Beautify Your Backyard Landscape on a Budget

beautiful backyard garden on small patio

Landscaping projects, large or small, can be quite overwhelming. There are many things to take into consideration like the size and scope of the project, and of course, the cost.

A nicely landscaped property will add value to your home, and the satisfaction of you knowing it was done on a budget can make it even better.

Breaking down the project into smaller aspects can help you focus on what needs to be done instead of getting overwhelmed with details. This article will go over these aspects and ways to beautify your backyard landscape on a budget.

Plan Your Landscape Design

One of the most important steps to landscaping on a budget is to develop your plan and put it on paper. Your project may take several seasons to complete, or it might take years if you are trying to establish perennial plants and trees.

By having a sketch or idea about what your end goal is, you can continually refer back to the plan, or continue right where you left off from last season.

Graph paper has grid lines can be very helpful for creating succinct drawings, even if you aren't an artist. Grids help you draw the borders of the projected area easily, and also assist with calculations.

With this type of paper, you can use each block as a length, such as one box equals one square foot of your yard. This kind of planning will save time and money, especially before you go to the hardware store and start ordering plants, stones, rocks, and mulch.

Having a plan on paper gives you a visual of what the finished area will look like, and can also help anyone who needs the reference. It's easier for store merchants to see your vision so they can help you the best they can.

If you happen to change your mind along the way (which usually happens with outdoor projects!), each plan can act as a rough draft, giving you saved tangible versions as you go.

Crumpling or changing something on paper is much easier than uprooting plants and stones.

hands holding drawing of landscape design


Deciding who will do the labor is the next step to finishing your plan and budget. A professional landscaper will have their own ideas on what would work in your yard, which can be helpful if you're on the fence about certain aspects.

It can also be frustrating if you have your heart set on a certain look.

Don't take the first quote or idea that someone gives you. Get a few different companies or professionals to give you an opinion and approximate costs. Most will come for free and do a small consult, but any large plans or drawings they provide may start to run the clock.

There are other costs associated with hiring a professional landscaper, but the main one is labor. Expertise comes at a high price, but so does grunt work.

Consider whether you can do some of the work yourself, perhaps only paying for professional design and consultation along the way and doing most of the sweat equity yourself.

If you only have simple questions about how much stone to order, or which plants will do best in certain spots of your garden, there is a wealth of free knowledge available, not only online, but also in garden centers, nurseries, and local hardware and supply stores.

Choosing to take on your own backyard landscape transformation project can save you a large amount of money that hiring a professional would cost. Plus, it isn't as hard an undertaking as you may think.

All you need is hard work and the time to gather some gardening knowledge.

hand checking soil with device

Check Your Soil

Before you go planting your bounty of plants, do your gardening due diligence and check your soil quality. One of the biggest ways to waste money on beautiful plants is to place them in poor soil or places they won't thrive.

Loamy, nutrient-rich soil will provide the best foundation for a lush garden, but some plants do well in poor soils, as long as you plant the right species for the space.

Some plants thrive in sandy soil, and others are fine with clay soils. Usually, any plants that will thrive in desert conditions or are relatively drought-tolerant will be fine in sandy soil that doesn't retain a lot of moisture. These include sedums, stonecrops, cacti, succulents, lavender, yarrow, and a variety of herbs.

Plants that will perform well in clay soils can usually handle rainy climates and parts of the garden that don't drain as quickly as others. Clay soils retain water and can suffocate or drown certain root systems that can't handle wet feet. Coneflowers, cup flowers, irises, daylilies, hydrangeas, wiegela, and coral bells are just a few.

The staff at your local nursery or garden center can provide more complete information on which flowers and plants will do best in your own home environment.

You can also amend your soil before you do any planting to get it to optimum consistency and nutrient balance - just remember that it isn't as easy as it may seem to change pH levels, or alter your garden's characteristics overnight.

Many elements contribute to the state of the soil, including surrounding trees, sun and shade conditions, and the micro-climate of your particular backyard. Try working with what you have while you slowly go about amending or tending to the soil quality.


The cost of plants varies between different projects, but this is the first place to start when it comes to your budget. You may have visions of grandeur, and in your mind the space comes alive with gorgeous perennials, shrubs, and trees.

Plants are expensive, however, and buying enough stock to fill a large garden can get costly when you dream big. That's not to deter you, it just means you have to be realistic about how much you can spend.

There are many ways to save money on plant purchases, from finding sales at garden centers to swapping plants with other local gardeners. Being thrifty will come in handy if you want a variety of interesting perennials that keep coming back year after year.

Buying your plants in smaller one-gallon pots can rather than buying the same plant in a larger two or five-gallon pot save you a lot of money upfront. You'll have to wait longer for it to grow, but patience is a virtue, and a money-saver when it comes to gardening on a budget.

When deciding on plants, ensure you know what areas are full sun, part sun, part shade, and full shade. Other considerations like wind, rainfall, soil quality, and surrounding plants and trees will also be factors.

There will be trial and error when you first start - that's part of the fun of gardening and getting to know your piece of land, but losing a few plants along the way isn't as detrimental as losing them all because you didn't choose the right species for the location.

Plants that don't survive can drive up the cost of your project, as you’ll have to spend money to replace, relocate, or redesign the backyard space.

blue iris flowers


Perennials instead of annuals are more cost-effective in the long run since perennials will continue to bloom year after year, thus eliminating the cost of replanting.

