Wise Spending on Landscaping – What to Hire, What to Do Ourselves

8.15.09 Bowling 011

Our home is on nearly 2 acres of land, so there’s a lot of grass. And a lot of hedges.  And lots of flower beds.

Grass that needs to be cut.  And hedges that need to be kept trimmed.  Flower beds and other decorative landscaping that need to be planted and maintained.  We had to decide what we were going to do ourselves, and what – if anything – we would hire someone else to take care of.

Most of the decorative landscaping was already here and just needed a little TLC.   I’ve already written about how I used what I had to reduce my costs on planting the flower beds and a bit of the other decorative stuff, so we’ve obviously decided to do that ourselves.   Hiring a landscaper to do that planting and maintenance would cost us a fortune!  Even though I’ll probably do more planting as the  seasons change, we’ll still save all of the labor costs by doing it ourselves.

It’s not always a good idea, though, to do it yourself.

My father had always paid a service $145 a month to cut the grass, no matter how many times they cut it.  Standard here is twice monthly in winter, three times per month in summer.  Whenever needed, he paid them another $200 to trim the hedges and other landscaping.

When we were talking about the possibility of moving into this house, Husband said he really wanted to cut the grass.  It was one of the the things he enjoyed about his prior home ownership, and he’d missed it since moving to the townhouse (with it’s landscaping taken care of).  He planned to buy a riding mower and an edger, thinking that within 6 months they would have paid for themselves.  Great!

But he hadn’t considered taking care of the other landscaping chores, especially trimming the hedges.  And after much thought and discussion, Husband decided he didn’t want to spend every weekend taking care of the yard.  And I really couldn’t blame him.

So, we decided to keep the landscaper, at least for the time being.  The hedges were trimmed just prior to moving in, so we wouldn’t have to worry about them for a couple of months.

After we moved in I started talking to people about how much they paid to get their grass cut.  Most of the people I spoke to paid about half of what I did – but their yards were much smaller.  Still, it couldn’t hurt to get some quotes.  The first quote I got was less than we were being charged.  A few others were in that same ballpark.  The best deal, though, was from my brother’s well-recommended landscaper, who only wanted $50 per cut.  And since he’ll only cut when we ask for it, we can sometimes wait an extra few days or a week to stretch our landscaping dollar.

So, I spoke to our landscaper about the quotes I’d gotten, and he really didn’t want to come down in price.  That was fine with me – I wasn’t too happy with him anyway.  First, he’d told me that the $145 only covered two cuts per month – NOT what he’d been telling my father (I honestly think he’d been skipping cuts since my Dad moved out, still charging him full price).  On top of a myriad of other issues with him, he’s only cut our yard 4 times since we moved in on May 23rd (and didn’t cut it  at all until I called to ask where he was – more than 3 weeks since the prior cut).   I’d decided to take it up with him when I got the bill…only I’ve never gotten one.  I finally had to call him for the bill, which will be reduced by half, since he should have cut our grass at least 8 times by now.

So, he’s history.  The new landscaper begins this week.   We are still hiring out the grass cutting, but we’re saving money by getting a better deal for the same service.  Issue settled.  We hope.

Since the hedges and other landscaping need to be trimmed every two-three months, it has now become time to make a decision about who is going to trim them.  We decided to forgo a landscaper to do the hedges and buy our own hedge trimmer.  We spent $80 for the trimmer,  which is far less than the $200 per month the old landscaper wanted to charge, and the $150 the new guy quoted.

Husband is out there now, trimming hedges, and enjoying the exercise.  And doing a heck of a job, if I do say so myself.  It’s a great win for us because we are saving a great deal of money, and he gets to do yard work he enjoys without spending every weekend doing it.

That, to me, is what frugality is all about. It’s not about NOT spending money. It’s about spending money wisely.

Using What You Have – Landscaping the Yard

This may or may not  become a series, so just in case we’ll call it “Using What You Have”.

As Son’s birthday pool party approached, I really wanted to do something about the landscaping of the house, particularly the back patio area.  The house had been vacant for a year, and my stepmother (queen of the garden) had died the year before, so things were dead, overgrown or in various other states besides vibrant and beautiful.

I gave myself a budget of $100 for the project (which included the front patio and entry area, too, but this article focuses on the back patio area). I knew I needed new things, but I used what I already had wherever I could.   I knew I wanted to do a lot of potted projects, mostly because there were several beautiful pots left with the house.  They would look great at intervals around both patios.  There was also a patch of garden right by the pool that needed attention, so not everything would be in pots.

Over a few days, whenever I found myself nearby,  I went to Home Depot, Lowe’s and my favorite nursery.  I looked in the past-prime section of Home Depot and Lowe’s, and was able to purchase several perennial and year-round plants for 50 – 75% off.  They just needed a little TLC.  I also purchased a few other items that were on special.  I bought potting soil and and mulch at Walmart, where they were cheaper (and again, I was going there anyway).  Remember that I live in a suburb dense with retail establishments, so none of these were more than a 5 minute trip away.  If I had to travel out of my way the additional costs for gas and my time would have made it less frugal.

My favorite deal was at the nursery, where they had beautiful flowering shrubs on sale, 3 for $10.  My thumb is closer to black than green, so I made sure that all of my selections would grow where I planned to put them.  And all three places I shopped will take back a plant that fails – a benefit I’ve had to use on occasion.

Back at the house I cleaned out the dead plants and removed about 2/3 of the soil from the pots.  I  did this because the pots are large, and though new plants deserved fresh soil full of nutrients, I used what I had and saved the bottom third of soil, which was still usable. The new plant would have fresh new soil around its roots, and with my continued care should be fine.

There were a few pots that had no usable soil, so in those cases I used what I have to lessen the amount of potting soil I’d have to use.  I’d been collecting broken pool noodles, perfect for placing at the bottom of a large pot.  They won’t rot, they hold water for a little while, and thrown haphazardly into a pot before adding soil they take up room and are terrific for drainage, too!

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I have to admit, I was pretty proud of this idea.  It’s not one I picked up on the internet, TV or from a friend.

I made sure to sprinkle some plant food (I already had it on hand)  in the planter before placing the plant.  That stuff really works!  After finishing all of the potting I placed the pots at intervals around the patio.  Here’s one looking all purty:

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Now I was ready to get to work on the garden patch.  There were a few salvageable plants already there,  and I didn’t want to move them because I’m not really a gardener at all, and was completely sure  that I’d A) kill them and/or B) make a big mess of things and have no earthly idea how to salvage it.  So I left them as is, and added some of the past-prime plants I’d picked up in my travels.  A little mulch, and it looks decent, if I do say so myself.

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There were a few areas where I thought lariope would look good, and take little maintenance.  I didn’t want to spend money on lariope plants, so I used what I have, culling the lariope from the huge swath we have in the front yard.


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Culling – or thinning lariope is really easy.  I’m going to do a how-to post tomorrow, so please check it out.

I used the pieces I pulled in two places in the back yard.  The first is in front of a fence, which had nothing but dirt.

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The second was  at the edge of the garden bed, under the butterfly bushes.  Before there was just dirt.

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The plantings are thin now, but they should grow in nicely.

Several bags of mulch later and the project is done.  And the best part is that I came in $20 under budget, and in time for Son’s birthday party.

Someday, when I’m a grown-up gardener, I’ll learn how to grow plants from cuttings.  There are many people who get free plants by sharing cuttings with one another.   There are even clubs devoted to the practice.  In the meantime, I’m pretty happy with what this closer-to-black-than-green gardener has accomplished.

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