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7 Ways to Get Your Frugal Landscaping On

Holy crap landscaping is expensive! We got an estimate last summer to do mulch and some basic plants in our front yard and it was around $4,000. Ugh.

A few years ago, I decided to be Mr. Badass and cut my own mulch beds, not having a fucking clue what I was doing. I had a friend over, we popped some beers, and started cutting squiggly lines in the grass like the pros do. Then I bought a bunch of dirt, covered up whatever grass was left, and eventually topped it with mulch. Bingo! There you have it, a perfectly landscaped yard. Except… no plants or flowers… and a ton of weeds within weeks. I suck at this. 

3 years later, obviously the mulch beds are still there, but they don’t look as nice. My wife is regretting me ever doing this to begin with, yet I still argue how awesome it will look once I mulch again. If you’ve done any type of landscaping before, you know it’s no walk in the park, either. I’ve tried out different methods and layouts, but I always end up going half-ass on it for two reasons – the amount of work and the cost.

Here are some things I’ve learned about frugal landscaping in the past few years that will hopefully help you as you venture into “who has the best lawn” season…

1. Buy mulch in bulk

If you go to Home Depot around this time of year, you’ll see plenty of bad-ass dudes loading up their carts with a shitload of pre-bagged mulch. These guys think they’re hardcore, but they’re just wasting money and energy. I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes buy mulch from Home Depot – but it’s usually when I am too lazy and running behind on getting it done.

frugal landscaping

All jokes aside, buying pre-bagged mulch is not the best way to get your frugal on. When you buy the pre-bagged stuff you’re usually getting:

  • Less mulch for your money
  • A lower quality product
  • Mulch that could be filled with chemicals

This may not apply to all pre-bagged mulch, so if you do decide to buy it this way, just read the labels carefully. If you really want to get your frugal landscaping on, buy your mulch from a local landscaper or landscaping supplier. I usually spend well under a hundred bucks for 3 cubic yards of mulch and it’s dropped off right in my driveway. That way I can shovel it when and where I want it. Some other benefits of bulk mulch for me are:

  • Saves money – as I said above, it’s much cheaper this way
  • Saves energy – you’ll carry pre-bagged mulch to your car then out of your car to the spot you want it, then you’ll cut the bag open and pour it out
  • Better for the environment – you won’t have dozens of empty plastic bags to throw out

2. Anything that needs to be done, do it yourself

And if you can’t figure it out, use YouTube. You really shouldn’t have to pay landscapers to do the work for you, unless it’s something extreme that the average person can’t do with a little elbow grease. Landscaping is hard work, and it’s expensive work if you pay someone to do it. Even major projects like paving a path with stones can be done with a little research.

3. Have a plan (and stick to it)

If you don’t, you’re going to end up with crap. Draw it out on paper. Use spray paint to mark areas around your hard where you plan on cutting or making major changes. Know well in advance how much you can afford to spend, and don’t exceed that amount when you go shopping for materials. Bottom line – know what you want to do, estimate the costs, and keep to the plan.

4. Pimp your curb, don’t worry about the back

When you’re getting your frugal landscaping on, you may have to let some things in the backyard go. Remember, it’s all about curb appeal. Whether you’re selling, planning to sell, or you just want to enjoy pulling into your driveway, having the front of your house look kick-ass is never a bad thing. So when you’re deeply considering decking out the backyard with a park bench and a playground, think instead about planting shrubs, flowers, trees, and laying mulch out front instead.

5. Consider placement and buy in-season

Do your research before buying plants or flowers that won’t grow where you plant them or based on your local climate for the time of year. You should also look for sales on items that fit this criteria. You may have your heart set on a certain type of flower, but if something else looks just as good and is much cheaper, go with it. Remember, you’re a Neederson, not a Wantling.

6. Don’t over-commit

This is what I did, and I am not regretting it. By cutting mulch beds that are too big, planting too many flower beds, or creating a stone walk path that is way too long, you’ll not only spend more time and money up front, but you’ll have to do maintenance on it each year. I ended up cutting mulch beds that were way too big, and I’d never done a lick of landscaping in my life. Now I have to buy loads of mulch every year just to refill them. Also, when I want flowers, that’s just way more space to fill.

