It Finally Feels Like Spring!

I’ll be honest, I’m not a cold weather fan. I was spoiled last year by the early warm weather. This year, not so lucky. It was a cold April, which made the usual rainy month very dreary. Finally, things are warming up! And with May well underway, it’s time to really start thinking about landscaping.

I have mixed feelings about landscaping. On the one hand, spending money to make your yard look pretty seems very superficial. Don’t get me wrong, I love adding to the curb appeal of my little home. But then, isn’t it just another way of keeping up with the Joneses?

But landscaping isn’t just about looks. Good landscaping can help protect your home and land. Properly placed plants can prevent soil errosion. Proper land grading can prevent drainage issues. Landscaping can help decrease your energy costs. The large trees surrounding my home provide shade that keep my air conditioning bills much lower in the hot summer months.

When I purchased my home, it was a great example of the impact of bad landscaping. Improperly placed trees and shrubs can cause damage to foundations, driveways, sidewalks, etc. I was lucky, the hugely overgrown bushes engulfing the front of my home had only gotten to the point of breaking the limestone veneer off the front of the house. Certain plants can also harbor pests. The same bushes that surrounded the front of my house also divided my property from the neighbors. They had become not so fondly known as the “mosquito bushes”. The previous owner was unwilling to have them removed, so my neighbors jumped at the chance when I bought the house. They nicely offered to remove the bushes themselves from along the property line. About a year later, another set of neighbors helped me remove the bushes from the front of the house. We aren’t mosquito free, but removing the bushes has made a tremendous difference.

Obviously the removal of so many large bushes left my yard looking a little barren. Over the years, I’ve read many suggestions that initial landscaping should cost 10% of the value of the home. Are you kidding me? At $54,900, my home is cheap compared to most houses. But I’m still not willing to dump $5,000+ into landscaping. And that cost doesn’t include annual maintenance! So, I’ve been trying to be creative, and look for cheaper alternatives.

First off, I’m a huge fan of perennials. Sure, you can get more colorful, longer blooming options with annuals. But well chosen, properly placed perennials can save time, work, and money over the long run. Sure, they usually cost more initially, but you don’t have to keep buying them year after year. Plus many perennials offer seasonal variations. So you’re not just getting blooms in the summer, but also can find ones that offer interesting colors and textures in the Fall and Winter.

There are lots of ways to cut the cost of perennials as well. Many perennials can be split every couple of years, so I’ve been fortunate enough to inherit free plants from family and neighbors. I also tend to buy plants that are smaller. Some plants, like Hostas, are great when bought small. They regrow each year, and rather quickly, so the difference between a small plant and a larger one will be almost unnoticeable after a month or so, and pretty much a non-issue the following year. But it is important to pay attention to growth rates. I bought some slow growing bushes that should eventually get between 3-5 feet. But when I bought them they were tiny, and it’s taken several years for them to reach about 1.5 feet. I have to admit, my mini-bushes look a bit ridiculous right now.

I’m also saving money by taking my time. Sure, the impact is huge to go from nothing to a completely new landscape in a week. But the cost is equally huge. So, each year I add a little more. I have several well placed large pots of annuals that I fill every year, which helps fill in the landscape as I’m slowly adding on. The great thing is I can move these around as I make changes.

Proper placement is also hugely important. You can wish all you want, but that sun loving plant isn’t going to thrive in the shade. Don’t waste money on planting things in inappropriate lighting, or in the wrong soil type, or an area with the wrong type of drainage. I have a neighbor who does this frequently. She’ll buy a plant she loves, only to plant it in a bad location for the plant. The plant doesn’t thrive, and eventually she gets frustrated and gives up on it. It’s worked well for me over the years, as she typically gives the discarded plant to me when she gives up. And no, I don’t have an amazing green thumb that allows me to bring dying plants back to life. Most plants will usually thrive if they’re planted properly!

I make sure that my budget every year includes money for landscaping. I get creative, and look for free and cheap options. I take my time. And slowly but surely, my yard is starting to come together. And for far less than the suggested 10% price tag!

What are some ways that you’re saving on landscaping?

– Ms. W

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