Budgeting for Success

It’s very important to get a rough, yet realistic, estimate of the cost of your project before you start spending money; we’ve all heard the horror stories about the kitchen remodel that stopped with the work only partially complete because homeowners grossly underestimated the cost of the projects and ran out of money.  This does not have to happen to you and your new landscape if you take a little time to plan it out.

Two of the most important factors related to cost are: (1) whether you plan on using expensive materials (exotic plants and stone, for example) and (2) whether you plan on doing most of the work yourself or hiring others to do it.  We have found that you can expect to pay anywhere from less than $5 per square foot to over $20, depending on your answers to these two questions.

If considering hiring others to do the work, it’s important to get the right person for the job.  One of the best ways to do this is to find landscapes that you admire, and ask those homeowners who they worked with (landscape designer/architect and/or installer) and whether they would recommend that person.  If you find a professional you might be interested in hiring, ask that person for references.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about cost.

  1. Cost of design:  The WaterSmart program requires commercial, industrial, or institutional customers to submit a set of landscape design plans developed by a professional.

    When it comes to developing landscape designs, you have options:

  • Hire a professional
    Costs vary widely depending on the size of your landscape, if you collaborate with a landscape designer or architect, and their experience.
  • Get help from your regional garden
    Regional garden like the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College and the San Diego Botanic Garden often offer one-to-one design consultations and/or design workshops that walk homeowners through the design process.
  • Utilize landscape design software
    Purchase do-it-yourself landscape design software off the internet for under $100.
  • Take a free design course at BeWaterWise.com
    This online class leads do-it-yourselfers through a step-by-step process of plan drawings.
  1. Cost of killing and removing the existing lawn:  The most labor-intensive part of the process may be removing the existing lawn.  Although killing it may be time consuming, it’s not necessarily physically demanding. But removing the dead grass can be a lot of work as it usually requires removing the top two to four inches of soil. Hiring someone to do this may cost about $500-$900, depending on the size of the lawn.
  2. Cost of the irrigation system:  It takes a new water-efficient garden one or two years to get “established”, that is, for the plants and root systems to significantly mature. Once established, a WaterSmart landscape will require much less water than during its establishment period. Some of the factors to consider when estimating the cost of irrigating the new landscape include:
  • Will you be able to use an existing irrigation system, with minor improvements, to meet the lower water needs of your new WaterSmart landscape?
  • Do you want to install a completely new, very efficient irrigation system such as a drip system?
  • Can you do most of the work yourself or do you need to hire someone?
  • Do you want a fully automated system or are you willing to invest the time necessary to do a lot of the watering yourself?
  1. Cost of hardscape:  Hardscape can be a wonderful addition to most landscapes: new walkways, patios for outside entertaining or dining, decorative planters that add interest to your landscape.  Hardscape features can add the most pleasure to a garden by increasing livable space and creating a peaceful place to relax.  Another benefit to most hardscapes is they require little maintenance: no watering, mowing, fertilizing, etc.  (Please remember:  your WaterSmart landscape can contain NO impermeable hardscape such as concrete; any hardscape you add must allow water to infiltrate into the soil.)

    There are two basic cost issues related to adding hardscape.  First, the cost of material can range from a couple of dollars per square foot to more than five or six dollars depending on the choice of materials (such as inexpensive brick vs. flagstone).

    The second cost issue is whether you will install the hardscape yourself (zero labor cost) or pay someone to do it (usually several dollars per square foot.).  As always, when considering paying someone else to do the work, check their references – that’s the best indicator of whether you will be happy with their work or not.

    There’s a lot of information about hardscapes at local hardware and specialty stores and on the Internet.  This research will help determine whether it’s a project you can handle yourself or if you need to hire someone.

  1. Cost of plants:  Important factors related to the cost of plants are:
  • Common vs. exotic: Exotic plants will cost more, common plants less. While it’s fun to add a few uncommon plants, they can get pricy.
  • Less mature vs. full grown plants:  Fairly young plants of a particular species will cost less than larger, more mature individuals that a nursery has had to “nurse” for several years.  Other than trees, many plants can achieve close to full size in one to three years. Some experts believe it’s healthier for plants if they are purchased young and allowed to mature in the soil that will become their permanent home, as opposed to maturing in a pot.
  • Labor:  Expect to pay about $3 to $7 per plant for installation.