and on, and then those first little bulbs come up in spring, it’s such a treat,” she says. “So that’s something you can plant in the fall to do a favor for ‘future you’ in the spring.”

Landscape lighting can make a big difference in a yard, often for a few hundred dollars, Shearon says. Path lights can line a walkway, while uplights shining onto large plants and trees can change the atmosphere at night.

“You see some of these amazing homes on Instagram and things like that — it’s always lighting,” he says.

5. Save on financing costs

If you need to borrow for your project, compare financing options to find the one with the lowest interest.

Home equity financing is typically the least expensive way to borrow, Gorelick says. Home equity loans and lines of credit have rates around 4% or 5% and long repayment terms, which help keep monthly payments low.

But if you recently bought a home, you may have to go with a non-equity option, she says.

A landscaping loan, which is an unsecured personal loan you use for landscaping projects, can be as small as $1,000 or as large as $100,000. Rates are typically between 6% and 36%, and the rate you receive is based on your creditworthiness and finances.

If a contractor offers you financing, Gorelick recommends comparing that offer with personal loan offers, because you may pre-qualify for a lower rate.

She says she wouldn't typically recommend credit cards for large purchases because of their high interest rates. But if your card offers rewards for home improvement or hardware store purchases, you could earn cash back on things like plants and mulch.

“If you’re going to put it on your card and you’re able to pay it off, then, yeah, get the points,” she says. “I would only use it if you’re going to benefit from points and not have to pay interest.”

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