Inexpensive Landscaping Ideas for the Frugal Homeowner

In this article: Frugal landscapers, gardeners and homeowners share their best tips for landscaping on the cheap. From cheap garden paths and walkways to inexpensive ground cover ideas to finding cheap or free plants, you can spruce up your yard with very little cash.

DIY Landscaping for Less photo

Has your front or backyard become overgrown? Sure, you can hire a landscape company to do the major clean up and tree trimming, but then what? You could end up with a dirt yard that is in desperate need of landscaping.

What options do you have for landscaping on a budget, especially when you have little grass and mostly weeds and dirt? What makes a good inexpensive ground cover for covering that dirt? How about a nice pathway?

Sure all of these things could end up being pretty expensive. Or you can try some of these inexpensive landscaping ideas from fellow frugal landscapers and gardeners to create a beautifully landscaped yard both you and your budget will love.

Create a Homemade Path for Free

I recently made a stepping-stone path in our yard, absolutely free.

First, I measured the area and estimated how many “steps” I’d need. Then, I drove around to various construction sites in our area. Wherever I’d see broken-up chunks of concrete, I’d stop and ask if I could take a few of the smaller pieces. I looked for pieces that had a flat side, and were roughly about a foot square.

Within three days, I had enough chunks to start my project!

Next, I laid the chunks out in the desired path. For each one I dug about two feet down, so that the flat top is flush with the ground. It takes a little patience to get each step level, but the results are rewarding. I finished the edges of my new path off with pea gravel and sprinkled it with pretty marbles and colored stones.

Now I get comments all the time on my lovely, homemade path. Similar landscape rocks and stones cost around $3 to $5 each, so I saved quite a bit!

Seek Out Free Plants and Landscaping Services

  1. A friend of mine lives on a very busy corner. She needed landscaping done and called a new company that had left a flyer on her door. They offered organic landscaping services. She offered to let them put a sign in her yard in exchange for free service. They agreed and did her yard. Now they are getting more business than ever as a result of being able to use her yard as an example. This works especially well for companies that are first starting out and need referrals.
  2. Drive by houses that are having construction or renovation done. I have found perfectly good rose bushes on the curb because the owner didn’t want to care for plants that needed a lot of maintenance.
  3. When I go to yard sales, I frequently see unusual plants in seller’s yards. I will admire the plant and ask where they bought it, or ask if I can buy a root cutting, etc. Most people are so flattered at the compliment that they will give me the cutting rather than charge anything. I always remember to carry a plastic bag and a few gardening tools in the car, so I don’t have to inconvenience them while they are tending their yard sale.
  4. Nurseries will sell dying or broken plants at a discount (or when they are getting in new stock). Ask them to give you a deal on quantity or anything that is likely to be thrown out. Don’t forget to check with them at the end of the season when the planting season is over. You can find the best deals then.


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Take a Slow, But Steady Approach

A great way to make a path is to use cardboard mulch. I saved all of our cardboard boxes for a couple of months and called the local tree trimming company to deliver wood chips. They love to get rid of the chips.

I made a path with the cardboard and then I spread the mulch. The cardboard helps to prevent weeds. The next year, I began buying stones to place in the middle of the mulch to make it look even better and also easier to walk on. I bought two cheap landscape stones per week. Now, it looks like a foot path on a hiking trail.

Learn Smart Landscaping Hacks from Fellow Frugal Gardeners

For cheap landscaping, get to know someone in your area who has a beautifully landscaped yard and ask a lot of questions. Most people with mature gardens have tons of plants to give away free for the digging. My friend is starting up a cottage garden and I gave her about 25 plants that I dug up from my garden and I have more she can dig up when she is ready. She is saving a least $100 in plants. A mature garden needs to be thinned out sometimes.

For a cheap pathway, you can use plain cement pavers with a cheap ground cover grown in between. I made a patio area with two different colors in a checkerboard pattern and put “snow in summer” in between. I also saw a beautiful path in a book made up of broken up driveway cement. They laid it down like flagstone and had the same effect without the expense.

