How to achieve a dreamy backyard without the nightmarish bills

How to achieve a dreamy backyard without the nightmarish bills

Saving Money: A dreamy backyard retreat without the nightmarish bills

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Spring is the time for outdoor projects – those working weekends anticipating a summer’s worth of relaxation.

If you’re dreaming of a magazine-worthy backyard retreat but get depressed just thinking about the cost, don’t despair. Try these tips from local experts for some budget-friendly pop in your outdoor living areas.

Set a budget. Today’s outdoor trend is “people trying to do more with less,” said Steve Eberly, general manager of Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill Garden Center in Mechanicsburg.

Before you overspend at the outdoor center, decide on your budget. Then, let the staff ask questions about your goals and your backyard layout. More isn’t necessarily better when the same effect you wanted “just needed a tree or particular shrub placed in the right spot,” Eberly said.

“If somebody’s on a budget, it’s always best to figure out what’s really going to make you happy,” he said.

Listen to Mother Nature. Just because a pricy cherry laurel would look fabulous in that southern-facing corner doesn’t mean it’ll thrive there, said Gregory Black, president of Black Landscape Contracting in Mechanicsburg. Buy plants according to their sun and shade tolerance. “It always falls back on knowing what the application is and where it will do well,” he said.

Put the garden to work. More homeowners are saving on their grocery bills by growing vegetables, fruits and herbs. To incorporate plants discreetly into the landscape, consider installing fencing and stepping stones, Black said.

Some homeowners grow blueberries and raspberries “in containers right on the patio,” Eberly said. “Anything edible is a very big deal right now.”

Concrete advice. The sound of a jackhammer assaulting concrete can mean only one thing: There goes the budget. But specialty pavers in different colors and styles can go on top of bland concrete patios and steps, said Black. They eliminate the need for costly demolition and base rebuilding, but don’t waste your money if the concrete is in poor shape to begin with.

Mulch alternatives. Consider permanent alternatives that save on the long-run costs of mulch and tan bark. Many homeowners are choosing stone river gravel for garden beds, Black said. It’s appropriate as long as any plants they surround are perennials. “It’s not something you’re going to be changing annuals around,” he said.

Container enthusiasm. Container gardening is as popular as ever for brightening a space, Eberly said. Some people save money by growing their plants and flowers from seed. Others without the time or the green thumbs choose their arrangements fully-grown. Either way, “you still get color and texture without spending a lot of money,” he said.

Water features. Everyone loves the sound of a babbling brook, but building one in the yard runs into the thousands. Try a patio fountain, instead. Or, make a water garden by filling a low-bowl container with water, water plants, “and maybe a little goldfish,” Eberly said. An aerator keeps the water from stagnating into a mosquito breeding ground.

Furnishings logic. Minimize furniture costs by matching purchases to your lifestyle, said Eberly. If you don’t entertain big crowds, for instance, pass up the nine-piece suite for an affordable bistro set.

Lighting upgrade. Japanese lanterns are inexpensive, easy to hang, and “always make things festive and fun,” said Pat Waller, owner of A Touch of Sweden interior design, Harrisburg. You’ll get multiples years of use by taking them inside during summer’s harshest weather.

If you’re tired of spending on lighting that’s worn out by summer’s end, consider a few strategically placed wired light fixtures, said Black. Line a walkway, uplight a tree, or accent a seating area for about $100 to $250 per fixture.

Instant shade. Get more use from the yard’s sun-beaten sections with affordable, easy-installation pergolas and gazebos. Waller likes Kmart’s shaded pergolas for creating space and shade. Spend a weekend putting a brick patio in a nice spot, “and with the pergola, you’re done,” she said.

Unique antiques. At Antique Marketplace of Lemoyne, vendors are preparing for the spring open house, April 6-7, by displaying items that are ideal for backyard décor. There were crocks and other creative containers, antique patio furniture, vintage picnic gear, and statuary, including a pair of lions and a cement burro pulling a cart, said clerk Elaine Ritter.

“You can find anything and everything,” she said.

Many Antique Marketplace vendors offer discounts for the open house, manager Charles Platkin said. Plus, antiques shoppers can negotiate any time of year.

“You go into Kmart, and 100 bucks is 100 bucks,” Platkin said. “If you hit the right vendor on the right day, although the item may be priced really well, there’s a chance to do even better.”

Yard-sale chic. When the weather warms up, local communities hold their annual yard sales – “the best place to start” when seeking stylish items for an outdoor decorating project, said Waller. She is also president of Riverside United Neighbors, in Harrisburg’s Italian Lake area, which holds its neighborhood flea market and yard sale on May 4.