If you recall what our front yard looked like when we bought it, you know that the majority of my complaints were with all the excess stuff I didn't like in the yard. So, the first step to getting the yard of our dreams was getting rid of everything else. We were quoted over $2,000 to clear out the yard of plants and send them all to the landfill. Since neither of those things are cool in my book, I devised a plan. Here's how we saved thousands of dollars to prepare for a new landscape.
1. Craigslist, NextDoor, and Buy Nothing Group
The old adage, "one man's trash is another man's treasure" is so so so SO true. People on Craigslist were scrambling to haul away my garbage - I mean literal garbage. Most people have time to spare but not money to spare, so folks are willing to put lots of time and sweat into getting things of value.
The palm tree that they might be worth $800+ at a nursery is worth a couple hours of (wo)man power to pluck it out of the ground. And while I could have sold it, the time it would have taken me to dig it out and sell it simply wasn’t worth it.
I took 30 seconds to snap photos of the plants, made listings on Craigslist, then promptly got emails from people willing to take them away within a couple of days. A gentleman brought three guys to help remove two 30' palms in a couple of hours. Another dude dug out all of the smaller palms. A gal dug out eight birds-of-paradise plants over the course of a week. It's a win win win because you get rid of the plant, someone gains a new plant, and no plants are killed in the process.
I also gave away plastic pots, a fountain, a fish pond liner, a Buddha head, and other yard decor that the previous owner "gifted" to me. I used Craigslist's free section for all of my giveaways, but my local Buy Nothing Project Facebook group is my new favorite tool to give items a new home in my community. This is a resource for giving and receiving free items from your neighbors. It’s super convenient because they are a matter of blocks away so pick up is swift, and you have access to their Facebook profile to avoid the anonymity of Craigslist.
I even made some money selling the agave plants on Craigslist I had tons and tons of those suckers ranging in different sizes and lucky for me, they’re super desirable for people's low-water California gardens. The beauty of agaves and similar succulents is you can just cut them at their stem then they grow new roots - no digging required! I used my reciprocating saw to cut the plants at their base and sold them for $5 each - a great bargain!
People will take literal trash too! Remember all the concrete chunks that littered the front of the house? A man that lives on acreage outside of the city makes giant sculptures with concrete, rocks, and rubble. He works near downtown, so he came over after work (in his suit, tie, and nice shoes), put on some work gloves, and loaded the concrete into the trunk of his car for 20 minutes. It took him a bunch of trips to get all of it but after my initial meeting with him, I let him come over whenever convenient for him. Sometimes I'd come back from work to see 3 feet of concrete gone.
I keep a (poorly designed but effective) free sign on hand so whenever I want someone to take away any undesirables, I plop it by the street with the unwanted items and my junk is gone pretty quickly. When I worry that things wont get picked up by people strolling by, I’ll post it to Craigslist too. I snap a photo of the item and include context to its location (like signs and houses in the background) so I can say what block the item is on without putting my address on the internet. Then people drive by, take it, and drive off without me having to make small talk. I always delete the post as soon as its picked up as a courtesy to anyone browsing for freebies.
Win win win.
2. Indoor Floral Arrangements
Sure, I didn't want the big bushy plant blocking the window, but that didn't mean the foliage wasn't pretty. Even if the plants don't have flowers, a long branch of leaves makes for a pretty floral arrangement, so I'd cut a few stems and bring them inside. When they wilted, I'd go cut more, enjoy them inside, let them wilt, cut more, and the cycle continued for weeks. They were also nice gifts to give to neighbors and family. After a bunch of cuttings, the plant started to look bald, and it made it even easier to dig it out of the ground when it was free of its branches.
Once again, win win.
3. Greenery Recycling
Most all yard waste can be recycled to create mulch or compost. It's easy to assume that greenery will break down in a landfill the same way it does in your yard, but unfortunately, that isn't the case. When your grass clippings, tree branches, and dried up leaves don't get oxygen (after getting piled up in a landfill) the by-product is methane, which is a serious greenhouse gas. Instead of causing more of a problem in the landfill, the green waste can be a great resource once recycled.
My city has a free greenery recycling program where I just put my yard waste out by the curb every other week to get picked up. However, if your area doesn't have that, I'll bet you there's a recycling program that will gladly take your yard waste. In San Diego, I can even pick up the processed waste from the recycling center for free mulch! What a beautiful cycle.
If you don't have a recycling center in your area, composting at home is a great option for breaking down the greenery. Or, find a neighbor with a compost pile - I'm sure they wouldn't mind your contributions.
Win win win.
4. Repurpose the Good Stuff
Along with all the things I didn't like in the front yard, there were some gems. The flagstone pavers were a hazard, but those beauties are worth $$$ and would make for a lovely pathway if installed correctly. Also, there were lots of river rocks sprinkled throughout the mulch. I spent probably a trillion hours sifting through every inch of the yard separating the rocks from the mulch and dirt.
I somehow ended up doing this task on Friday nights while cool people were walking to the local bars and restaurants. They were looking cute and I was just a grown adult sitting in a pile of dirt putting mulch in one bucket, and rocks in another. I may not have made any friends in the process, but I'm glad I did the work because I collected $500 worth of rock. We incorporated those pebbles in the new landscape plan and saved $$$.
5. Get The Utility Company To Help Out
I shared all about this experience in this blog post, so hop over there to see how we had a tree pruned and multiple unwanted trees cut down completely, thanks to our utility company.
6. DIY Manual Labor with the Right Tools
Outdoor projects seem to be the most backbreaking, especially in the heat of summer. I can paint a mural in my home office for 100+ hours, but 30 minutes of digging a tree stump out of the ground is enough to make me want to never step foot outdoors ever again. However, if you get the right tools, and pick the right time of day, you can DIY projects that you'd otherwise pay an excavation crew to do.
There was a decrepit fence filled with termites dividing our driveway that crumbled when I pushed on it, but the posts were buried in really well. I tried digging them out and using a shovel with no luck, so I ultimately resorted to this tool that took them out like it was nothing. I also used it to pull out a shrub that was hard to dig out with hand tools and shovels. To learn how I refreshed this fence click here and to learn how I trained vines to climb the fence click here.
This isn’t really a creative approach to prepping our yard for new landscaping, but the power of a saw and a few hours is amazing. This $50 telescoping tree pruner has saved us hundreds of $$ not paying someone to reach the tall palms.
7. Get Rebates for Sustainable Landscape Improvements
If you’re in San Diego and have a lawn, you can get paid cold hard cash to rip out the water-loving grass and replace it with a more sustainable low-water landscape. Unfortunately, we weren’t eligible because we had no grass, but I know of folks that have gone through the process and got thousands of dollars from the rebate. You can also get rebates for installing rain barrels and irrigation timers. Learn about the program here.
Here’s what she looks like (mostly cleaned out and ready for plants). There’s a couple of rogue plants and a pile of sand and some old irrigation, but that’s about how cleared out it got. An improvement from the before photos, right? The columns are all white because of the stucco repair I did - more on that later.
I think that’s about it for my tips to get the yard ready for plantings. It took us months to slowly cut away at everything and organize all of the giveaways, but by the end we had a nearly-empty yard. We did pay an excavation crew to grade the land to give a nice foundation for the new landscape, but other than that - free!