Even the most natural of settings can benefit from some gentle primping, but the cost of plants and soil cultivation can be shockingly high. Follow these three simple steps to set yourself on the road to saving money while still achieving an impressive yard.
1. Start With a Master Plan
Know exactly how you want your landscape to look, but implement it as your budget allows. With a plan in hand, the first stage should be to install the hardscape elements, such as paths, patios, walls and fences, and to plant the major trees, shrubs and hedges that will provide a framework for your yard. Once you’ve established your garden’s bones, you can fill in the gaps with the smaller plants and ground covers as your budget allows.
2. Spruce Up the Soil
Healthy, fertile soil is the foundation of your garden, so by putting your resources into making it as rich as you can, you’ll extend the life and appearance of the plants you buy. The key to healthy soil is the liberal incorporation of organic matter, including compost, mulch, aged manure, grass clippings and shredded leaves, which will improve the soil’s texture.
Organic soil amendments are available in any full-service nursery, but if you’re watching your bottom line, there are plenty of ways to get free organic material. If there are livestock in the vicinity of your home, you have a built-in source of manure and straw. Most coffee shops are happy to give away their spent grounds. Many tree-trimming outfits keep a list of home owners who want the shredded bark and leaves they amass, and they’ll deliver it for free.
3. Plant Small
The larger the pot you buy, the higher the price you’ll pay. However, the payoff of a large plant doesn’t always match the cost. Large transplanted trees and shrubs take longer to establish their roots than small ones do. Many young trees and shrubs catch up to and even surpass older transplants within a few years because they’re quicker to establish their root system and can support more top growth.
There are a few exceptions to this “buy small” rule, particularly when it comes to certain kinds of perennials. Some large-container perennials, such as hostas, can be divided right away, giving you more plants for the money. You can tell if the plant is ready for dividing by counting the growing crowns in both the large and small pots.
In their bare-root state, trees, shrubs and perennials cost about one third of what you’d pay for the same plants later in the season. For best buys, visit as soon as the stock arrives so you can pick the cream of the crop. For a wider selection, check out mail-order catalogs.
Read the full story in the February 2006 issue of Log Home Living.
Photo by Cindy Thiede