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  • Writer's pictureNathan Zarcaro

[2023] How I Did a DIY Backyard Makeover For Just $2,000


Growing up, I spent many weekends in the yard with my dad, doing everything from routine lawn maintenance to raking leaves to laying mulch. And though I didn't always enjoy the work


Fast-forward fifteen years and I am now a homeowner. And now, someway, somehow, I now enjoy tackling projects in the yard when I have some free time. Last fall, in my new house, I completed a backyard makeover for just $2,000.


Here is how I did it.



My budget backyard makeover


First, a little background information about my yard. My backyard has an in-ground pool and an old shed in a fenced in area with steps down from a deck. When I moved in last summer, the yard was in need of some TLD. The plants and the shrubbery were overgrown, littered with some weeds were almost as tall as me, and there were a bunch of broken sprinkler heads.


But the bones were excellent. Between the Trex decking, in-ground pool, and paver pool patio, the yard had all the makings of the oasis I'd always wanted.


I spent much of the Summer of 2022 prepping my yard for the pending makeover and reading about inexpensive landscaping ideas that would look great. Finally, the heat of the summer passed, and it was soon time to get to work.


I got to work on the following projects:


  1. Clearing out old flower beds

  2. Cutting new flower beds and adjusting existing ones

  3. Buying plants to fit the freshly cleared beds

  4. Fixing up the in-ground irrigation system

  5. Laying a fresh bed of mulch

  6. I added a water feature



1. I cleared out old flower beds


Like I mentioned, the yard needed more tender, love, and care than anything else. So, I spent the dog days of summer ripping out the overgrown and diseased shrubs, killing weeds, and churning up the soil for the first time in a while.


I gave myself poison ivy more than once or twice along the way, but the important part was that this work did not cost me a penny, since I did it all myself. The work was physical and difficult, but eventually, I got it done while preserving 100% of my budget.



2. I adjusted the size of the flower beds


I was looking for a slightly different layout than what was already in the yard, so I got to work in cutting new edges to a couple of flower beds. I wanted to really be able to fit some nice flowering shrubs in, and I had plenty of lawn, so I went for it.


It didn't cost me any extra money, but I made sure to look at existing sprinkler heads so that I didn't accidentally break anything or cause extra projects that could suck up precious budget.


A spade, an edger, and a metal rake were all I needed to make this happen.



3. I planted affordable new perennials


I've always been a visual person, so I made many runs to the local nurseries in order to get some ideas and see which plants really stood out to me. I had two goals in mind for the new perennials in my backyard makeover:


  1. I wanted an array of perennials that were easy to care for and maintain

  2. I wanted my yard to be in bloom and


I was fortunate to have some gift cards that were gifted to me as housewarming presents, but I have included those expenses in the $2,000 total. In total, I bought the following plants:


  • 3 Butterfly Bushes at $39.99 each

  • 3 Weigelas at $42.99 each

  • 3 Hydrangeas at $40 or so

  • 4 Japanese Sky Pencil Holly at $29 each


These were actually the most expensive things that I ultimately planted. There was plenty of smaller stuff too, like Alliums, Black-Eyed Susans, and lots of Coneflowers of different colors.


I now have almost every color of the rainbow represented in the yard!


All in, I probably spent around $1,200-$1,300 on plants for the backyard.



Where I bought plants for cheap


While I love to look around nurseries for ideas in my free-time, I don't usually buy my plants there, unless prices are reasonable and something is very clearly of high-quality. Here's why.


I've found that private nurseries and chains like Lowe's and Home Depot sometimes carry the same exact brands anyway. And when they don't, the tags that I pulled at Lowe's and Home Depot tended to be from more local farms than the ones at the private nurseries. Go figure!


I quickly learned that I could save money, while also getting my plants from a more local source! Plus, Lowe's nurseries tend to ensure their perennials for one year, so I knew that anything that didn't survive the winter wouldn't cost me anything.


