Trying to Do a Yard Makeover on a Microscopic Budget? It Can be Done!

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Unfortunately, reviving a dilapidated yard requires more than watering the lawn and pulling out weeds. Many homeowners let their yard run wild because they know that a huge landscaping project will cost them a pretty penny and a lot of work. If you think your yard needs a total makeover, yet you find yourself on a tight budget, you can still make amazing transformations on the cheap. With a little creative scrounging and some careful planning, a project like this doesn’t have to break the bank. Read on for a few clever tips that will help you complete a major yard makeover without spending too much:
Inventory, Plan, and Diagram
By far, the cheapest yard makeovers use and reuse materials and tools already on hand, so the first step should be a walk around the yard, garage, and tool shed to see what’s available. The current supplies and condition of the yard will have a big impact on your future plans for the area. Some homeowners think that they need to completely rip out the entire yard in order for it to look good again. However, if you just go to town ripping everything out, you might be destroying some salvageable plants and areas that just need a little nourishment or pruning. Take a look at what you have to work with before ripping anything out. You’ll waste a lot of money if you start from scratch, so take inventory of what you already have. Then you can draw up a diagram of what you plan to keep, what needs to go, and what you plan to add. Planning saves time and money now, and down the road.
The Updating Process
Once you’ve laid your plans, you can start updating the salvageable areas one by one. Again, remember that updating all or part of a well-built garden saves both time and money relative to starting over. Thin out overcrowded beds and destroy noxious weeds. Prune and if necessary, remove low-hanging branches. Clean up the edge around existing bedding features like retaining walls. Next, build up the soil in the permanent beds with garden soil, mulch, peat, and manure. If buying that stuff breaks the bank, spread the project over a couple of years by using a low cost chipper to produce your own compost or mulch.
Remember: Organic fertilizer like compost feeds the plants for years. Commercial fertilizers are water soluble, so they have a rapid, short-term impact. Also, two tablespoons of Epsom salt per gallon of water sprinkled on the lawn and garden makes an excellent, low cost fertilizer.
Revitalize the Grass
No matter what you do with your landscaping, a dead or patchy lawn will drag down the entire look of your yard makeover if you don’t repair it. If your yard only has a few problem areas, you can try seeding techniques to help bring it back to life. However, if your grass is long gone, it is probably a good idea to get new sod altogether. The upside of this project is that you can easily lay new grass on your own. According to professionals who specialize in sod in Marietta, GA, you’ll need to test the pH levels in the soil, till any existing clay soil, and apply a few inches of top soil before installing any new sod. Once you have prepared the area, it will only take a few hours to lay new sod and turn your pathetic, dying grass into a lush, green area that brightens up the entire yard.
Repair Damaged Soil
Fixing even a badly damaged or compacted yard doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does take a bit of time on the cheap. In the fall, when online organic gardening supply shops put their surplus seed on sale, there are bargains galore. Beginning in the early spring, a mixture of daikon radish, mustard, and cowpea produces a sea of flowers while it breaks up even hard clay soil. Run some water in a bucket. Let it sit for 24 hours to clear out the chlorine. Add a tab of mycorrhizal fungi to the water and mix well. Using a hoe, chop up the surface of the blasted area. Sprinkle with the mixture of water and fungi. Next, hand-sow a mixture of daikon radish, mustard, and cowpea seed. Cover with a thin layer of old leaves, grass clippings, or straw to keep the seeds moist.
In a matter of weeks, the damaged area will be covered in pretty white and yellow flowers, but the real benefits are happening below ground. Daikon radish produces a huge, 2-foot long root to penetrate even the worst clay soil, while the cowpeas lock in nitrogen along a taproot up to 8-feet long. The mustards grow so aggressively that the weeds never have a chance. Hack off the tops and let the radishes rot in the ground to form free compost. Voila. You get free compost, free nitrogen, and free ground cover, while preparing the ground for your trees and bedding plants.
Remember: At $10 each or more, even seedling trees can break the bank, but root stock can be had for as little as $1-$2 per stem and you can graft your favorite hybrids onto it.
Learn Basic Concrete/Hypertufa Technique
Working with concrete and hypertufa (a mixture of Portland cement, sand or perlite, and peat moss) can be a bit messy, but it’s not all that difficult. Many tutorials are available online if this is your first time working with these materials. A small, hand-cranked home cement mixer runs about $32. Small electric versions are available for as little as $170. Nothing stops you from making everything from pavers to walls.
Get Creative
If your yard has room for “extras,” but you don’t want to pay for expensive fountains, extravagant outdoor furniture, or decadent gardening décor, there are still plenty of ways to breathe a little life into the area. To add a little romance or variety to the yard, you can utilize a trellis on the fence, or try vertical gardening to create a point of interest. You can string cheap twinkle lights along the fence to create a little ambiance without paying for expensive wiring or fancy sconces around the yard. Take a trip to the dollar store, Ikea, or the junkyard and let your imagination run wild to create interesting paths, screens, or shady nooks.
If you are gearing up for a total yard makeover, but hesitate due to the price, just remember that there is more than one way to complete a project like this. Take a look at your budget and think about what area needs the most work, or what you care most about. If the bulk of your budget will go to new sod, then you can skimp on other areas by making your own compost, or trimming back existing plants to make them look better. Also remember that you can attack the project one area at a time—that way you won’t be spending a huge chunk of money at once. Whichever method you choose, just allow yourselves to be creative and think outside the box—new ways of thinking will help you avoid the traditional pricey costs of landscaping.

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