Many perennials will spread and continue to fill in the flower bed so that you have a lush area. Certain varieties also self-seed or can be divided, giving you more plants than you initially had via propagation.

There are perennials for all site conditions; they can be large, or small, and come in upright varieties, or as ground cover.

Irises are a good perennial to have in your landscape plan as they are hardy, low-maintenance, and bring about early spring color. Although there are different types that come in a variety of colors, "bearded" irises are a popular choice.

Irises are planted as bulbs, and you can purchase 50 bulbs for $10. If you are fortunate to know someone with a garden with irises already growing, transplanting a few to your project may be an option.

Rose beds are another colorful perennial that can beautify any backyard landscape. Knock Out Roses are popular for similar reasons to irises: they are hardy, perform well in various conditions, and deliver gorgeous color at different times of the year.

These varieties of roses are $15-20 for a one-gallon pot, but if you can wait for deals, most garden centers have sales on all roses halfway through the summer. With proper pruning and fertilizer, roses will return year after year.

Other popular, easy-going, perennials include coneflower, yarrow, black-eyed Susans, aster, coral bells, and salvia. Choose plants accordingly so that you have all-season blooms from different species.

bright red and orange marigold flowers


Although perennials cost less long-term, annuals can be used in smaller areas to add color to a bed, and often don't cost as much as perennials up front.

Marigolds and zinnias are inexpensive, colorful flowers that can be planted as seeds in the spring. You can often find seed packets for a few dollars, or you can buy them already established at the nursery for under $10.

Tip: if you wait until after the first couple weeks of the season, annuals start to be reduced significantly in price according to the planting schedule.

If you like hanging baskets, look for pansies, petunias, bacopa, portulaca, calibrachoa, begonias, and Boston ferns as options to add some greenery to different spots of the garden.

Ornamental grasses come in annual or perennial form, and can give a rustic, country-like charm to your yard. They are excellent around borders, or placed in a spot that needs texture.

landscape trees


Trees are a wonderful addition to any backyard landscape. They are good for the environment, improve air quality, and offer shade on hot summer days.

Larger trees can be brought in for around $500-1,000 per tree. Unfortunately, this cost usually is more than a tight budget can handle. This is another time when buying smaller and being patient will save you a lot on your budget upfront.

Small trees can be purchased for under $100 each, some even less depending on the variety, or if you can wait for a sale. Smaller trees are far more affordable when working with a tight budget, but they need just as much doting in the first year to get them established.

Different species will grow at different rates, so you could be waiting a while for privacy or shade. For example, hardwood trees, such as oaks, grow more slowly than softer wood trees, such as maples; a mix of hard and soft wood will create a beautiful landscape with ample shade.

Or, you could mix in some fast-growing shrubs and evergreens like cedar trees, dogwoods, dappled willow, or wiegela to provide interest and privacy. Always think about the four seasons of interest: evergreens don't lose their foliage, so the privacy they give will be all through the winter.

Always plan for the full size of the tree or shrub once matured. The height and span of a tree will change your landscaping if you don’t account for growth, including its root system.

Add an Interesting Pathway

Plants aren't the only way to add beauty and interest to your landscape design. Walking paths throughout the yard are an inexpensive, attractive way to add color and help break up the space

Boards and planks can be placed one after another to create a beautiful, spiraling wooden path. Think of the way boardwalks meander—it doesn't have to go anywhere necessarily but could swerve around garden borders, or lead back to sitting areas.

Cobblestone paths offer a traditional looking walkway, and are especially beautiful when plants and trees overhand the area even just a little. Natural stone pathways can be made of pavers, bricks, or flagstone, placed individually, or closer together to make a more substantial path.

Brick pavers are an inexpensive option for creating a beautiful path or patio area. Watch out for sales at the local hardware store; sometimes you can find pavers for as low as $1 each.

Most areas have native rocks or pebbles that are abundant and easily purchased from the local sand pit by the ton. Keep in mind that a half cubic foot of lava rock is $3 at the hardware store.

This might work for a small project, but it would take a number of these bags to create a pathway or flower bed. Decorative rock from the sand pit is a fraction of the cost of what the local greenhouse offers.

Call your local sand pit for prices. Once you’re ready, it’s best to put down a barrier under the rock or pebbles before spreading out the path. Rake the rock to smooth out and create a decorative and functional pathway.

stone path in garden

Other Ways to Save Money

Tools can take up a large part of the budget when you first start gardening and landscaping. You can save a lot of money by finding used gardening tools instead of purchasing everything from a big box store.

Neighbors may also be happy to share certain tools that you don't need all the time. Larger items like rototillers or lawn aerators may be borrowed instead of bought, and tree pruners or tall ladders may be another thing you don't need every weekend.

Websites like Kijiji, Craigslist, and Marketplace can be wonderful places to find all different kinds of gardening gear and tools for low prices, sometimes even free. There's often soil and pavers for sale or free for pickup, as well as plants people are giving away, or willing to swap.

Found materials can be a fun way to create your own planters, or add shabby chic decor. Get into the DIY spirit and consider building your own trellises and planter boxes with old lumber, or things you have lying around the garage.

Doing your own maintenance and actively learning new gardening techniques is the best way to save the most amount of money in the long run, and you'll gain essential skills along the way.

Don't worry about getting it perfect every time: landscape projects are meant to be ongoing to a certain degree, and the zen of beautifying your backyard on a budget will become second nature in no time.