HOW TO PLAN YOUR LANDSCAPE ON A BUDGET

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Everyone knows money doesn’t grow on trees. Or does it? Studies show that nice landscaping will raise the value of your home by 10-12%. So investing money in your landscape makes financial sense. However, like any other investment, you’ll want to do it in a way that fits your budget. Here’s how!

Step 1: Inspect and inventory your property

There are certain things you can’t ignore or put off when planning your landscape. Before anything else, survey your property for issues that may impact personal safety, degrade your property value, or lead to property damage or financial loss, including:

  • Trip hazards
  • Overhead hazards such as dead limbs
  • Toxic plants
  • Dead trees
  • Erosion problems
  • Drainage issues
  • Winter ice build-up
  • Overgrown plants that block traffic visibility
  • Irrigation leaks
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Broken fencing

Don’t just do this in your head. Go out and walk your property in person, and take note of any potential liabilities you need to fix.

While you’re there, take note of what you really love about your existing yard. And, make a list of all the landscape plants and materials you already have.

Step 2: List your Wants

Now, make a list of the landscape improvements you really want.  Think first in terms of lifestyle – how you want to enjoy your property. Then, write down what yard and landscape features might help you achieve this lifestyle.

 For example:

  • Do you love to grow your own vegetables? How about raised beds and a greenhouse?
  • Have you always dreamed of having your own outdoor pool? Why not?
  • Is cooking your thing? Consider a grilling station or an outdoor kitchen.
  • Love to entertain? Besides a kitchen, you could install an outdoor wet bar, or invite your friends to hang out in your own outdoor living room or gather around your fire pit.
  • Or perhaps you crave a lush, beautiful scene out your windows, a haven for wildlife, cut fresh flowers for your table, or privacy from the outside world. In that case, you’ll want an appropriate selection of plants and/or hardscaping for privacy and aesthetic appeal.

For this step, don’t hold back. Just and list what you would love to have in your yard. List it all. You will decide what’s important and what’s realistic at a later point, but for now, go wild!

Step 3: Set a Budget

Next, it’s time to decide how much you’re willing to spend. Keep in mind that your landscape improvements will improve your home value, too, as well as your quality of life. 10-15% of the value of your home is a reasonable guide, but your ultimate investment amount will depend on your finances and how you plan to use the property. For instance, if building an outdoor spa and kitchen will save you a ton of money on travel expenses by allowing you to vacation at home, you may decide it’s worth spending a little more on.

Step 4: Prioritize

By now you should have a clear idea of what you need and what you want. At this point, it’s good to sit down and decide what’s the most important to you. First, list everything that absolutely has to be done for the safety and security of people, pets and property. Then, list in order the things you want.

Step 5: Consult a Pro – or Two or Three

If you’re planning to do the work yourself you may be tempted to skip this step, but unless you are very experienced in landscape design you are much better off at least talking to a landscape professional. Your landscape is so much more than a collection of plants. It’s a buffer between you and the outside world, it’s an extension of your home, and it’s a dynamic system that interacts with itself in complex ways.

A professional landscape designer will likely point out aspects of your property or plan that you never thought of, and come up with suggestions that may actually save you money while improving your results. Most landscape experts will not charge for an initial consultation, so it doesn’t hurt to see what they have to say.

If you decide to have some or all of the work done by a landscape company, it’s often a good idea to bid your project out to two or three companies. Remember that the lowest bid is not always the best deal. Landscape experts will be honest with you about what they can deliver that is within your budget, but if a bid seems excessively high or low don’t be afraid to ask why. There might be a very good reason you weren’t aware of! Go with your gut when it comes to choosing a landscape professional, and be sure to ask for references and proof of insurance.

A final note on hiring a professional: keep in mind that re-doing a landscape project can sometimes be more costly than doing it right the first time. Improperly executed landscaping can also result in hazardous conditions and/or decreased property value. Don’t settle for a sub-par contractor – even if it’s you!

 Step 6: Itemize Costs

Whether or not you choose to hire your project out, you’ll want to have a good idea of what everything costs. If you’re working with a landscape professional, this is easy because they do it for you. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of costs in advance of breaking ground.

If you’re doing some or all of the work yourself, you’ll need to spend some time pricing materials and equipment purchase or rental. Don’t forget permitting costs and the cost of fuel to run your equipment! You may want to speak with your insurance agent as well, to find out how your improvements might affect your premiums. For DIY projects, it’s also a good idea to add 10-20% to your expected costs, just to cover the unexpected.

Step 7: Assess Your Plan

Once you’ve figured out your priorities and itemized your costs, you may be pleased to find that your project fits your budget to a T! In that case, you’ve got a green light for the go-ahead.

If it doesn’t, though, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you won’t get the landscape of your dreams. Besides doing some or all the work yourself, here are a few budget-saving ideas to consider:

Re-use existing material & plants- Remember that inventory you took in Step 1? Now might be a good time to revisit it. You may be able to save a bundle by incorporating your existing materials and plants into a freshly-designed landscape.

  1. Hire during the off-season – Some landscape companies are willing to bring their rates down if you can keep them busy at slow times of the year.
  2. Build in phases – Who says you have to do it all at once? Try splitting large projects into phases that you can complete as you can afford.
  3. Talk to your landscape professional – Professionals are great at coming up with creative solutions. Chances are, they’ll be able to suggest many more ways to meet both your needs and your budget!

Photo courtesy of Sun Valley Landscaping, Omaha, NE.