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Strategies to Maximize Your Landscape Dollar

Landscaping your home can be an expensive proposition. You should expect to spend between 10 percent and 20 percent of your home's value on landscaping. If you live in the median-value American home ($213,000) that calculates to between $21,300 and $42,600. Not exactly spare change.

With a little ingenuity and patience you can create a beautiful home landscape for less. Here are some tips for both new landscapes and renovations of existing landscapes.

New Landscapes

Consider working with a professional. When doing a large projects, working with a landscape professional can be helpful. Money spent early in the project for the services of a landscape designer, landscape architect or certified nursery professional can pay off in the end. Having a clear plan of the overall design and a strategy to phase portions of the project as your budget permits will ensure the design will look good when completed. Also check out nurseries that offer landscaping services. Many will offer discounts on plant material if you purchase both their landscaping services and plants.

Existing Landscapes

Work with what you have. Capitalizing on your property's assets such as existing plants, natural slopes and flat areas can save a significant amount of money. Preserving existing plants, particularly if they are large, can reduce the expense of new plant materials. Leaving natural slopes in place rather than grading them level can also save a lot. If the slope is too steep to mow, plant it with ground cover of suckering shrubs to prevent erosion. At the same time locating a patio on an already flat area further reduces the costs of excavating and hardscape materials.

Hire a horticulture consultant. Hiring a professional to draw a comprehensive landscape plan can cost between $500 and $1,500. If you have an idea of what you want and are able to create a rough sketch, you can hire a horticulture design consultant to look at it and provide feedback.

New and Existing Landscapes

Start with good soil. Make sure the soil can sustain landscape plants. Consider adding necessary amendments (compost, manure, organic matter) if necessary to provide the right growing environment.

Choose plants wisely. Choose the right plants for your location. Consider hardiness, mature size, light requirements and moisture requirements. Selecting the right plant for the right location, and planting it correctly, can save a lot of money in the future when improperly located plants die or need to be replaced.

Hire yourself. Doing a majority of the landscape installation yourself can save a lot of money. You may want to hire a professional for jobs that take more muscle or skill than you have (patios, decks, retaining walls), but if you plant the small trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, you'll save a lot.

Acquiring plants. Nurseries, garden centers and mail-order nurseries are obvious places to purchase plants, but there are some cheaper alternatives to consider. Look for plant sales at local arboretums or botanical gardens, or those organized by local gardening clubs. Talk to neighbors or fellow gardeners to see if they have perennials that need to be divided. Offer to help them divide the plants if you can take home a few for your garden. There are also a number of resources on the Internet that offer free or discounted plants. One caution though- Buyer Beware of plants purchased sight unseen.

Purchase larger sizes of specimen trees or shrubs, or those that have a slow growth rate. Purchase 4 inch or 1 gallon sized perennials since they tend to grow quickly. Many times 4" plants are half the price of 1 gallon plants, and the 4" plant will reach the same size as the 1 gallon by the end of the growing season.

If you can wait until fall, buy plants and other gardening supplies when retailers want to clear out their merchandise and products are marked down. In the Midwest, fall is a great time for planting because it gives plants time to get established before the summer heat arrives.

A home landscape is a long term investment. Working with professionals, starting with a good growing environment and choosing plants wisely will pay off in the end. But most importantly is the need to be patient. The old adage about landscapes is true: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps. Just think what you have to look forward to!

By Ann Marie VanDerZanden, Horticulturist, Iowa State University