5 Smart Money-Saving Landscaping Ideas
Get your gardening fix without breaking the bank.
For all the beauty a home garden can bring, it takes a lot of time, patience and often money to create the lush landscape of your dreams. A few gallon pots, potting soil and a few spring bulbs to tuck into the front yard can quickly add up. For beginners, the initial investment can be discouraging. An unexpected, early freeze can wipe plants out overnight and catch even advanced gardeners off guard – better luck next season!
And while accidents will always happen, you still don’t have to spend a small fortune to green up your outdoor space. We rounded up our favorite budget-friendly landscaping ideas to help put some of that green back in your pocket.
Buy Seed Packets
One of the easiest ways to save is by buying seeds instead of potted plants. Starting from seed can be intimidating for new gardeners, but I dare you to take the challenge. It’s extremely rewarding to see your first flower or eat a salad with lettuce you grew from seeds. Start with something easy like radishes or lettuces and build from there.
Turn Anything Into a Container Garden
I love looking at those gorgeous, glazed stone pots. The price tag? Not so much. Being creative with containers will allow you to put more money toward flowers and plants. Hit the thrift store to find old wine crates, salvaged wood and other items to make planters. My first “raised bed” was a large wine crate lined with scrap fabric, and my family grows tomatoes in 5-gallon buckets from the hardware store. The key is to always create drainage holes in your chosen vessel, since most plants’ roots will rot if they’re left sitting in standing water for too long.
Take a Seat
Old wood chairs can easily be converted into holders for flowerpots; simply cut a hole in the seat and slip in the pot. Doll-sized chairs don't need any extra preparation because you can just set a small pot right on the seat. Potty chairs work the best because the hole is already there. Design by Nancy Ondra
Give old hats new life as hanging gardens. Baseball hats make instant pot covers: Simply open the sizing tabs in back, slip the opening around the base of the plant and snap the tabs closed again. On straw, felt or fabric hats, cut a hole into the front or top and gently feed the plant stems through the hole. Design by Nancy Ondra
Recycle old paint cans or buy metal paint cans at hardware stores and home centers. To dress them up, drizzle craft paint around the top rim and add some drips down the sides. Cover with a coat of polyurethane to stop the cans from rusting, or leave them untreated and enjoy the rusty, rustic look that develops within a few months. Design by Nancy Ondra
Ditch the Grass
Gardener’s Supply Co. at Gardeners.com
If you're not ready to give up your lawn just yet, trade in a non-adjustable oscillating sprinkler for one that offers multiple watering patterns that allow you to water only where it's needed.
The EPA estimates that one-third of all residential water use is for landscape irrigation. That unfortunately means a healthy, green lawn can be a water guzzler – especially during hot, dry summers. Consider replacing all or part of your lawn with low-maintenance groundcovers, mulch or softscaping areas with small stones.
Red Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’)
Red creeping thyme transforms any lawn area into a breathtaking scene, especially when bright reddish blooms appear in early summer. This thyme forms a dense mat that withstands moderate foot traffic. Foliage is evergreen and turns bronze in winter. Use it around stepping stones, a flagstone patio, on slopes or to edge planting areas. Give plants a spot in full sun with well-drained soil. Creeping thyme is deer-resistant and hardy in Zones 3 to 9. Shear plants after flowers fade in midsummer to promote bushy, well-branched plants.
Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Roman chamomile creates a pretty, low-maintenance lawn that releases an apple fragrance with every step. Plants prefer a sunny location but will grow in part shade. Soil should be well-drained in all seasons. Remove white blooms as they fade, or leave in place — it depends on your preference. You can mow this groundcover regularly or to remove spent flowers. Once established, Roman chamomile withstands normal foot traffic. Minimize traffic on young plants. This chamomile spreads rapidly, almost aggressively in ideal conditions. Plants are hardy in Zones 4 to 9 and grow best in areas with cool summers.
Irish Moss (Sagina subulata)
When you decide to replace your lawn with a groundcover, you’ll create easy-care beauty that trims your landscape chore list. Select lawn alternatives like you would any other plant. Consider the plant’s light and soil needs, as well as hardiness and maintenance requirements. With a lawn replacement, it’s also important to know how much foot traffic a plant can tolerate. Use groundcovers that don’t tolerate foot traffic in areas where you want to eliminate lawn but don’t want to install high-maintenance plantings. Add stepping stones to protect even walkable plants, like Irish moss. Check out this selection of botanical starlets that can stand in for lawn.
Creeping Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila repens ‘Rosea’)
Pink, ruffled blooms blanket creeping baby’s breath in spring. Leaves are tiny and give the plant a ferny appearance. While heavy foot traffic will crush this perennial, it’s a wonderful choice for edging a path or adding color to planting bed edges. This perennial groundcover needs good drainage to thrive and morning to all day sun. Plants spread roughly 6 to 10 inches annually and are hardy in Zones 3 to 11. Shear plants after flowering to keep them tidy.
Creeping Speedwell (Veronica repens ‘Sunshine’)
Choose Sunshine creeping speedwell to blanket soil in part to full shade. The golden leaves sparkle in low light areas, and small blue blooms open in early summer. Plants grow at a moderate pace, covering 8 inches of ground on average annually. This perennial is hardy in Zones 4 to 8 and needs good drainage to thrive. If plants receive too much sun and not enough moisture, leaf tips burn. Creeping speedwell tolerates some foot traffic. It pairs beautifully with dark slate steppers or a flagstone patio, or tuck it into a woodland garden to skirt ferns or azaleas.
