5 times to leave landscaping to the professionals

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?

More about...Home & Garden, Frugality

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AMW
AMW
5 years ago

We found that fertilizing the lawn cost exactly the same if we did it ourselves or if we pay someone to do it…so we hire it out. Mulching ourselves saves us money- more than just $60- (having a company drop 5 yards in our driveway is cheaper than the bags) so we do that. We also mulch deeply so we only have to mulch every other year. We have a friend with a truck and a chain to help us pull out some overgrown bushes…that saved us a couple of hundred. We will be hiring a pro next year to… Read more »

Holly
Holly
5 years ago
Reply to  AMW

I mow my own yard for the same reason – forced exercise! It’s also relaxing with the headphones on.

Michael
Michael
5 years ago
Reply to  AMW

I agree with using the landscaping material company (I dont know what else to call them) rather than using the bags. I just did this myself and it was, for my area, $32 per yard and $35 for delivery (2 yard min), which is much cheaper than bags and I dont have to deal with lugging them from the store. I actually love doing garden work because it gets me out of the house and gives me some manual labor/exercise which I otherwise do not get. I realize if you factor the cost of my time into the equation it… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
5 years ago
Reply to  Michael

I second the motion on the big tree. Plus, you don’t want to accidentally drop some of it on a structure~

Get your mulch for free by having a local tree service that has a mulcher drop their load on your driveway. It saves them from paying the tipping fee at the landfill, and you a bunch of money for the mulch.

Erin
Erin
5 years ago
Reply to  AMW

Do NOT waste your money buying bagged mulch! Every time my husband and I are at a big box store (which is a lot as he is in construction) he chuckles at the people wasting money buying bagged mulch. Call around to landscaping companies and they will bring it to your house, and dump it in a pile for you for 10-15% of the cost. I’m sorry that you did this, but hopefully people reading the comments will learn from this error.

Holly
Holly
5 years ago
Reply to  Erin

We actually priced out bagged mulch vs. mulch delivery per yard in our area first. The price was almost the same after we took the delivery fee into account. We live in a very expensive area and everything like that is marked up – landscaping, home repairs, etc. What ended up costing us more was the fact that we needed a lot more mulch than our landscaper said we did.

K
K
5 years ago

My problem is landscape companies don’t deal with “real” gardens…. I mean a garden that is more than a couple bushes and flowers. In the Chicago area, I have never found a landscape company who actually knows the difference between a plant and a weed and willing to actually remove the weed instead of ripping up the weed’s leaves – leaving the root to grow again in a few days. I’m shocked by how little these companies know – for example most don’t know the difference between a daylily and a piece of grass. SO I am stuck hiring garden… Read more »

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
5 years ago
Reply to  K

It breaks my heart to see so called “professional” landscapers putting mulch half way up tree trunks, using industrial leaf blowers, and installing lawns that have no business being planted in the first place. Even if you pay someone to tend your yard, you still need to know something about what they are doing in order not to actively harm the environment.

Jessie
Jessie
5 years ago

Here are a few money saving tips: Many landfills have green waste recycling where you can buy compost and wood chip very cheap. Look for tree trimmers working in your area and ask if they would dump the shredded tree at your place. Your friend with the truck is your best friend, remember to fill his gas tank when you are done. Get to know your county extension agent, they know what really grows in your area, and their advice is free. Get a recycling lawn mower, you will not have to us a bag and the clippings will feed… Read more »

Jestep
Jestep
5 years ago

Not sure what you were paying for the mulch, but we’ve found landscaping supply companies to be way cheaper on bulk soils than big box stores. We can get 10 yards of mulch delivered for about $200 – $400 depending on the mulch. Lowes price for 10 yards is about $900 where we’re at. Soil, compost, gravel, and sand are even cheaper yet. Something that people should also take into account is your own time. I personally enjoy working on my yard, garden, property, but some projects are simply too time consuming. If it’s going to take me 100 hours… Read more »

Seester
Seester
5 years ago

I have a truck and have saved many of my clients by going to the local bark/mulch seller and getting a yard for around $30 and an appropriate delivery charge. That way if you don’t want to tie up your driveway or street with an entire unit (about 7.5 cubic yards) of groundcover, you can deal with it a yard at a time, and not pay a per bag price.

Jenny
Jenny
5 years ago

I get my trees professionally pruned every 5 years or so, and that’s about it. If I didn’t want to garden I would have bought a condo instead of a house. I try to keep the costs down a bit by not undertaking too many projects in any one year, and I’m a member of a barnraising group so I have some extra labor power one day a year.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
5 years ago

Our palm trees are 20-30 feet tall, and trimming them requires a crane. We don’t do that ourselves 😉

Lindsay
Lindsay
5 years ago

Never buy mulch (or any aggregates) from Lowes unless you need less than a yard. Get bulk delivery. Next time skip the pre-emergent (that’s what the mulch is for) and you’ve got yourself some significant savings 🙂

Linda Vergon
5 years ago

(This comment came from Marcia, a reader of our daily newsletter.)

You left out one big difference between DIY and a professional. You will simply do a better and more complete job. For example, the professional quoted you 7 yards of mulch for your front but you found you needed 10. Well, he would have used only 7 and you are better off with the 10. Also, you PAY to go to a gym to work out – so why not expend the energy on your yard?

