Learn how to maximize your budget so you can get the landscape of your dreams.
By Thad Orr
In order to design a landscape you’ll love, it’s all about investing your money in the right features—no matter your budget. That’s why it’s best to begin your landscape design project by thinking about how you’ll actually use your landscape. Do you want to relax by the fire pit every evening? Do you want a large vegetable or flower garden? Should you include space for the kids or dog to run around? How much lawn do you need? Does a pool make sense for you? What structures or hardscapes are you happy with that can stay or be refurbished? These questions, plus others, will help you clarify exactly which elements are must-have items on your landscape wish list.
At Yardzen, we discuss budget at the start of every landscape design process so there are no surprises. We want to make sure the entire design team understands how to best maximize your budget and deliver a design that is personalized. “The Yardzen team helps clients define what’s most important for their unique landscape,” say Kevin Lenhart, design director at Yardzen. “We walk homeowners through the questions, discuss alternatives, and help them arrive at the best decision.” Here, Lenhart shares landscape elements that provide the most bang for your buck, outlines the costs of some of the more significant landscape features and provides a visual guide that showcases five actual Yardzen-designed landscapes.
Cost-Effective Strategies for Maximizing Your Budget
Choose Permeable Hardscapes: Installing materials such as gravel, beach pebbles and decomposed granite can go a long way in covering open spaces in your landscape without breaking your budget. These materials can also be mixed with large, precast pavers where walkways or patios are desired. Another benefit of permeable hardscapes is that you can move them if needed to accommodate a new path, fountain or hot tub.
Be Strategic with Groundcover Plantings: Groundcovers — small ornamental grasses and low-growing perennials — cover a lot of square footage without the expense of buying lots of plants. They provide a base layer of greenery, so your landscape will look lush quickly.
Save What You Have: Often there are parts of an existing landscape that can be saved and remodeled. If you can use what you have and not build new, you’ll save time and money. Inventory your space and discuss it with your designers. If you have a structurally-sound patio cover, consider painting it rather than replacing it. Then add shade cloth to it or grow vines up the side. If you have existing concrete, consider staining it or having a decorative overlay installed.
Keep the Trees You Can: Large trees take years, even decades, to reach their mature size. If you have trees that can be preserved, keep them. Buying and planting large trees can be expensive.
Hardscape with Precast Pavers: Large precast pavers are often less expensive to install because they don’t require as much labor as pouring concrete or masonry work. Another benefit is that these types of pavers also provide a sense of permanence. Gaps between pavers can be filled with gravel, beach pebbles, or groundcovers.
Stick to Prefabricated Structures: Prefabricated patio covers, pergolas, fences, fire pits, outdoor seating, barbecue islands and other elements are typically more cost effective than custom-built structures. Whenever possible, consider where in your landscape a precast structure could be used. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t custom build elements in your landscape—it’s just important to be selective in order to maximize your budget.
Buy Smaller Plants and Prepare Your Soil Well: Smaller plants are generally less expensive to buy, but with proper soil preparation and appropriate watering they will grow in quickly. In many cases smaller plants (plugs and 1-gallon plants) in properly-prepared soil grow in faster than larger plants (5-gallon and 15-gallon).
Go with a Hot Tub Instead of a Pool: In-ground pools and spas can be costly. The material used to construct the pool can affect the final cost. A concrete pool that’s 15 feet by 30 feet can cost around $60,000 while the same sized fiberglass in-ground pool can cost closer to $50,000 and an in-ground vinyl pool closer to $40,000. Consider how much you’ll use your pool. If it makes sense for your family, then go for it. If you’re looking for an alternative, take a look at hot tubs or Japanese soaking tubs made from cedar.
Reuse Old Materials: If you need to remove structures or hardscapes when remodeling your landscape, consider reusing materials such as concrete, wood, brick or large stones for example. Not only are these heavy materials expensive to remove and dispose of, but they can be turned into beautiful landscape elements: Wood can be turned into planters or a fence. Concrete can be turned into stepping stones or raised beds. Brick can be turned into a built-in barbecue or fire pit.
Purchase Furniture & Containers: Instead of installing built-in seating and planters, buy furnishings online. There’s an infinite selection of styles for nearly any budget. The furnishings you buy are also movable, so you have flexibility during parties or if you change the landscape in the future.
Planning for Significant Landscape Elements
The following elements will have the biggest impact on the final cost and overall design of your landscape. If you want to include any of these features in your landscape, discuss them with a designer in the initial design meeting to plan what features make the most sense for your family, landscape and budget. Below you’ll find a general cost range as well as the factors that affect the cost most.
Custom Patio Covers: $3,000 to $15,000. Steel patio covers typically cost the most, followed by natural hardwoods, aluminum, engineered wood and natural wood. Shade fabrics are often the least costly option.
