7 Frugal Landscaping Ideas for the FI Community

Photo by Jake Givens. https://unsplash.com/jakegivens/portfolio

It’s springtime again and like many people we have been working in the yard, flowerbeds, and garden. Working around the house recently got me thinking about the many ways we have saved money over the years on landscaping and other items in the yard. We first started reducing our costs when our house was being built. Our builder helped us put a little more of the budget towards the house by letting us do some hard labor, like building site clean up. Mrs. R and I used to come over to the house on nights and weekends to sweep up construction dust and throw bricks, scraps of wood, and other random trash laying around the property into a big gooseneck trailer. We also did all of the landscaping. Here’s a list of money saving ideas in the yard we have used over the years.  

1) Lay your own sod

Laying sod is hard work but it isn’t complicated. The delivery driver set pallets of sod all over the property for us, and a wonderful group of friends and family members helped us lay it down. We bought pizza and drinks for everyone and had a sod laying party. New sod needs lots of watering at first, so we borrowed extra hoses and sprinklers from friends for a couple weeks.

2) Buy quality landscaping metal

Other than the sod, most of our landscaping budget went toward purchasing metal to edge the beds. The price of steel when we built was pretty high, but I had a certain look I was trying to create in the yard that required metal. You can get cheap green painted landscaping metal at big box stores but I don’t recommend it. The metal is thin and the paint cracks and peels after a couple of winters. It’s been more than ten years since we bought our high quality unpainted metal from a local nursery and landscaping supply business. Over the years we have moved some of the landscaping metal to different areas of the yard than what I originally planned in order to adjust to heavy rain runoff. The stuff is extremely durable and still looks great.

3) Small bushes become big bushes

One thing we understood when we were building our home is that bushes grow and it is much cheaper to buy smaller ones rather than bigger ones. It’s fun to look at pictures from when we first moved in and see how sparse the landscaping was compared to today. Talk to your local nursery about how big a particular plant will become when fully grown. Space the young plants based on their growth potential and then be patient. It’s kind of like investing money.

4) Plant sharing with friends

Perennials naturally propagate and eventually outgrow the space that most gardeners have established for them. If you want to add a variety of plants to your yard that have a high chance of survival, start by sending out a message on Facebook to your local friends asking them if they have excess plants in their yard that they need to thin out. Offer to come to their house and help them dig up plants to take home and to share with others. Usually these plants will do very well in your yard if you pay attention to how much sun or shade they were exposed to at your friend’s house and try to plant in a similar spot. When you have extra plants in your yard send out a post on Facebook offering them to friends to come dig-up or pick-up. Plants that grow from bulbs, corms, tubers, or rhizomes are easy to share and definitely need to be thinned at some point.

5) Lookout for free bushes

Similar to perennials, if you want bushes be sure to let people on Facebook know, and you should also be on the lookout for them elsewhere. If it is a nice weekend someone is ripping out a bush somewhere in your town. There is a best time of year and way to transplant bushes, but you can’t always control that when they’re free. We have azalea bushes that we got from a family member who lives in another state. We knew they would do great because we were able to dig them up ourselves and we planted them under some pine trees. We also have a couple of beautiful jasmine bushes that were ripped out and left on the curb in our neighborhood to be picked up by the sanitation department. The homeowners had recently moved into the neighborhood and were cleaning up the overgrown landscaping. We asked them if we could take the bushes and they were happy to not have them end up in the landfill.

6) Buy perennials at the end of the season

If there is a plant that you can’t find for free, but really want in your yard try buying it at the end of the season. Make sure the plant is healthy and that the cold weather isn’t going to kill it before the roots have a chance to get established in the ground. Mrs. R is a big fan of chrysanthemums and we have several colors scattered around our yard. Like many towns in the U.S., in the fall people here like to put potted mums on their porch with pumpkins and hay bales. Every grocery store in town sells mums and Mrs. R waited until they were are on clearance to buy. We planted them before the ground froze and they came back the next spring and every year since. Like all plants they’ve propagated and we have divided the original plants and spread them around our property.

7) Free mulch and easy ground cover

Some cities offer free mulch at the recycling center or landfill. Our city sanitation department picks up yard waste including limbs and branches. Landscaping services and other people also drop of large loads of woody yard waste at the landfill. The city uses a wood chipper to grind up the woody stuff into piles for people to come get for free, if you are willing to grab a shovel and load it yourself. If you have pine trees or have ever watched the Masters golf tournament on T.V. then you know that pine straw makes a great ground cover and mulch. Along the back fence line of our property, I planted vinca major when we first moved in and we spread pine straw and dead leaves over it every fall. Over time the vinca major has spread all across the back fence line, and in the spring it grows about 12” high and produces beautiful purple flowers. It has reduced the amount of grass we have to mow, and provides a place to dispose of leaves and pine straw other than the landfill. The vinca combined with the trees gives the yard a more natural feel that attracts a lot of urban wildlife.