Ely
Ely
5 years ago

We were looking forward to a yard when we bought our house but it turns out we are terrible at maintaining it. We tend to have very full weekends and also not enjoy the work as much as we thought we might. So we have a guy come out about once a month to mow, weed, trim, mulch, whatever needs doing. I pretty much let him do whatever he thinks is best; it always looks great afterwards, and only costs about $60/visit. I have considered the condo option having lived with the reality of yard maintenance, but decided in the… Read more »

Meg
Meg
5 years ago

Yard work is my weakness. I agree that their are savings to be had with mulch. My town’s landscaping department chips all their tree branches and leaves it in a pile for anyone to pick up. I don’t have a truck, but I have a trunk and I use a tarp to keep it from getting too messy. While it isn’t dyed pretty colors it doesn’t bother me the dyed stuff doesn’t stay that color for long. If I didn’t have access to the free stuff I would go with a local landscape supply company over the box stores. When… Read more »

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

There are two more tips to add to “when to leave landscaping to the professionals”:

6) When you’re not physically able to do much heavy lifting. When I was 30, yes. In my 50’s with arthritis and tendinitis and knee replacements in my future, not so much.

7) When you detest this kind of thing.

I’m afraid I qualify on both of these counts.

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Laura, you must be my long-lost twin!

JB
JB
5 years ago

After about $300 in topsoil, grass seed and fertilizer, two years in a row, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to leave rehabilitating a poorly kept lawn to the pros as well.

Between broken sprinkler heads, burnt out sections of lawn, huge swaths of weeds, grubs, deer, groundhogs….it’s far easier and more effective to pay a company to rehab the lawn than to buy 40,000 sq ft worth of seed, chemicals and everything else and fail. At least if a company treats the lawn and nothing takes you can argue the price.

Marie
Marie
5 years ago

I want to know how to hire someone just to PLAN my landscaping. I have no problem with hard labor and haggling for plants, but I just don’t have the vision to create a concept from scratch. If I were to design my yard, it would be just rows of plants plopped in a straight line like kids lining up for recess.

Laura
Laura
5 years ago
Reply to  Marie

You can hire someone to do that, but it’s usually pretty expensive. My mother was lucky enough to find someone to come out and draw plans for her yard for free. I’ve never landscaped my yard from scratch, but I did re-shape my beds and I have helped design a friend’s yard. One tip I’ve used is to use your garden hose as an outline to get an idea of how the bed will be shaped. Curved lines always look better than straight in landscaping. Put large foundation plants in back (instead of lining them up straight, try grouping them… Read more »

K
K
5 years ago
Reply to  Marie

Most good garden centers will offer a small plan for free… or by just engaging the employees in conversation they may toss a plan together for you by grabbing some plants and putting them together.

Jack Coakley
Jack Coakley
5 years ago
Reply to  Marie

You must have been the previous owner of my house. Everything lined up in rows. Had to rip most of it out, the rest died on its own. Now have a more naturalistic layout, pleasing to the eye and complementary to the house design.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
5 years ago

Get a two-wheeled wheelbarrow! It makes the work so much easier!

Charles
Charles
5 years ago

Hi. I agree, it is important to have the right professionals to do the job correctly. question for you; do you have an on the ground wheelbarrow to work with or could you ever see any benefit with one?

don
don
5 years ago

Watch out for mulched bark when you have to worry about termites. They love that stuff and it’s not a good thing to have near your house. Pine straw is a great mulch…

You can contact your local County Extension department, or go to some plant society meetings to find people who will advise you on design and plants – especially those that conserve water and are native to your area.

Brooke Joseph
Brooke Joseph
4 years ago

I think you make a pretty valid point with this. I have been trying to decide if it was worth it to try landscaping by myself, so thank you for sharing. Time is money, so it really doesn’t make sense if this is going to take up so much of your time and energy. After thinking about it, it definitely would make more sense to contact a professional. Hopefully my husband hasn’t already purchased our supplies!

RD@Rural Landscaping
[email protected] Landscaping
4 years ago

Professional landscapers are experts in their field. People may argue considering the high cost in hiring professionals but getting experts in charge of of your landscape save you time, money & a whole lot of work.

Bennett Fischer
Bennett Fischer
4 years ago

My dad is wanting to remodel our backyard soon, and he was thinking about trying to do it on his own. Now, don’t get me wrong, my dad is a super smart guy. But when it comes to landscaping, I definitely think he doesn’t know what he’s doing. That being the case, I noticed you said it’s important to hire a pro when dealing with a situation like this. I’ll be sure to show this to my dad right away before he ruins it all. Thanks for the help.

Lillian Moore
Lillian Moore
4 years ago

Thanks for the article! I agree that whenever safety is a concern the professionals are probably the best bet for the job. A large majority of landscaping is the plants but the know so known part of landscaping is building and add architectural pieces to add beauty to an area. Building things like walls or fences can be dangerous and if not done correctly the entire project can be ruined. I really enjoyed the article and I hope to have a professional help me on my bigger landscaping projects.

Gregory Willard
Gregory Willard
4 years ago

I think it’s interesting that the savings on DIY didn’t add up to much. I have always been really bad at landscaping, and will usually underestimate the supplies we need. I will take your advice and stick to the professionals.

Sam Solo
Sam Solo
2 years ago

It’s interesting that DIY landscaping ended up being about the same as hiring someone. I think I would much rather hire someone just because we have a lot of property to de-weed and I wouldn’t want to do it all on my own. I’ll have to remember to call someone to come out and trim everything.

Millie Hue
Millie Hue
1 year ago

I totally agree when you said that videos found online can be easy to look at, but applying it can be difficult for someone who does not know about landscape maintenance at all. This actually pertains to me because I don’t really know about taking care of the lawn. All my life, my parents and I have never lived in a house with a lawn. Now that I am married, my husband has bought a property with this feature. So I guess we will let the professionals handle it.

Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy
1 year ago

I never knew that having poor landscaping could lead to water getting into your house’s foundation! My wife and I recently moved into an area that gets a lot of rain, and my wife wants to get a new garden. I will be sure to tell her that we should try and have a professional help us with our garden to avoid standing water!

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