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> 12 Money Saving Landscaping Tips
> Florida Friendly Landscaping Tips
> Tips on Starting a Vegetable Garden
> How to Mulch: Tips & Guidelines
> Tips on Using Landscaping Materials
> How to Choose Landscaping Materials

12 Money Saving Landscaping Tips
Estimating Costs. Trying to get yourself a bargain on the plants, soil, wood, and rocks you need to build up your outdoor living area means making sense of the huge variations in prices among sources and regions. As if that's not challenging enough, prices for many materials -- such as lumber -- fluctuate quickly and seasonally. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you shop for your yard.

Plan before you buy. Sketch your landscape design on paper before you start planting and building. Knowing exactly what you need and where you're going to put it helps avoid wasting money.

Decide how much design you want. Although it's less expensive to build a square patio or deck, it's no bargain if you find the result so unappealing that you don't use it. It may be worth it to pay a designer to create a space that you can really use.

Talk to a pro. You may not need to hire a landscape architect or designer to develop your whole project, but $50-$100 for an hour-long consultation is well worth the money if it saves you from costly mistakes later.

Buy in phases. Few people have the financial resources to landscape their property all at once. Divide your project into phases, and pay as you go with funds on hand. You'll save on loan or credit costs and be able to evaluate your progress and adjust plans before moving to the next phase.

Don't assume cheaper is always better. Economics of scale being what they are, home improvement warehouses typically offer the lowest prices for common plants and hardscaping materials, such as lumber. However, they may not have the selection and quality you find at more specialized sources. Also, a local specialty shop may provide more personal service, expert advice, and guarantees, which are all helpful if you're a novice. When installing a pond, for example, it may be worth it to pay more through a source that specializes in water gardens, particularly if the staff can help you choose and install equipment. Plant prices may be higher at specialty nurseries, but many offer money-back guarantees on trees, shrubs, and bedding plants. Summer is the perfect time to enjoy a lush lawn.

Accept cheaper when it's good enough. With some items, there's little difference in quality between top-of-the-line and economy. Why pay more? Take advantage of a home improvement warehouse's volume buying power for bargains on common annuals and perennials, mulch, pavers, and containers. Inspect plants closely, however. A "big box" store may not care for them the way a nursery would.

Time your purchases. When you buy can be as important as where you buy. Lumber for outdoor projects is often cheaper during winter months. Save money on trees, shrubs, perennials, soil, and mulch by buying late in the season. Don't rush out to buy newly released plant varieties, which may be expensive initially because supply is low and demand is high. When production catches up in a few years, prices will likely drop.

Shop online and mail-order sources. Catalogs and web sites expand your choices, especially for rare plants and specialized products. Shopping online or by phone is convenient, and prices may be lower than in stores, but don't forget to include shipping costs when comparing prices with local sources.

Check alternate resources. Look beyond stores and catalogs for bargains. Arboretums and botanical centers often hold plant sales, and neighbors may have extra perennials to share. Some cities offer free mulch and compost, and construction and demolition sites can be sources of bricks and stones.

Be sociable. Being neighborly cuts costs. Share the rental fee for tillers, chippers, or other heavy equipment with others on the block, then take turns and save.

Necessary Quantities. When buying sand, soil, rocks, mulch, and other loose landscaping materials, it can be hard to estimate how much you'll need for a project. Materials may be sold by volume (cubic feet or cubic yards) or by weight (tons). A ton (2,000 pounds) of anything may seem like a lot, but if it's a dense, compact material, such as sand or soil, a ton might not cover as much as you think -- particularly if you are spreading it to a depth of a few inches. Keep in mind that a ton of dirt, sand, or gravel will fill up less than a cubic yard (27 cubic feet; a space 3 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet deep). Here are some other helpful guidelines:

• A cubic yard of soil, compost, or mulch fills about this much space:
320 square feet to a depth of 1 inch;
160 square feet to a depth of 2 inches:
110 square feet to a depth of 3 inches;
80 square feet to a depth of 4 inches.
• A cubic yard of soil weighs more than 2,000 pounds; a cub yard of sand or gravel weights nearly 3,000 pounds.
• A ton of 1/4- to 3/4-inch-diameter decorative rock spread 2 inches deep will cover 110 to 120 square feet.
• A ton of sand or pea gravel spread 2 inches deep will cover 100 to 120 square feet.
• Most full-size pickups hold 2 to 3 cubic yards of dirt, sand, gravel, or mulch; however, maximum weight capacity may limit you to carrying less. A single-axle dump truck holds 5 to 7 cubic yards of loose-fill material. Larger trucks may hold more than 10 cubic yards.
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Florida Friendly Landscaping Tips
Make a note of the type of soil, sunlight exposure and water conditions of the planting site before you shop. Choose plants that thrive under the conditions you noted.
Limit the number of plants that need a lot of water or care.
Keep on as much grass as you directly use for recreation and other purposes. Plant beds and mulched areas use use less water than grass.
Remove invasive exotic plants so they don't steal water and nutrition from Florida-friendly plants.

