This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the various costs that pop up when you’re a homeowner. Things like furnace/AC Repair, having to put on a new roof, and annual maintenance can take a bite out of your savings account — and leave you wondering why you ever stopped renting in the first place.

That’s why it makes sense to save money and take care of certain home maintenance projects yourself. But, is that always the best idea?

Can I quote you on that?

My husband and I sure thought so earlier this year. It all started when we got a quote for bed-edging, existing plant and grass removal, a pre-emergent treatment, ground-cover installation, and mulching in the front and back of our home.

The grand total for the quote? $960. And sadly, that was the only quote I could get. I called five other landscapers, and everyone else was booked solid.

DIY landscaping to save cash

After some deliberation, my husband and I decided to hire out part of our project and do the rest ourselves. So we paid the landscaping guy $200 to edge the beds, dig out some old grasses and plants, and do some general clean-up — leaving the pre-emergent, mulching, and ground-cover install to take care of ourselves.

After our landscaper did his part, we got to work.

  • Day 1 — I spent several hours digging out poorly-placed lilies and daffodils.

  • Day 2 — We placed pre-emergent throughout our beds.

  • Day 3 — We hauled mountains of mulch to our home from Lowe’s.

  • Day 4 — We spread mulch in our flower beds, did some general clean-up, and planted ground cover — for five hours!

The total cost? Around $700 for mulch, ground cover, Preen, and some other supplies. When you add that to the $200 we paid the friendly landscaping guy, we saved around $60. Whoop-de-do.

Here’s where we went wrong

First, we drastically underestimated the amount of mulch we needed.

(Our landscaper suggested we put down seven yards in the front, for example, but we actually needed more like 10 yards for that area.)

Second, we thought we would be able to just touch up the mulch in the back after he edged the beds, but we found that it all needed to be replaced.

Is DIY landscaping worth it?

I’m not going to lie. I actually enjoyed doing the work ourselves and would probably do it all again. I love being outdoors and staying busy, so the work was right up my alley. It was also a great workout.

The savings, on the other hand, didn’t add up to much of anything, especially when you factor in an hourly rate for our own work. In that respect, DIY landscaping wasn’t worth it at all.

Still, sometimes it is hard to know which landscaping projects require professional attention and which are worth trying yourself. In our case, we thought our savings would be greater, but we ended up being caught off guard by our need for additional supplies.

5 times you should leave landscaping to the professionals

If saving money is your goal, it usually makes sense to at least try to do something yourself. But when it comes to DIY home repairs, landscaping, and other manual and intensive work, there are some times when hiring a professional might be the best option. Here are a few of those times:

  • When the savings don’t add up — If your goal is truly to save money, then it usually makes sense to DIY. But if you run the numbers between what you might pay a professional and what it would cost to do yourself — minus your hourly rate — you might find that the savings aren’t all that great. As I learned from our DIY landscaping adventure, however, it isn’t always easy to estimate what your project might cost. Sometimes those extras sneak up on you!

  • When you don’t know what you’re doing — Here’s a time when it almost always makes sense to hire a professional. You can find all kinds of DIY advice on Pinterest and YouTube, but those snazzy videos and pictures can make projects look easier than they really are. If you truly have no idea what you are doing, hiring a professional could save you a lot of time — and money.

  • When water is involved — Anytime water is involved, the stakes jump much higher. Water features, irrigation systems, and drainage systems can turn a fun DIY project into a muddy mess fairly quickly if not installed and maintained properly. Poorly-placed drainage and leaking pipes can cause water to pool near your home and cause damage to its structure. “Landscaping can act as a natural filter, because water follows the path of least resistance to the lowest levels of any given property,” writes Pitt Landscape of Utah on their blog. “Poor landscaping can facilitate water entering your home’s foundation as topsoils, mulch, and loose rocks filter rain and excess water into the foundation if placed too closely to your home.”

  • When you need professional advice — If you don’t have a green thumb (like us), it makes sense to hire a professional when you need expert advice. Sometimes advice on which types of plants to buy, where to place them, and how to keep them alive can prove invaluable. You can usually find this type of advice on the Internet too, but it may not be more appropriate to get professional, personalized advice in certain situations.

  • When safety is a concern — Some landscaping projects have a structural component that could require professional design or expertise. Decks and projects that require electrical, lighting, or wiring may also require work by a licensed contractor. Depending upon your local zoning laws and building codes, some projects may also require a permit. According to home improvement site Porch, a professional landscaper can help you figure out local zoning laws and file the required paperwork.

When is do-it-yourself landscaping worth it?

The fact is, only you can decide. It all depends on your ability, how much money you hope to save, and how much time you have to spend on the project.

Even though we saved very little on our own yard, I am still glad we completed it mostly on our own. It was fun and I would definitely do it again. I also learned a lot of little tips and tricks that might help make the job easier next time. And when you set the financials of the project aside, that is probably the only thing that mattered anyway.

Do you hire a professional to do your landscaping or do you prefer to do it yourself? What would make you decide to hire a professional? Which choice saves the most?

[Calling all the ‘savers’ out there. We’d love to hear your best tips and tricks for an upcoming feature. Email editor Linda Vergon at lvergon@getrichslowly.org.]

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