7. Stop trying to be edgy

Okay, I had to use at least one lawn-care pun. Just don’t put stupid shit in your yard that you think looks cool. It’s a waste of money, and your yard will just look ridiculous. What am I talking about? I’m talking about an Amish buggy (yes, I’ve seen it). Or little “men” created out of metal sprockets and pipes (my neighbor down the street). Or how about a couple of Power Wheels trucks running over each other like a mini, white trash monster rally (another person down the street from me). WHAAAAAT?

frugal landscaping
The perfect addition to any yard!

Whatever you decide to do to your yard this spring and summer, learn from some of my observations and mistakes and save yourself a little cash. Share your ideas for frugal landscaping in your comment below!

Buggy Photo credit: Jan Tik / Source / CC BY

12 thoughts on “7 Ways to Get Your Frugal Landscaping On”

  1. Yeah, having your yard professionally landscaped does indeed cost damn good money. I paid $5k some years ago to have man-sized weeds pulled from my backyard and replaced with rocks, along with a brick patio and a walkway. Turned out reasonably nice.

    I think the important thing is, along with not over committing, is taking your time and planning out what you actually want first. It is easy to flail with this kind of stuff, which might set yourself up for either re-work in the future or way too much damn maintenance. Oh, and speaking of maintenance…

    Drip systems! Though not required, drip systems are fairly easy to install and make your job of watering your ourdoor living features a breeze. Take a look around Home Depot or Lowes and the choices for drip systems are almost limitless.

    Oh yeah, and this: “Just don’t put stupid shit in your yard that you think looks cool.”

    Garden gnomes, anyone? 🙂

    1. I’d never really considered a drip system – great suggestion. The problem here is deer – they eat any and everything we plant. Very cool about your brick patio and walkway – I would LOVE to do some major hardscaping, but for us it’d be leaving frugalism (especially considering the city where we live, it wouldn’t add much value, if any). Thanks for sharing your thoughts again Steve!

  2. These are great tips! My husband used to run his own landscaping business and these are definitely all things he had to learn after a season or two of work. The buying mulch in bulk is a huge one. I’d also add that you should buy plants and shrubs that bloom at varying times of the year, so you always have some colour in your garden vs. a riot of colour in the Spring and then everything looking a little sad the rest of the year.

    1. That’s a really good suggestion, Jordann. I’d never considered varying the bloom times – unfortunately we get nailed with 4 months of snow, so we would have to get creative for the other 8 months. Any suggestions on what kind of plants you use? The one thing I hate about mulch is how drab it looks after a few months – freshly laid mulch is the best. I will usually re-rake and even water it down every couple of weeks or so, but it still looks best when you first drop it down. We also have pine trees dropping needles and cats that like to use it as a litter box, so that helps. Thank you very much for visiting my blog, reading the post, and sharing your thoughts 🙂

  3. Something I just discovered – use 100% vinegar as a weed killer. It works great, it’s cheaper than conventional weed killers, and it’s non-toxic! However, it’s also non-selective so you have to be careful when you spray otherwise it will kill your grass (I learned this the hard way).

  4. I am beginning to plan a lawn replacement project myself. California has a lot of water restrictions, so my lawn is browning, which definitely looks ugly. I am trying to find ways to reduce expenses before I begin. Your tips will definitely help if I choose mulch, although I am leaning towards rocks as that is the popular choice with my neighbors.

    California also offers a turf replacement rebate, which is nice for those being extra frugal with their landscaping project.

    Also, DIY landscaping definitely helps save on the cost of labor! Like your friend helping you with your landscaping project, my brother-in-law lured me and his brothers in with some beers and pizza. Spent a Saturday helping him replace his cement patio with some pavers. I would imagine he saved a bunch with our cheap labor!

    1. That’s cool that CA offers turf replacement rebates! I didn’t know that. Sounds like you have some sound ways of saving $$ on landscaping this year. Thanks for sharing Robert 🙂

  5. Just started our landscaping project, though it’s more about plant choices/replacements because thanfully a previous owner created all the garden beds front and back. Apart from time (ie, let it grow into the garden you want, rather than paying extra for larger plants, turf etc), our biggest frugal inclusion is transplanting shrubs and trees. There are several that have thrived where planted, so we’ll take a cutting and put it into another bed where the previous choice didn’t cut it. Cost zero, and we already know the plant likes this environment.

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