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Tips on Starting a Vegetable Garden
Nothing beats a summer salad made from fresh vegetables. Growing your own vegetables isn't difficult, but it's not something to attempt without research and planning. Before starting your vegetable garden, be sure to read about the best vegetables for your climate and soil type. Expect to learn by trial and error with your first garden, but learning as much as you can ahead of time will save frustration.

Using Seeds or Plants
Decide whether you want to grow from seed or from young plants. If using seeds, you'll need to start them indoors a couple of months in advance. Young plants go directly into the ground immediately after the last frost.

Start a compost pile. Recycling organic matter such as eggshells, coffee grounds and orange rinds will nourish your garden. Whether you start a simple compost mound or buy a compost bin, get your compost pile going at least six months to a year in advance so the organic matter breaks down. When it's time to till your garden to loosen the dirt for planting, mix compost with the soil.

Find a Sunny Spot
Find a spot for your vegetable garden that takes advantage of as much of the day's sun as possible. Avoid shady or partially shady spots, because vegetables won't grow well in these areas.

Consider Raised Beds
Raised garden beds help to drain water away from roots. You can create your own raised beds with boards or purchase kits. If you have clay or other soil with poor drainage, a raised bed 8 to 9 inches deep will help to prevent root rot and mold.

Choose Easy Vegetables
Start off with prolific, easy-to-grow plants such as zucchini and tomatoes. To learn about the best vegetables to grow in your area, consult a gardening guide for your hardiness zone and talk to friends and neighbors with vegetable gardens. Carrots, lettuce and peppers are also easy to grow, while celery can be difficult.

Consider a Fence
Consider erecting a fence. Fencing doesn't have to be a major investment. An inexpensive wire fence will keep away animals, kids and pets and will also keep your garden from spreading outside the desired area.
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How to Mulch: Tips & Guidelines
Adding mulch to your garden will improve the health of the soil and beautify the appearance of your landscaping.

Cover garden beds with a layer of mulch to keep weeds down and reduce the need for water. Annual weed seeds are less likely to sprout when the soil is covered with enough mulch to keep the soil surface in the dark.

When it comes to water, even a thin layer of mulch (nature's moisturizer) will reduce evaporation from the soil surface. Thicker mulches can reduce water use by as much as 50 percent.

Mulches vary in their appearance, makeup, and texture, which will influence how you use them. Here are some examples:
• Varying appearances: For a soothing, natural-looking garden, use dark-colored organic mulches made of bark or compost. For a brilliant-looking garden, consider a mulch of bright gravel. In utilitarian gardens such as vegetable gardens, straw makes an excellent mulch. Avoid colored mulch or beauty bark.
• Soil improvement: This calls for the use of organic mulches that break down to add organic matter to the soil.
• Texture: For maximum effectiveness with only a thin mulch layer, look for fine-textured mulches such as twice-shredded bark, compost, or cocoa hulls. For an airy mulch, try thicker layers of coarse-textured mulches such as straw or bark chunks.

Kill off sod or dense weeds by layering newspaper, alone or with a thick layer of compost or mulch, directly on the garden site. This treatment cuts off the sunlight to unwanted vegetation, which will eventually decay and add organic matter to the garden. The newspaper decomposes, too. (What a bargain!)

Mulch new plants with straw or chopped leaves after planting in the fall to prevent root damage during winter. A little mulch used immediately after planting can help to keep the soil moist and encourage continued root growth.

But the main reason to mulch lies ahead, in winter. Alternately freezing and thawing, expanding and contracting soil can break new roots or even push new plantings out of the ground, a process called frost heaving. By mulching generously with an airy material like straw when the soil first freezes, you can help keep the soil frozen until winter ends, at which point the mulch can be removed.

In winter, mulch evergreen perennials and ground covers with evergreen boughs to protect them from winter burn (the cold-weather opposite of sunburn). When the soil is frozen, the wind is strong, and the sun is bright, moisture is pulled out of the vulnerable leaves and cannot be replaced by the frozen roots. A protective layer of evergreen boughs, possibly obtained by recycling the branches of a Christmas tree, forms a protective shield over vulnerable greenery. Straw will also do the job, especially in colder areas where there is less chance of rot in winter.

