Yardwork Gone Wild: How to Tame Your Landscape for Less

Most of us have at least one neighbor who takes yard care to the extreme. They’ve got the perfect lawn, pristine hedges, healthy plants, and an outdoor living space that puts every other house on your block to shame.

When a neighbor’s yard looks better than all the rest, it’s tempting to spend, spend, spend in an effort to keep up. But the arms race for the best backyard can get extremely costly.

If you’ve ever popped into Home Depot or Lowe’s to look at flower pots, mulch, grass seed, fertilizer, and landscaping supplies, you already know what I mean. If you don’t keep track of what you really need, there are an endless number of products and extras just waiting to make your landscaping budget explode. And once you start coming up with new projects, it’s hard to stop.

Seven Ways to Tame Your Landscaping Expenses This Year

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your yard to look as nice as your neighbor’s, but that doesn’t mean you should jump into this year’s landscaping to-do list without a plan. Plus, there are a lot of ways to get more bang for your buck when it comes to the products and services meant to beautify your outdoor space.

Want to tame your landscaping expenses this year? Here are seven strategies that could help your yard be the best it can be – on a budget, of course.

1. Take a minimalist approach.

While a nicely decorated yard catches the eye, we’ve all seen people take their yard decor a few steps too far. Either they have a few too many planters or yard gnomes, or their yard decor is so dense that you can barely see the lawn underneath it all.

While a certain level of yard decor is normal, you don’t want to be too over the top. Plus, you can save a bundle by taking a minimalist approach to lawn care. Ignore most of the yard kitsch you see at the stores and focus on keeping your lawn kept up and tidy instead. Edging your flower beds and keeping your lawn free of leaves and trash is an extremely cost-effective way to make a lasting impression.

The bottom line: Buying more stuff for your yard won’t automatically make it “better.” But, keeping your yard clean and cared for will always make you look good.

mowing lawn

2. Consider mulch alternatives.

A few bags of mulch may not seem like a big expense — after all, they sometimes sell for as cheap as four for $10 — but if you’ve ever added mulch to your flower beds, you know it rarely takes just “a few bags.” Plus, this is a cost that must be repeated year after year (or at least every other year) if you want your beds to look fresh.

According to Green Pal Lawn Care CEO Bryan Clayton, a lot of people have begun moving away from mulch for this very reason. Instead, he says, they have turned to large pebble rock, which is often referred to as “river rock.” Why? Because, unlike mulch, it doesn’t decompose or break down over time.

Some people even love river rock so much they cover large parts of their lawn with it. “This will save you money week after week, because you have to mow less of it, and you’ll also save money on not having to remulch those areas every year,” says Clayton. If you’re someone who waters their lawn frequently, replacing grass with rock can help you save water, too.

Of course, river rock isn’t the only alternative to consider. If you’re determined to get the mulch look, you could also go with rubber mulch, a recycled rubber product that looks similar to traditional mulch but lasts up to 10 years. Dina Gibbons of Rubberecycle says rubber mulch is weather resistant, durable, and the most cost-effective mulch around.

Whichever mulch method you choose, the most obvious way to save is to only buy as much as you need. This mulching calculator can help you figure out how many cubic units (or bags) to purchase – saving you trips to the home improvement store and money.

3. Use plants that thrive naturally in your area.

While it’s common to crave exotic plants that help your home stand out, maintaining them can be expensive and time-consuming in the long run. And if a certain type of plant really isn’t meant to thrive in your home soil or environment, trying to force the issue can be a lost (and costly) cause.

That’s why Cassy Aoyagi, LEED AP and president of FormLA Landscaping recommends sticking to plants that grow well in your area already. “Plants native to your region – including native grasses – adapted over millennia to thrive in your local soils and climate,” she says.

By sticking to native plants, you can generally avoid expensive and toxic chemical fertilizers, and cut down on watering costs as well. “Natives also tend to be perennial, meaning you can reallocate your yearly flower bed budget,” she says.

If you don’t really know what is native in your area, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has you covered. By entering your state and region into their plant database, you can find which plants are ideal for your local climate and soil.

4. Go big – and bright!

If you have a limited budget, you might benefit from buying larger plants that will take up more room as they age, says Mindy Jensen, community manager for real estate site, Bigger Pockets.

Jensen’s favorite is Purple Fountain Grass which costs around $6 per plant at Lowe’s, she says. “Within a month, they’re four feet tall, beautiful dark purple color with fuzzy blooms or seed heads. They make a statement, and I get compliments on them all summer long.”

Another cheap way to make a statement is to go big when it comes to color, says Jensen.

“Adding a bright pop of color – in the form of flowers or brightly colored bushes – can really make your yard look amazing,” she says. “Wave Petunias come in some pretty intense colors, are super-easy to take care of, and are almost perpetually on sale.”

5. Invest in perennials (instead of annuals).

A lot of people rush out to their home improvement store every year to buy new flowers without worrying about whether they’ll last from one year to the next. By buying perennials, Jensen says, you can invest in plants that will come back year after year.

In addition to the financial benefit, you can spend less time planting every spring as well. Since perennials naturally return on their own, one planting season can last for years.

“I used Salvia in my yard three years ago, and they all pop back up like clockwork every spring,” says Jensen, adding that they look like gorgeous green foliage with brilliant purple flowers.

Snapdragons are another favorite, she says. “Both are drought resistant, which means little water.”

Once again, the EPA’s plant database is the best place to find out which perennials might work best in your area.

6. Shop around when hiring help.

If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of landscaping on your own or have a true “black thumb,” there’s nothing wrong with hiring some professional help. Still, you can save on professional services by shopping around, says Ryan Farley, co-founder and chief operating officer of LawnStarter.

Get quotes for the same or similar services from several landscapers and then compare them. “Don’t forget to check online reviews and to ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for their recommendations,” he says.

Sometimes you can save money by locking into a long-term deal, Farley adds. “Some landscaping businesses might be willing to offer a discount if you commit to six months or a year’s worth of services rather than a month-to-month arrangement.”

7. Manage your own expectations.

While there are plenty of ways to save on landscaping and yard care, you can still overspend if you don’t know when to stop. Just like anything else in life, there will always be people with a nicer lawn or better flower garden than you have.

While it’s reasonable to want to do the best you can, you don’t have to beat yourself up, either. And you definitely don’t need to spend your weekends worrying whether your yard is up to par.

I speak from experience here. My next door neighbor owns a landscaping company and his yard is something right out of a storybook. His grass doesn’t even look real, and his plants are the kind that never die. Then again, he has workers who come to his yard to water and maintain it every single day.

The vast majority of people don’t have that kind of time – or a staff – to invest into their yard, and that’s perfectly okay.

The Bottom Line

Just as it’s tempting to keep up with our neighbor’s new cars and vacation habits, it’s easy to fall into the trap of coveting their immaculate yards. While there’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, you shouldn’t let yard spending spiral out of control.

The best way to save money on landscaping is to take on as much of the work as you can possibly do yourself. After that, look for cheaper alternatives to products you normally buy, and invest in plants and products that last – requiring less water and maintenance.

How are you saving on lawn care this year? Do you have at least one neighbor with a perfect yard?


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Holly Johnson
Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.

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