Thrifty Landscaping

Conventional wisdom holds that homeowners should spend five to 15 percent of their home’s value on landscaping.  This includes the costs of excavating, installing irrigation systems and pathways, and purchasing trees, shrubs, flowers, lighting, pots and other materials.  In addition to these, there are ongoing expenses and time involved in watering, fertilizing, trimming and weeding to maintain a beautiful exterior.  The tally can easy reach several thousands of dollars but fortunately, there are creative and easy solutions for thrifty homeowners.
 
Begin with a plan and you will avoid potentially costly revisions.  Using a landscape design computer program or a drawing to scale on a piece of graph paper, determine where you would like to place each element.
  
Once you are ready to begin, timing will e a factor in your project costs.  Late summer is typically the best time to get the best prices on plants, gardening supplies and other landscaping needs.  This is also the ideal time to plant trees and shrubs because cooler days reduce the strain on a young plant’s root system. 

Patience can also be a great money saver: grass seed is less expensive than sod and small plants are more affordable than mature ones.  If you are willing to wait a year or two for blossoms, long-lasting, flowering perennials are more affordable than annuals in the long run.  If you like the large, bright blossoms produced only by certain annuals, let some flowers go to seed and save them for next year.  It is usually best to sow these seeds indoors in a sunny window rather than directly in the garden.  Did you know that after a few years, many flowering bulbs can be dug up and divided to produce more plants?  In the autumn, divide the bulb clusters from the most vigorous plants then place them in their new locations and add a layer of compost. 

What could be better for a thrifty gardener than free?  Municipal governments occasionally offer free trees and compost units to residents.  Demolition sites sometimes allow people to help themselves to bricks, wood and other building materials that can be useful in landscaping.  Have you seen something you like in a neighbour’s garden?  Offer to trade seeds, bulbs or cuttings and you will both benefit!
  
When purchasing plants, it is generally best to shop at a nursery rather than hardware and grocery stores that carry plants as seasonal items.  Nursery store staff will be more knowledgeable about plant care, size, and other important details.  Always take a moment to check plants for signs of insects and disease before purchasing.
 
Over fertilizing in the hopes of producing lush landscaping in a hurry can be an expensive mistake.  Fertilizers are concentrated mixtures of three primary macronutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) and, often, three secondary macronutrients: calcium (Ca), sulphur (S), magnesium (Mg).  Too much fertilizer can kill plants by damaging the leaves and roots.  It can also kill beneficial organisms such as fungal mycorrhiza, which aids plants in absorbing nutrients.  As a result, the quality of the soil is diminished and plants may need to be replaced.  Natural fertilizers such as compost, aged manure and green manure deliver smaller, safer amounts of the same nutrients to plants.  These natural choices also contain organic matter that helps the soil retain moisture and, for clay soils, the organic matter is especially helpful in aerating the soil.  Backyard compost reduces your landfill contribution while ensuring that the compost is of good quality.  When purchasing a compost container, look for new circular or barrel models that are easy to turn.
 
Trees are the largest plants in your yard so their placement and appearance will play a key role in landscape design.  Large trees are suitable for a spacious yard and will look best farther away from the house.  Deciduous varieties can provide shade to keep your home cool in the summer but ensure that the roots do not damage your foundation by following this general rule: plant trees no closer to your home than half the height of the mature tree.  For example, if the tree is expected to reach 10 metres tall, plant it five metres away from your home. 
In terms of appearance, a flowering magnolia tree can be a beautiful addition to your property.  The deep red leaves of the Japanese maple bring autumn colour to your home all summer long.  Coniferous trees such as fir and spruce provide some greenery during the winter.  Edible apple, pear and cherry trees produce lovely white and pink blossoms in the spring and fruit at harvest time.
 
Also consider edible options for other areas.  Currant, blueberry, gooseberry and cranberry bushes provide excellent borders for yards along with colourful foliage and delicious, fresh berries.  Rosemary, oregano, and bay are useful culinary herbs that grow into attractive bushes.  For flower beds, consider a wide range of herbs and edible flowers: chamomile produces delicate white flowers that can be plucked for tea; the silvery leaves of sage are attractive and complement many dishes; basil produces a pleasant fragrance in the garden and is essential in Italian and Indian cuisine.
  
Be sure to choose plants that will flourish in your climate.  Look for a tag that indicates in which agricultural zones a variety will grow.  (Determine your zone at this government of Canada website: http://sis.agr.gc.ca/cansis/nsdb/climate/hardiness/intro.html).
 
Lastly, with the rising price of municipal water, drought-resistant plants are an excellent choice.  Best of all, on balmy summer days, you can spend less time on yard maintenance and more time relaxing!

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