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Getting the Most Value for your Landscape Dollar

seeds started in homemade newspaper pots
seeds started in homemade newspaper pots

If you’re like everyone else, you want to improve your home and garden, but you also want to get the most value for your dollar. That’s something I help my clients with, so I put together some recommendations:

  1. Work from a master plan– This may sound like self-serving advice, but it’s absolutely true. A master plan is a road map to where you want to be. It also allows you to break up your landscaping into smaller, more manageable phases, while still working towards a unified vision. If you have to move plants or, worst case scenario, part of a patio, because where they were initially placed no longer works- that’s an unnecessary cost that could be avoided with a master plan. A master plan also helps you determine what is truly important to you in the landscape, and allocate resources accordingly. It really is a budget tool as much as it’s a planning tool.
  2. Take care of what you have– One of the best things about plants is that they increase the value of your property as they mature, provided that they’re healthy, attractively cared for, and were placed appropriately to begin with (see #1). Basic horticultural maintenance is an inexpensive way to get a continued return on your landscape dollar. You can hire a pro to care for your plants, or…
  3. Do some of the dirty work yourself– I would love to tell you that gardening is big, scary, spooky science and magic, and you’re better off hiring me and taking the kids to the zoo. But, come on- would you really believe me? Gardening is a blend of eighth grade science and basic technique, and just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. Of course, if you’re still a little uncertain and you’d like to “garden with training wheels”…
  4. Hire a garden coach– Garden coaches are people who love to work with plants AND people. If you do a search, you’ll likely find a coach in your area (northern VA, Culpeper, or Fredericksburg people- you found one!) who will come out to your home for an hourly fee and show you how to care for your plants: dividing, transplanting, even bed prep and other tasks. If, like me, you enjoy adding to your tool collection, I’ll also show you some of the specialized tools I use and where to buy them.
  5. Start small– I installed a 4 inch caliper, 16 foot tall maple tree in my backyard last year. I could do this because I got it free. The truth of the matter is that smaller plants will often recover from transplant shock more quickly than big ones, and will therefore grow faster. A big tree is great, don’t get me wrong; it makes you feel like “yes! My yard is that much closer to what I want!” But if budget is a factor, a smaller plant is better than no plant, in my mind. As an example, I’m looking at the retail availability for a local nursery. A 5-6 foot Norway Spruce is $225; an 8-10 foot, $450. If you want a spruce but the big one is out of reach, get the smaller one. It’ll grow.
  6. Start from seed– This is really not as daunting as it may sound. Following package directions, plant your seeds, keep them moist, and then wait for germination. The dollar savings is incredible. Around here, I think I’ve paid anywhere between $1.50-$4.00 for a starter plant for tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. The photo above shows our starts for probably 6 or 8 packets of seeds, for which we paid around $2-$3 each (from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange– it’s not too late!). We’re doing six varieties of heirloom tomatoes, so if you then also take into account not having to pay $5 a pound at the Farmers Market, we’re coming out ahead.
  7. Buy local plants– The road too heartbreak is paved with out of state plants that just won’t do well. I’m not saying to throw away your mail order plant catalogues, but they take a little more careful research. On the other hand, when I buy perennials from people who grow plants here in my county- people like Karen and George from Morningside Farm & Nursery– I can feel confident that these are plants that will do well in my area. Farmers Markets are another place to buy local plants, so keep an eye out there as well. Plus, you’re supporting the local economy- everyone wins!
  8. Use the internet– There is a wealth of gardening information online. Some of it’s good; some of it is dangerously bad. As with anything else, search wisely, consider the source, and try to find multiple sources that agree on a given point. Websites ending in .edu are typically the most easily trusted, as are the ones affiliated with botanical gardens. From there, it kind of heads into the Wild West, so just be sure to factcheck and trust your gut.

Finally, remember that gardening/landscaping is a journey, not a destination. Learn what works for you, but don’t be afraid to try something new. Make connections with other gardeners. Plant swaps- formal or spontaneous- are a great way to get new plants that clearly work in your neighborhood, and you can learn a little something about your neighbors as well.


    March 21, 2009 REPLY


    Great post with a wide variety of money savings ideas. I’d like to add another one if you don’t mind. Local plant swaps are an ideal way for gardeners to get free plants for their own gardens while at the same time giving away some of their own excess plants. Plant swaps are also a great way to meet other local people who share your passion for gardening.

    March 21, 2009 REPLY

    I couldn’t agree more! I’m becoming known in my neighborhood as the “oh please take some peonies” guy…

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