Black Scallop Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’)
Black Scallop bugleweed boasts near-black leaves that hug the ground. Use plants in areas where only moderate foot traffic occurs or to create a striking bed or path edging. Ajuga forms a thick mat that crowds out weeds, and this particular variety doesn’t spread as aggressively into lawns as other types do. Plants demand good drainage and spread at a medium rate (roughly 6 to 10 inches a year). This bugleweed is hardy in Zones 4 to 10. While plants love soil that’s high in organic matter, they tolerate poorer soils, too. Ajuga is susceptible to crown rot. Rake plants regularly to keep debris out of growing beds. Trim spent blooms using a mower or string trimmer.
Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi)
Fluorescent-pink blooms cover hardy ice plant all summer long. This drought-tolerant perennial craves sunlight and well-drained soil that isn’t waterlogged in winter. It’s a perfect choice for a slope or hillside planting. Hardy ice plant doesn’t withstand foot traffic. Use it to replace lawn as an ornamental in areas that aren’t walked on much. This perennial is evergreen in warmer climates and hardy in Zones 6 to 9. Leaves develop a red tint in fall and winter.
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
Snow-in-summer earns its name from the blooms that blanket plants in late spring to early summer. Leaves offer an eye-catching grey hue. This perennial withstands conditions that kill other plants: full sun and poor soil. Plants spread rapidly, covering upwards of 12 inches of ground annually. Snow-in-summer doesn’t withstand much foot traffic. Use it on slopes or to replace lawn areas that aren’t heavily traveled. Plants are hardy in Zones 3 to 7.
Creeping Lilyturf (Liriope spicata)
Also known as monkey grass, creeping lilyturf is a tough perennial groundcover that withstands some foot traffic. Pale lavender flower spikes appear above leaves in midsummer. Plants spread by underground runners to form a weed-resistant mat. This is a groundcover that can compete with tree roots, making it an ideal lawn replacement beneath trees. Creeping lilyturf is bulletproof, resisting high humidity, heat, pests, diseases, deer and rabbits. Plants are hardy in Zones 4 to 10 and tolerate sun or shade, but prefer rich soil in light shade. Mow lilyturf in spring to remove winter-killed or discolored foliage and encourage new growth.
Dutch clover (Trifolium repens)
Dutch clover is a familiar face in meadows and lawns and actually makes a terrific lawn replacement. The deep green plants withstand normal foot traffic, but aren’t an ideal choice for a heavy traffic area, like a play area beneath a swing set. The small plants boast heat and drought tolerance and stand up to repeated mowing with ease. Newly developed micro-clovers are smaller and designed to blend in with turf grasses better. Dutch clover is hardy in Zones 3 to 9 and isn’t damaged by dog urine. Plants flower heaviest during a small window, but frequent mowing can keep flowers in check.
Buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides)
Buffalo grass is a native grass that spreads by runners. It makes an excellent choice for a low-maintenance lawn. This grass tolerates heat and drought, along with moderate foot traffic. Plants don’t do well in sandy soils but thrive in rich, well-drained, loamy soil and also rocky limestone soils. Buffalo grass is hardy in Zones 3 to 9. It’s a good idea to mow this perennial grass in late winter or early spring to kick off the new growing season. Mowing occasionally during the growing season helps keep the lawn in good health. Never cut buffalo grass shorter than 3 inches.
Fall in Love With Foliage
Big, showy blooms can be costly. Mixing in foliage plants like coral bells, liriope or mondo grass adds budget-friendly beauty, plus it gives you something to look at while you wait for bulbs and flowers to bloom. Reach for blooming evergreens, like camellias or azaleas, to get the most bloom for your buck.
Catch the Sales
Don’t neglect the garden center during the off-season. Sign up for your local nursery’s email newsletters if they have one or get to know the staff to catch sales. On Black Friday, instead of fighting chaos at the mall, I went to a garden center near my house that was having a sale. At the end of the season or during winter you can get heavy discounts, but don’t be surprised if you end up with a “naked” plant. Be patient – that hydrangea may look like a twig now, but will eventually bloom just the same. And only you willl know the difference!
Buy plants that fit your climate and soil conditions. Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) doesn't tolerate heat, humidity or poorly drained soils, so planting in the Deep South or in wet soils is a recipe for failure. Instead, this summer bloomer is a long-lived garden stalwart for USDA Zones 3 to 8, in well-drained soils.
Use cuttings instead of buying more plants. If you love the coleus (such as 'Indian Summer' shown here) that you already have, there's never a need to buy more. Take cuttings in the fall, pot up the new plants, keep them indoors by a window for the winter and you'll have plenty of instant color for the garden after the last frost in spring. For more varieties, exchange cuttings with friends, neighbors or garden-club members.
Take softwood and hardwood stem cuttings to propagate some of your favorite shrubs. The method and timing for woody-shrub cuttings depends on the variety. For the common flowering quince (Chaenomeles) shown here, August is the best time. Softwood cuttings, dipped in rooting hormone, are usually successful.
Lasting a Lifetime
Choose long-lived perennials. Plants like scabiosa, wallflower and hardy mums typically last 3-5 years. Other perennials like blanket flower, columbine and coreopsis are equally short-lived but reseed freely. Others are long timers, such as bearded iris, daylily, hellebore, astilbe and bee balm, to name a few. Peonies, seen here, are extremely enduring, sometimes lasting for more than a century.
Divide, Then Multiply
Multiply your plants by dividing them. Some plants like daylilies, bearded iris, yarrow and ornamental grasses need to be divided every few years to reinvigorate them and to reduce overcrowding. What you'll gain for your efforts are new plants to expand your beds and to share with friends.
Late-blooming perennials like helianthus, shown here, are best divided in spring. Filling your beds with a variety of perennials that give successive seasons of bloom, blooming shrubs and colorful conifers means you'll be less apt to load up on trays of annuals to fill holes in the landscape.