7 Simple Tips for Landscaping Your Backyard on a Budget

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated March 8, 2022
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Transform your turf on a shoestring budget

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Whether it’s gathering with friends around a fire pit, taking in the sun on a lawn chair, or smelling the roses in a well-tended garden, you have dreams for your backyard. However, you may not have gotten around to making them real yet. With the average cost to landscape a home between $1,300 and $5,600, it can be a big financial commitment. Fortunately, you can make a big impact with a small investment. Here’s how.

1. Start With A Budget

A couple watching digital tablet together
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Before you head to the garden center and add items to your cart with abandon, set a budget and plan out your space. Knowing how much you can spend will help you (and your local landscaper) keep your costs down. Without a budget, it’s too easy to fantasize about installing a pool or springing for an assortment of large specimen trees, only to be disappointed.

2. Work With What You Have

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With prices falling between $1,400 and $5,300 on average, excavating your backyard can be costly. So, the more you integrate your lot’s existing features, the less you’ll spend. If your backyard is hilly, play up its slope with basic stone steps and designate your flatter front yard for ball games. If you have healthy and beautiful plants, but don’t love their placement, transplant them.

3. Lower Labor Costs

A woman planting yellow flowers
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With landscapers charging an hourly rate of $50 to $150 or $4 to $10 per square foot, labor can make up the bulk of a landscaping budget. To cut costs, DIY as much as possible. Try smaller projects like planting annuals and small bushes and laying down mulch beds.

Of course, if you’ll be excavating, moving large rocks, or planting large trees, you’ll need to shell out to landscaping pros. When doing so, try and reach out during the slow season. Many may waive their consultation fees in January and February and offer winter specials.

4. Landscape in Stages

Sisters working in a garden
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Break projects down into phases. In year one, for example, you can create a vegetable garden; then, during the second year, put in some bushes. The exception to this is when you’re hiring a specialist, such as a local mason, to install a stone patio or retaining wall. You’ll most likely save money by having them complete all the work at once rather than returning multiple times. In this case, you can try and break things up by tasks instead.

5. Mulch Beds

A mulching flower bed
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By mulching flower beds and around trees, you’ll lend your lot a professional, finished look. To save money, buy mulch in large quantities (it can cost as little as $30 per cubic yard).

6. Rely On Less Pricey Plants

A gardener putting a pot in a wooden box
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You can save on plants in a myriad of ways. Here are a few penny-pinching strategies:

  • When it comes to softscaping, it’s probably no surprise that grass is among the most budget-friendly options. It’s also functional, providing room for parties and ball games on your property. Don’t be afraid to allot a generous percentage of your backyard for a lawn.

  • Since perennials generally return each year, they’ll save you a lot of money over the long run. Add seasonal color and variety with a few annuals sprinkled in, such as petunias and marigolds.

  • Buy younger and smaller plants, which tend to be less expensive. You’ll need to practice some patience since they won’t bloom right away, but you will save a bundle versus purchasing older, larger plants. 

  • Go for plants that look similar to more expensive varieties, but for less. Think holly (ilex) rather than boxwood and arborvitae instead of spruce.

  • Buy seeds instead of starter plants. In most cases, seeds will be less expensive since they’re lighter (and less pricey) to ship, and require no cultivation on the part of garden centers. For the best deals, seek out seed swaps, exchanges, and libraries. Just be sure to provide seedlings with enough light, if starting seeds indoors. Since seeds germinate quickly, you won’t have to wait long to see results.

  • In areas you don’t want to maintain actively (like hillsides), rely on groundcover, like creeping phlox and thyme. These types of plants literally cover a lot of ground, and most spread quickly. Just avoid invasive species, such as ivy and Virginia creeper.

  • Choose plants that divide easily, like spirea bushes. Divide one plant into a few sections. Then plant each section in a different area and watch them spread. As with buying younger and smaller plants, you’ll need to wait a bit. Luckily, the money savings justify this approach.

To cut down on your water bill, try xeriscaping or landscaping requiring little or no water. Think rock gardens and drought-tolerant plant species, such as sedum and pachysandra.

7. Set Plants Up For Success

A purple lavender in a garden framed
Photo: Christine Bird / Adobe Stock

To avoid replacing plants later, protect your investment. Choose varieties that will be more likely to thrive on your property. Ideally, they should be native to your area and flourish in your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Make sure you situate them according to their soil and sunlight needs. Think ample sun for roses and lavender and shade for pachysandra and ivy. 


Should I hire a landscaper that quoted lower than average?

Not necessarily. While the vast majority of pros want to help you in your journey to landscaping success, this landscaper may be lowballing their price to entice you to work with them. They may then drive the price up later. 

To avoid this, when getting their estimate, make sure to ask detailed questions so you can compare apples to apples with other bids. For instance, does their work include a warranty or guarantee? You should also ask for references.

Where can I find plants and lawn furniture on a budget?

Try warehouse and hardware chain stores and keep an eye out for sales. You can also scour thrift shops for used furniture pieces.

When can I get the best deals on plants?

From June through summer’s end, you should be able to find markdowns on annuals. For deals on perennials, especially spring-flowering bulbs, visit the garden center in the fall. 

Which landscaping projects can I DIY?

Try planting shrubs and small trees and installing sod yourself. Hire pros to install drainage, re-slope your yard, and trim and remove trees.

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