Running the Numbers on Landscape Design and Installation


running the numbers


Sometimes I get questions about what a person can get for $100 in relation to landscape stuff (design, plants, hardscape, whatever).  I’m totally with you on this, and the answer isn’t exactly “nothing.”  You could make some pretty decent changes to either your front or back space (not both – let’s not get too silly now) on a very limited budget.  So I’m going to break down a few financial thresholds and throw out my opinion on how you can start to make some changes to your space.



Okay, for 100 smackers I would say this:

*Start participating in the Sunday Snatch (you’ll like it, it’s fun).  You can amass a small (or large, if you’re like me) collection of low-water high-impact plants without spending a dime.

*Throw a plant exchange party that goes like this: invite 10 people to a beer + nachos + plants extravaganza.  Each person has to bring 10 of one type of plant that they can get out of their own yard (prickly pear, agave, pedilanthus, you name it) to donate to the cause.  Each person then goes home with 10 new specimens.  Bang-a-dang.

*Check out a bunch of library books on water harvesting and native plants.

*Draw yourself a plan as best possible (print out an aerial photo of your house).

*Do a whole bunch of digging to make basins and paths – this part is free!

*Buy yourself three 5-gallon shade trees ($35 each) and get them planted.  If you already have trees, buy a bunch of 1-gallon desert shrubs ($7 each) from a local nursery.



*Bring someone in (*wink*) to create a front or back yard plan for you.  Mine come in the $350 range, based on a typical 10 hours of work.  I definitely know designers and landscape architects who charge as much as $120 an hour and graduate students who might go as low as $15, so there’s a range to consider.  The plan gives you freedom to add to your space as you have the means, and also gives you the vision of a complete composition over time.

*Still do a whole bunch of digging on your own.

*Spend the remaining $650 on 15-gallon shade trees ($80-ish), 1-gallon desert shrubs, some do-it-yourself gutters (water harvesting), and a shade sail that can be mounted at least partially to your house (rather than using 4 steel beams).

*Still participate in The Snatch, and probably a plant party or two.



I would say the $3000 mark is where you can gain a bit more freedom, creativity, impact, and the ability to not do every ounce of the digging.

*Bring someone in to do the front or back plan.

*Hire someone (*winkety-wink*) to do 20-30 hours of knowledgeable labor including basins and water courses, plant shopping and placement, actual planting, and potentially some flagstone or decomposed granite pathway creation ($700 – $1050)

*Still put in a bunch of 15-gallon trees and 1-gallon desert shrubs.

*Add some high-dollar stuff like agaves, barrel cactus, ocotillo, and yuccas.

*Don’t forget the shade sail – though it still might be DIY.


$5000+ (+++)

Now we’re getting to the point where you can start to think about things like seat walls, contractor-installed concrete or block, fences, irrigation (though that wouldn’t be my first choice – more on that in the near future), shade sails, lighting, and nice plants.  Though, honestly, not all of those things at once, and still definitely not including both the front and back yard at once (unless you have a micro yard).


And, something else that might be of interest (and which I’ll talk about more in the future), if you end up hiring a general contracting landscape company, you can plan on spending 2-3 times as much as the numbers I’ve mentioned.  Maybe more.  I’ll give a recent example soon.


Hopefully this doesn’t scare you off.  It’s nice to have an idea of what things might cost before you begin a landscape change.  Plus, now you know you can definitely do something with your $100!  Time to start digging, my friend.


Leave a Reply

bottom 1 version 2-01

bottom 2 version 3-01-01


bottom 3 version 3-01