Like any home renovation, landscape and exterior design projects require some investment. To realize your vision without breaking the bank, it pays to know where to spend, where to save, how to design for maximum value, and how to finance with SoFi x Yardzen.
Below, we’ll walk through a few key strategies for determining your landscaping budget and getting the most from your renovation dollars.
Ready to get started? Explore Yardzen’s budget-friendly landscaping packages.
Landscaping is one of the highest ROI home renovations you can make with an estimated 200% return, not to mention the endless enjoyment of a new yard and the sustainability impact you will have on the planet (our sustainability commitment).
Yardzen’s partnership with SoFi help homeowners create the yard of their dreams by making financing available for the construction of your new yard.
Prioritize your Wishlist
Prioritization is your friend. Narrowing down to the most important features tells your design and build teams where to allocate budget. Yardzen’s YardBuilder in our onboarding will help with this too!
Spend first and foremost on the items of greatest value. “Greatest value” could mean areas of high use, critical structural repairs, or features that are particularly important for any old reason – ultimately, it’s your call what matters most.
Know your budget’s limits. If you have a laundry list of features you hope to include, separate them into must-haves and nice-to-haves. You’re better off doing justice to a shortlist of key features than skimping across the board to accommodate a few extra bells and whistles.
Keep What Works
Not everything needs to be new. More often than not, the most sustainable thing you can do – from a financial and ecological perspective – is to leave existing elements where they are. Before you start designing, take stock of what is working and what needs to go.
Structural items like existing fences or pergolas may only need a coat of paint to look refreshed. Hanging on to mature trees, privacy hedges, or specimen plants can save you dollars and years of waiting on growth.
Targeted Visual Impact
Every project has a few key moments where design choices set an impression that resonates across the yard – that extra nice entry courtyard, a statement-making firepit, that grand tree at the end of an axis.
It could be a run of cable railing, regional stone paving, or a specimen tree purchased at a mature 24” box size. Limited but targeted investment in features with outsized impact can elevate the feel of the entire yard.
Nail these hot spots, and you’ll create leeway for simpler treatments elsewhere without diminishing the overall sense of design quality.
Buy Small Plants
Bigger plant, bigger price tag. Buying plants at a smaller 1 gallon size will cut your installation costs, especially in heavily-planted designs.
When installed properly, smaller plants tend to grow more quickly than larger ones. They also are more likely to develop robust root systems, improving their overall chances at success.
One caveat: remembering the advice to spend where it matters, we do advise going big on specimen trees or other focal plants when possible. These key plants manage the aesthetic heavy lifting while your smaller plants grow in.
Maybe you can’t do everything at once, but you can include the nice-to-haves down the road. True, phasing may increase overall project expenditure by repeating set up and clean up expenses for each phase. Nonetheless, it can be a smart strategy when budget is limited but wishlists are not.
If this describes your situation, work with your designer to develop a plan that accommodates phased construction. Pay attention to layout when designing hardscape – you want to avoid ripping up fresh paving to accommodate new features in later phases of installation.
Instead of paving, use planting, gravel, or other simple treatments in the first build phase to placehold spaces for future items like sport courts or hot tubs.
Investing in durable materials saves money down the road by avoiding maintenance or replacement costs. This applies to paint, paving, decking (we suggest composite), and virtually any other building material, particularly items exposed to heavy wind, rain, or sun. Buy the good stuff once, not the less-good stuff twice.
Exterior Design Upgrades
Making exterior upgrades, including new paint and decor, like house numbers and mailboxes, is one way to give your outdoor space a fresh, thoughtful new look.
Explore our exterior design packages!
Speaking of simpler treatments, consider aggregates like gravel, beach pebbles, or decomposed granite as paving alternatives.
Gravel in particular is affordable, permeable, and versatile – if you don’t like it in one place, scoop it up and move it elsewhere. Aggregates run the gamut in color, size, and texture, and are style agnostic, adaptable to both modern and traditional designs.
If gravel or DG look a bit rough for your taste, use edging to give these materials a crisp frame. Edging could be a strip of metal, a bordering path, or a row of adjacent planting. An orderly frame makes loose materials look great.