It truly was a risk-free and budget conscious way to add appeal to my backyard makeover.



4. I fixed broken irrigation


After my father-in-law showed me the process, I spent a Saturday replacing about 20 sprinkler heads, many of them in the backyard where I had been planting. I also adjusted the direction on some of the heads to cover some of the new areas of the yard where I had added some flower beds in.


Twenty Hunter PGP heads, plus some risers, cost me about $200 all in. This brought my total backyard remodel costs to around $1,500.



5. I layed fresh mulch


My yard's appearance really started to come into focus once I finished planting the few dozen perennials that I had purchased. But I still felt like the green thumb in me had one last step to complete.


So I ordered some brown mulch to fill my flower beds with.


All in, the backyard took about four yards of mulch, about $150 worth or so.


 

At this point, if you're keeping track of the math, you're probably wondering what I did with the last $300 or so in my remodel budget. I built a waterfall water feature to flow water into my pool, so that I could enjoy the sound of running water on demand.



6. I built a water feature


The last step of my backyard transformation was to add some more running water in addition to the pool. I had worked for a pool company summers during high school, so I had some level of experience in dealing with features like these.


Basically, for about $150 in plumbing equipment, I used PVC pipe to effectively add another return to the pool.


I buried the lines that would carry the water underground so nobody would ever see them, and then got to work constructing the actual water feature itself. I repurposed rocks and small boulders from elsewhere in my yard, and then I purchased some small river rock and liners to assure that my water feature wouldn't leak.


All in, it the waterfall and lazy stream cost me less than the $300 I had remaining in my budget.


 

There it is, my backyard makeover on a budget. All for under $2,000.



Tips to keep your backyard makeover affordable


Now, I know not all backyard makeovers will be able to be completed for $2,000 or under. But these tips for your landscaping remodel will undoubtedly help you to keep your expenses as low as possible.



1. Work with what is already in your yard


There were plenty of elements of the existing landscape that I really liked! Among them were a mature Japanese Maple, a Norwegian Spruce, and a Confetti Hydrangea "hedge". The back side also had exquisite views into a corn field behind my house that offered plenty of privacy in the summer, anyway.


So, I kept these elements. They looked great as is and took up a good amount of space, so I incorporated my new ideas around them. These plants were worth hundreds of dollars each, and I really appreciated that I didn't need to look for new show pieces, so to speak.


Plus, my backyard has a couple of things that many would consider unsightly, a central air conditioning system and pool pump/filter/heater in a corner.


Luckily, the seven-foot-tall Confetti Hydrangea blocked all of this out of sight.


Sometimes, working with what the landscape provides can be the right move, both from a makeover budget perspective and from a visual appeal perspective.



2. Buy discounted gift cards


If you're planning to buy landscaping materials at a chain like Lowe's or Home Depot, you may be able to find discounted gift cards online through sites like CardCookie.


Of course, you'll want to vet these sites for legitimacy, but I have had success on CardCookie before. Plus, while writing this article, I just found Lowe's gift cards for 9% off, so naturally I bought some.



3. Use Lowe's and Home Depot garden centers


Speaking of Lowe's and Home Depot, do think really hard about using their garden centers, for all the reasons that I've already mentioned. I've been really happy with the selection, and over 90% of my plants have taken well.



Backyard landscape ideas on a budget


Not all landscaping projects need to be expensive, or even time consuming. Here are some ideas to spruce up your yard with some minor projects that can make a huge difference:


  1. Weed your existing landscape

  2. Trim back overgrown shrubbery

  3. Plant budget conscious perennials

  4. Create a rock garden



1. Weed your existing landscape


Nothing looks sloppier than pikes of weeds surrounding nice landscaping. Weeding isn't the most fun task in the world, but it absolutely can make a huge difference in helping you to clean up your yard's appearance.


Some people may opt for the use of chemicals like Roundup to help kill weeds and provide a protective barrier for up to four months.