As far as cheap ground cover ideas, it will make a difference where you live, what kind of sun you get and what kind of moisture. That’s where a knowledgeable neighbor will come in handy. Also, visit a local nursery and ask a lot of questions. They can let you know what works and what doesn’t work. Otherwise, you can kill a lot of plants putting them in the wrong place. For the best look with plants, plant multiples of the same plant together to get a mass of one color.

Hold a Garden-Themed Housewarming Party

When you move into a new home, hold a simple housewarming party with a garden theme. On the invitation say, “No gifts please, but we’d love to have your garden cuttings or transplants!” People won’t feel obligated, but instead, they will feel good about being able to share their horticultural wealth. (Plus, it gives them the needed “push” to divide the plants they’d been meaning to anyway!)

When I moved into my house as a single mom, I received hostas, a climbing mandevilla and some daylilies this way!
Glenda W. in Elmhurst, IL

Freecycle Your Way to a Great Garden

First of all, I would suggest going online to learn about landscaping design, including different types of materials and plants that would work well in your area. Also, join your local “freecycling” group and let them know you’re looking for landscaping materials and plants.

I have had wonderful experiences with my local freecycle group and have even joined a local plant-trading group! As a gardener, I think that we are by nature generous sorts who love to share our plants!

Take Advantage of Local Resources

Here are a few tips for landscaping on a budget:

  1. Check out the landscaping and gardens of friends and family. This will give you some good ideas of things that could be easily replicated in your own yard. While they are showing you their yards and gardens, ask them if you could have some starts off of their plants. Most people are only too willing to help you out with starts of plants.
  2. Buy your gravel or landscaping stones from a quarry instead of a department store.
  3. Check with the city or county you live in to see if they have a free mulch or compost site. Many towns have these and are glad to get rid of it.
  4. Lay old newspapers on the ground, several layers thick, for weed block. Make sure that you cover the newspapers right away with mulch or landscaping rock, so they don’t blow away.
  5. Check out garage sales. Several times, I have found gardening tools, landscaping edging, plants, etc. for pennies on the dollar of what it would cost to buy at the store.
  6. Check with your local cement company. Many times people order too much cement for a job and then the company has to get rid of the excess somewhere. In our area, if you take in the forms you want poured for stepping stones, the cement company will pour these for free and when they have dried you can go back and pick them up.


Seek Good Advice From Local Your Local Garden Club

One of the best resources for inexpensive landscaping ideas is a local garden club or horticulture society. Often they have perennial sales with great prices, and they can offer a wealth of ideas.

I have also contacted a local vocational school for assistance. Many times the students are more than eager to help out and share their knowledge. We are fortunate in our area to have an excellent nature program associated with our public schools (beginning in kindergarten), and the knowledge base is priceless!
Cathy in Loveland, OH

Find Cheap Options Now That Can Provide Free Resources Later

Start by choosing areas you want to keep as garden beds. Remove any weeds by tilling/pulling and cover with a healthy bed of mulch. Four to five inches thick will keep weeds at a minimum. You can obtain tons of free mulch at the local compost site. Call the city for details.

For stepping stones, or a mosaic walkway, contact a concrete contractor and tell them you are interested in the broken remains of concrete sidewalks or driveways they remove. They will be happy to let you take some, as they have to pay for the removal.

Arrange the concrete pieces as you like and dig them in, smooth side up, flush with the ground. Then buy a gallon of concrete stain from a home remodel center and stain the part of concrete that is showing. For a more natural look, get two similar terracotta colors and brush randomly on each stone.

A great cheap ground cover for walkway areas is creeping phlox. This plant can be easily divided, so you can start with one plant, and in a year or two, you will have more than enough.

For free perennials, check online for a plant exchange group in your area. For low cost bushes and plants, wait until the greenhouses in your area are closing for the season. Shop several of them on a daily basis. You can pick up plants/bushes for as little as $1 each toward the end. Arrange the perennials in your planting bed as you like. You can always move them around next year if you don’t like the arrangement.

For your lawn, your best bet is Menards if you have one near you. On a yearly basis, around June/July, Menards will offer four to six bags of their own brand of weed-n-feed and grass seed with an excellent rebate. Do this every year, and soon you will have a lush green lawn. This method can take a few years to culminate, but the price is right. And I guarantee you will be happy with the result.

Reviewed June 2023

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