Want a low-maintenance yard? Cut your garden costs and conserve water with these creative ideas, visuals included.
There are very few things I enjoy more than my garden, but one thing that I do not enjoy too much is the need to spend quite a bit of money, time or effort in maintaining it to keep it in tip-top shape, nor am I thrilled about being unable to help towards better water conservation. We can definitely do better.
If I had realized this way back when my yard was undeveloped turf, I may have redone it differently and would’ve argued more vocally with my landscape designer friends who had helped me work the garden plan out. But five years ago, I didn’t have the same knowledge base and awareness of what it meant to support an organic yard and so I went along with garden designs that emphasized aesthetics over practicality. I was one of those who fell for the promises of a dream garden, without realizing how much the upkeep would really be to achieve and maintain that dreamy appearance.
I may be paying the price somewhat right now, especially during record high heat waves in Silicon Valley, California. I don’t particularly look forward to the possibility of an ugly drought cycle which we haven’t had in a while. So I can only caution people to learn from the error of my past decisions. Although I must say that I am prouder than ever of my well-toiled garden, it certainly counts as one of the biggest money sucking pits in our budget.
Some typical expenses associated with the maintenance of my plant-infested yard:
- Pest control (insects, rodents, plant-eating mammals)
- Garden maintenance such as weeding, tree trimming, pruning, mowing, leaf blowing
- Extras like fertilizing, aerating the lawn, regular mulching, etc.
- Utility bill hike due to plant and lawn hydration plus the maintenance of the sprinkler system built to accommodate said hydration process
As the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. So for those of you who would like to go the practical route with a low maintenance, water-efficient yard that may be kinder to your pocket — especially during the dry seasons — here are some suggestions:
7 Ideas To Cut Your Yard’s Water and Maintenance Bill
#1 Pave your yard over.
Now depending on how big your yard is, it may not make total sense to pave the whole thing. And depending on a few more factors such as:
- how pretty you’d like your hardscape to be
- what kind of hardscape material you’d like to use: stone, pavers, bricks, asphalt, concrete
- who is going to do the work,
your costs to make this happen can definitely add up. In our neck of the woods, if you’re hiring a top-notch landscaping company to pave a 2,000 square foot yard, labor and paver stones can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. It is ridiculous, but that is the quoted price over here. The only way to feel better about this is to think of it as an “investment” in curb appeal and added functionality to your property. Although if you think about it hard enough, you’ll probably make up the money back from savings you get from not having to water, seed, fertilize and replant the same area for years to come.
#2 Use drought-resistant and / or native plants.
So you want to have a nice flowering yard anyway. But try transposing an English garden to a quasi-desert-like setting. Or try planting exotic beauties on landfill. Doing all this will only yield you money mistakes galore, since you’ll be fighting a losing battle against nature. To make nature work for you instead of against you, why not opt for drought-resistant plants? Or go with the natural flow of things and design your yard with native plants that suit your micro-climate. Some research on low-maintenance flora for your particular geographic region will go a long way. Aren’t these gardens lovely?
A California Native Plant Garden
#3 Install plants that can do double duty.
If you’re intent on having plants on your yard, like I am, why not consider planting fruit trees or putting together a vegetable garden? This way, any plants you maintain will serve a purpose beyond simply appealing to your eyes.
Having your own edible garden is definitely a frugal option that many people have opted to have. And if you’re looking to be even more practical, you may also consider reserving a small area in your yard for composting. By doing so, you’ll get top marks for self-sufficiency and environment conservation with your ability to create fertilizer for your own yard and to assist with recycling efforts.
#4 Create an alternative garden.
You can always go zen or minimalist and settle on a rock garden. Or you can invest in some outdoor decor. Some yard fillers that can work out, depending on your taste: gnomes, flamingos, cherubs, animals, spiritual deities, rustic sculptures, empty vessels, colored balls and geometric objects.
#5 Install astro turf on your yard.
If you pick up a home improvement catalog, you can bet that there’ll be ads there that will tell you how you can turn your lawn into a veritable putting green, without the long-term maintenance. We’re talking about those ads that show you perfect grass without the pain of having to water, mow, weed, aerate, sod or reseed your lawn ever again. So to capture the look of a green yard these days, you can substitute fake grass for your lawn. Apparently, fake grass these days looks and feels way better than it used to. The downside? It can be expensive, if you let someone else do it for you.
A couple of years ago the average cost to install such turf was approximately $7 a square foot. Though not as expensive as some other hardscape material out there, it can still cost a pretty penny. But it could also be easier to install yourself, with some help. Here’s someone’s first-hand account on their own installation project:
The average cost to have a synthetic lawn installed is about $7 a square foot. Buying from a supplier such as Artificial Grass Direct costs $3 a square foot. The Sweeneys did have to spend another $350 for the rest of the supplies. Then, to save even more money, they took advantage of the rebate program the Water Authority is running.
“I took out all the grass so I get a dollar back per square foot from the Water District,” explains Shannon.
The bottom line is it will definitely save you money, but there’s a lot of sweat to put into it. Before you even consider a job like this, you should have a list of good friends with good backs signed on to help you.
If you ask me, what is this fake grass really perfect for? Well, aside from giving you the opportunity to improve your handicap, they’re great for covering the ground under your kids’ play sets. And for making this kind of design statement, especially if you’re bullish:
#6 Don’t buy a house with a live garden.
I’ve got several friends who didn’t want the hassle of a planted yard. So they didn’t buy homes with gardens. That’s what condominium units and town homes are for — to have someone else be responsible for the maintenance of your communal garden or yard (or other amenities) for which you pay an association fee. Or you can always buy a house that’s been paved from top to bottom, just as one very close friend of ours did. Sometimes, I’ve wondered what our friend has against plants, because whatever greenery he had left on his property, he chopped up and buried under concrete. He’s always traveling, so that could explain it.
#7 Do nothing.
Okay, I don’t really recommend it, but I’ve seen people go this route anyway. They’ve decided to just give up on their yard and let it go to pot (pun intended). Result: ugly yard. Very ugly yard. With very tall weeds and brown, dead, matted things all over the place. At the very least, pull the old stuff out and put some gravel on it. But it’ll still be ugly. If you can afford it, go see Suggestion #1 and pave your entire yard.
For those of you who are ready to fork out the money and energy to redo your yard or landscape, just be careful what you wish for. You’ll probably get what you pay for! My best recommendations before you start your project is to read up on gardens, ensure a solid design, visualize what you’ll have in the end and how much you’re prepared to pay for the enjoyment of your outdoor environment.
Image Credit: North County Times, California Native Plant Gardens
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