Or, after you've weeded by hand, you may opt to put down some Preen.


If you're hesitant to use chemicals in your yard, I've also had some luck killing weeds spraying a mixture that consists of 1 gallon of white vinegar, 1 cup of salt, and a couple tablespoons of dish soap.



2. Trim back overgrown plants and shrubs


Another way that you can spruce up your yard without the financial burden of a whole makeover is to trim back and shape your existing plants and shrubs. In fact, in hindsight, there were a number of overgrown azalea and rhododendron that I wish I had trimmed back and kept rather than removing.


To be safe, you'll just want to make sure that you do some research and trim your plants back at the right time of year.



3. Plant budget conscious perennials


If you're looking for more of a transformative backyard makeover, there are plenty of affordable plants that you can add to your gardens and flower beds. In my opinion, two of the most budget conscious that still look great are ornamental grasses and fescue.



4. Create a rock garden


Rock gardens and dry stream beds can be an excellent addition to just about every garden. Not only are they cheap (you can probably get rocks from elsewhere in your yard), but they also can promote better drainage, particularly in lower lying areas of your property.


Plus - they are pretty to look at!



How to renovate your yard on a budget


Now that I've shared my story and some tips that you can spruce up your yard on a budget, I want to help you complete your remodel. Doing so is easier than you think! Just follow these six steps:


  1. Set a budget

  2. Create a plan

  3. Prioritize things you will see

  4. Do the work yourself

  5. Opt for low maintenance

  6. Shop smartly



1. Set a budget


Arguably the most important thing that you can do from the onset is to create a budget for your project. Take a look at what you can reasonably afford and make a pact with yourself to not exceed this budget under any circumstances.


You may need to save money for a period of time before you're ready to start creating your dream yard, and that's okay.


Two tools that can help you accumulate some cash a little more quickly include Acorns and Guac, two roundup saving apps.



2. Build a backyard plan


Your next step is to take your budget and design a project plan that fits.


As you complete this process, I recommend that you save the last 8-10% of your budget in case you encounter any unforeseen problems. The chances are, you'll discover broken sprinkler heads or something else in need of repair.


Here, you want to avoid biting off more than you can chew. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your dream backyard.



3. Prioritize certain projects


To prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of projects you're trying to complete, I recommend that you make a priority list to help you out. I found it most helpful to focus on parts of the yard that were most in my direct line of sight, rather than those that nobody would ever see unless they went looking for it.



4. Do all of the work yourself


There are plenty of landscaping projects that are best saved for professionals. But there are also plenty of other tasks that you can likely handle yourself. And if you're serious about sticking to your budget, this is absolutely the way to go, given how much money it can save you.


It could take you some extra time, but there is also the satisfaction of knowing you completed the remodel yourself.



5. Opt for low maintenance landscaping


Ultimately, your landscaping budget does not just include your remodeling budget, but also those expenses that you'll incur to upkeep your work once it is complete. This may include herbicides, fertilizers, mulch, and other products.


Also remember to factor your time into the equation. Do you really want to spend your entire weekend pruning shrubs and performing regular maintenance?



6. Shop smartly


When shopping for products for your remodel, whether plants, rocks, furniture, or something else altogether, I highly recommend that you comparison shop to assure that you get the best deals possible.


Every dollar that you save while you shop is a dollar that you can use elsewhere on your next yard project.



Conclusion


Renovating your backyard can be pricy, but there are plenty of ways to complete your remodel in a budget conscious manner. Have you redone your own yard? And if so, how much work did you get done within your budget?


Tellme in the comments below!



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About Nathan Zarcaro

Nathan Zarcaro is the founder of The Student Debt Destroyer and is passionate about personal finance related causes.  A 2018 graduate of Providence College's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Nathan studied Finance, and has worked for industry leaders in both finance and healthcare.  In his free time, Nathan enjoys playing golf and traveling with his wife Brigid.

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