Solid Hardscape: $8 to $18 per square foot. The cost of concrete or stone patios, pool decks, walkways or driveways depends largely on the finish of the concrete or the type of stone used.
Retaining Walls: $15 to $40 per square foot. There are a variety of materials options from interlocking concrete blocks to softwood (cedar or redwood) at the lower end of the cost range, to hardwood (ipe or teak), concrete, and stone at the higher end of the cost range. Access to the site, drainage, and the size of the wall can all affect the final cost.
Built-in Gas Fire Pits: $3,500 to $6,000. Running a gas line increases the cost of built-in fire pits. The materials chosen can also affect the overall cost. Precast pavers are less expensive than poured concrete and natural stone.
Built-in Barbecues: $3,000 to $15,000. The costs of built-in barbecues can be affected by the length of the gas line as well as the choices of materials, type and number of grills and whether you decide to run plumbing and power to the unit.
Pools & Spas: $40,000 to more than $100,000. Pool and spa costs can change dramatically based on the size of the pool, the materials, pool equipment, the amount and material of the decking, and the inclusion of other pool features (fountains, lighting, Baja shelf, etc.).
Permanent Landscape Lighting: $2,500 to $5,000. There are certain conditions such as the length of wire runs, the quality of fixtures, and when the wiring is installed that affect the final cost, too. Keep in mind that if your soil is frozen when the wiring is installed, more labor will be needed to trench for electrical lines—this can increase the final cost.
Demolition of Structures & Hardscape: $2,000 to $12,000. Basic removal of patio covers, plants, and hardscaping can be straightforward but it’s still a cost to factor in. On the other end of the spectrum if you have a driveway, large concrete patio, deck, or pool that needs to be removed, the cost can increase to well over $10,000.
Built-In Seating: $3,000 to $6,000. Typically, concrete or stone built-ins will cost more than wood seating.
Decks: $15 to $35 per square foot. The cost of building a deck can vary based on factors such as the slope of your property, the type of wood you use, and how big your deck is. If you select a hardwood such as ipe or teak, the cost will be higher than a softwood such as cedar or redwood. Also, if the slope of your property is steep, then more engineering and shoring will be needed which can add to the overall cost.
Custom Backyard Sheds & Offices: $4,000 to $20,000. The cost of backyard structures such as sheds and offices can depend greatly on the size and how finished it is. A shed that’s insulated, has windows, drywall, lighting, and HVAC will cost much more that a shed that’s designed for storage. Prefabricated sheds from companies such as Studio Shed can cost $7,000 to $25,000, and some come complete with premium siding, lighting, insulation, flooring, and more.
Specimen Trees & Extensive Planting: $2,500 to $15,000. One specimen tree can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars but can have a dramatic impact on the look of a new landscape—making it look mature from the beginning. Your plant budget will be affected most by the size of the plants you choose to install and how large your planting space is. Soil preparation and irrigation should also be considered.
What Does A Landscape Look Like at Different Budgets?
Below you’ll see five actual Yardzen-designed landscapes. Each one includes the budget for the estimated installed cost of the landscape as a general reference that should help provide context for you as you’re thinking about your project:
Description: This landscape is designed for entertaining space on one side of the property. The only built-in structure is the small deck and shade structure. The design includes a portable grill as well as patio furniture instead of built in seating. The majority of the backyard is composed of plants and a lawn for play. The solid hardscapes were already present on the property, but the large precast pavers will be added to extend the deck and provide walkways.
Description: This landscape connects the house and garden through the use of a wrap-around deck. The deck includes space for outdoor dining as well as a small bar-height counter. A new concrete patio below the steps in the backyard provides space for lounging. The existing retaining wall will be updated and retrofitted with seating and new plantings. The low level includes a grass area for play, space for a small play structure, and a prefabricated fire pit.
Description: This landscape design features lush plantings and permeable paving that covers much of the space in this backyard. An existing patio along with a wood patio cover are structures that will be preserved and refurbished. New board-formed concrete seating with a wood top and seat back next to a built-in fire pit are a central part of the design. Similar materials are used in the front yard for a walkway, plantings, fence, and gate.
Description: An existing pool and spa will be retrofitted with new decking and paving. Some plantings were saved from the existing landscape while new plants tie the garden together for a lush, cohesive look. New paths lead to a new deck where the owners’ trailer acts as a backyard guest room. A few updates will be made to the walkway in the front yard using precast concrete pavers. A new border in the front yard creates a geometric-shaped planting bed.
Description: This property with a view already had a pool, but it needed to be repaired. The design focuses on keeping the views open and using modern finishes to match the home . New concrete paving, wood decking, and railings were added. An existing retaining wall will be refinished with new hardwood and fitted with stairs and built-in seating. To maximize the budget, a shade sail and portable grill are part of the design instead of built-in structures.