Celebrate if you live in a snowy area. Snow is the best mulch of all, and it may allow you to grow plants that won't survive winter in snowless areas farther south.

Mulching allows you to recycle nature's products to replenish your garden, so that nothing is wasted, and in the process your garden will look greener and healthier.
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Tips on Using Landscaping Materials
There’s a wide range of landscaping materials available to the regular consumer these days. Where once only contractors and suppliers could find materials that were beyond basic cement block and lumber, do-it-yourselfers have exploded into the marketplace and industries have responded. Eliminating the middleman has led to just about anyone being able to find exotic landscaping materials with far more cachet than the supplies of a decade ago. Anyone handy with a shovel and who can lift or dig can certainly create a small backyard area that is attractively designed and decorated with garden furniture or perennials.

Pathways and small walls are very pleasing to the eye. The types and ranges of stone landscaping materials available to the average person today for paving, dry setting and retaining walls have come a long way since the modest brick. One supplier offers artic granite, textured patio paving and design stones that can be combined to form patterns. Information on planning and stone laying is readily available on the internet, which makes pathway projects incredibly easy to carry out.

Landscaping materials that enhance the appearance of your outdoor area only encourage you to spend more time in the open air. Even decks are being ripped up and replaced with stones, for areas far more appealing than the plain 2” x 6” decking floors of ten years ago.

What about Materials for Patio Decks?

Lumber and boards are another landscaping material that has come a long way since green-colored treated wood. Those who do opt to use lumber to build a new deck or replace an old one have attractive options available to them. Recycled material is now extruded into boards that look better than natural lumber and last far, far longer.

The range of colors in plastic boarding is pleasing to the eye and fits in nicely with plants and greenery you might have outdoors. Should you decide to go with natural wood as a landscaping material, there are plenty of stains that highlight the beautiful grain of your decking, but remember to add long-term protection of waterproof coating.

Stone isn’t limited to use in walls or pathways and is often used as a landscaping material for other ideas such as seating, or even featured as a stand-alone attraction - large rocks embedded in between plants or shrubs have become very popular as a landscaping material choice that adds character to an otherwise-drab yard area. Plants, shrubs, flowers and trees also play a large part in making outdoor areas attractive and they’re considered landscaping materials in themselves.

Whatever you choose for landscaping materials, do make sure to blend your design into the natural surroundings. You want to enhance the appearance of your yard area, and add a relaxing look to your home. Play up interesting features of your yard or use the shade of existing, mature trees. Keep things simple and appealing, using lots of lush greenery and potted plants for that lush look.
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How to Choose Landscaping Materials
You can narrow down your material selection initially by figuring out what you are willing to undertake. Are you sure you want to get into stonework? I’ll discuss the basics of stonework in a future post but rest assured this is no easy road! Another means by narrowing down your selection is by determining what materials fit in your budget and what materials are affordable in your area. A great example of this is my experiences landscaping in Michigan versus here in Texas. In Michigan brick pavers were used left and right for all of our patios and sidewalks. Prefabricated retaining wall block is all that we used. When I came to Texas and started landscaping I found out that pavers and retaining wall blocks were 3 to 4 times more expensive per square foot than stone. When looking at a big project, that’s a huge difference in how far your budget will go!

Once you have a general direction, spend some more time in thought. Chances are you might be mulching after your hard work at getting these hardscapes in. What mulch colors are available in your area and will they go with the color of stone or paver you’ve selected? If you’re going the route of stone, ask a mason or the landscape supply employee how hard the rock is to work with. A rock such as Oklahoma will be MUCH more difficult to work with than sandstone. If you decide to go with a softer touch such as railroad ties or treated timbers, make sure you have access to the saws and drills you will need to fit and anchor your structure.

While it sounds like a lot to take in just move ahead one step at a time. You will find that early on in your selection process your choices will be limited greatly by the skills and tools you have access to. Within a short amount of time you should be able to narrow your selection down to a few colors and at this point all I can say is good luck!

If you’ve read through this guide and still haven’t got the slightest clue on where to start or are stumped at trying to pick a path, call up a landscaper and pick their brain! Your local landscape supplier should be more than able to help you as well. As always, you are more than welcome to post your questions here and hopefully I can get you on your way. Happy landscaping!
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Landscape Materials 12 Money Saving Landscaping Tips
Florida Friendly Landscaping Tips
Tips on Starting a Vegetable Garden
How to Mulch: Tips & Guidelines
Tips on Using Landscaping Materials
How to Choose Landscaping Materials
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