Pro tip: ask suppliers for locally sourced materials. You’re apt to get a better deal, and the material will evoke your regional geology.
Prefabricated products are almost always more affordable than custom built features. This goes for seating, plant containers, and pergolas, among other items.
Prefab planters and furniture also offer fabulous versatility. Where built-in benches or planters effectively function as barriers in a layout, prefab furniture and plant containers can be shifted to adapt to different uses, and tend to leave sight lines and circulation routes more open and capacious.
Utilize Groundcover Plants
Groundcover plants are low, fast-spreading species, running the gamut from low succulents, to shin-height grasses, to rangey shrubs and perennials. Purchased cheaply and planted fairly far apart, they can fill open spaces in relatively short order. Groundcover planting achieves a lot.
Aesthetically, it can fill open spaces between ornamental plants to convey a full look without the expense of purchasing loads of larger ornamental plants. It can also be kept crisp and low, adapting to minimal styles as readily as it does to more natural, full aesthetics.
It establishes a base tier of foliage upon which a layered planting design can be developed. Height layers lend depth and structure to a design. A low groundcover layer facilitates a three- or four-tier design that still remains below waist height (planting below waist height, as opposed to a looming 5’ shrub, is generally more comfortable to walk or spend time by).
Groundcover plants can be used in lieu of mulch, and thereby eschew the work and expense of annual mulch replacement. It builds soil health, improves drainage and groundwater recharge, and makes more water available to plants’ roots, reducing the need for irrigation. It slows surface runoff, reducing erosion (and the time and expense of dealing with it). And, native groundcover species in particular require minimal maintenance to thrive, and provide crucial habitat to boot, particularly when planted beneath trees. Need we go on?
Invest in soil
The saying goes, “Buy a $5 plant and dig a $50 hole.” If you want happy plants, it pays to provide the right soil. Soil has a huge impact on plant health, equal to that of water or light inputs.
Understand your plants’ soil needs, and invest to address them. Allocating budget to provide the right soil up front will help you avoid paying to rehab or replace struggling plants down the road.
Pro tip: Having evolved locally, native plant species are most likely to thrive in local soil conditions, including the soil already in your yard. To keep soil amendment to a minimum, go native.
Design with Maintenance in Mind
Less maintenance equates to lower lifetime expenses for a landscape design. Think of designing for low maintenance as future cost evasion. We’ve already discussed a few strategies for minimizing or outright avoiding maintenance (use durable materials, provide appropriate soil, plant groundcover plants).
To this list, add:
Choose plants that will thrive in your site’s climate with little to no irrigation, fertilizer, or pesticides (more often than not, this means going with native plants)
Avoid annuals, trimmed hedges, topiaries, or any particularly thirsty or fussy plants (these plants require more labor, water, and/or fertilizer to maintain)
Skip decorative lawns, and limit functional lawns to minimum viable sizes (lawns are as high maintenance as it comes)
In a nutshell, a design sets you up for a low maintenance future when it opts for plants that will thrive on your site with little to no help, and materials that will stand up to whatever your site throws at them. It may mean a little extra research and expense up front, but the long-run savings on cost, and hassle, will be worth it.
Creating a Landscape Design Tailored to Your Budget
Yardzen’s award-winning online exterior and landscape design service is tailored to homeowners with both large and small yards in all fifty states in the U.S. Our design process begins with understanding your outdoor space, style, and a discussion of your budget and vision to minimize surprises when it comes time to build.
Our top-notch designers then develop a personalized vision for your yard, shared through 3D renderings, 2D plan drawings, and plant and material lists. Your design will capture the look, feel, and function you are hoping for, all while keeping costs within range.
Once your design is complete, we’ll help you connect with a local contractor from our Pro Network of vetted professional contractors to install your new design (if you don’t plan on a diy build). SoFi, a Yardzen partner, can help finance the cost of your landscape installation—but you’re also free to negotiate your estimate, payment and phasing directly with your contractor (and with support from the Yardzen team like progress check-ins, bid reviews, and design adjustments, if needed).