How To Manage and Maximize A Landscaping Project Budget

When you invest in landscaping you want to get the most for your money. That can put you at odds with your landscape contractor if they take a traditional approach to budgeting it.

One of the first questions they may ask you is, “What’s your budget?”

You may have an idea of how much you want to spend but it’s usually not productive to share that figure. More important is sharing a vision for the landscaping project that you had in mind and how it will enhance your family’s lifestyle.

This may be expressed by sharing some elements that you are planning to enjoy, such as a swimming pool or a new patio. This conversation sets the stage, it gives everyone an idea of the project’s scope.

That’s enough for them to at least have a budget range, but still not enough to start talking numbers.

Before you go much further, it’s vital to understand more about the contractor’s process, how they will make your vision a reality.

Ask them how they will help you get the most for your money?

They should have a collaborative process, a way for you to feel that you have control over the outcome.

Why is this important? Because your project doesn’t yet exist, other than in your imagination. To make it a reality there are a lot of things that have to be considered.

What follows will help you understand how most of the top companies work. That should put you at ease will put you at ease because you will be equipped to help your contractor deliver a project that meets all or at least most of your expectations.

Remove the Obstacles

Buying landscapes can be stressful. You can learn a lot from friends and the internet, but there’s always more to know.

Don’t pretend to know more than you do because you believe it will give you a negotiating edge. Doing so will likely reveal you don’t know what you don’t know.

The way to gain an edge is to ask good questions that reveal you are a savvy buyer. Here are some to consider.

  • What’s your process (or how do you work)?
  • What are the typical payment milestones?
  • Tell us about your warranties?
  • Can you show us some projects you’ve completed (and how much was invested)?
  • What can we do (or what are the ways) to maximize our budget

You are looking for signals that you are in good hands. They should make you feel comfortable sharing your vision and help you understand what you can expect to pay for it.

They should offer ideas for making the project work for your budget while being honest about the hidden costs. It’s better to pay more than you expected than to later discover the integrity of your project has been compromised to fit a budget.

Start with The End in Mind

The surest way to have a landscape design that works is to clarify your vision before designing.

It is indeed helpful to collect ideas and weigh the pros and cons of each. However, the time comes when you have to limit those inspirations and clarify your vision.

This is the most important step in the design process. The greater the clarity the better, but even a fuzzy vision is better than none at all. You need a destination before you can engage your creative juices to build the path.

Many of us cannot always put it into words, but what we really want is an experience. Actually, what we want is how that experience makes us feel.

This is why starting the landscape design process with the budget is almost criminal. It’s like throwing a bucket of ice water on those feelings and emotions.

What do you want to experience when immersed in your outdoor environment? When you get that right everything else falls into place.

Including the budget.

Organize Spaces by Activities

Whether you are designing interior or exterior spaces, they all have to work together, complementing each other. There should be a flow that makes sense.

For example, most homeowners would agree that the outdoor kitchen should be proximate to the indoor kitchen where preparation and staging will take place. How the transition between the two spaces takes place is vital for safety.

How about play areas? It makes sense to distance them from the outdoor cooking and dining areas.

To make your space interrelationships work consider how people will flow between them, and the expected pace of that flow. Making transitions more or less open will give you control of that flow.

Assemble the Necessary Elements

You may be wondering why budgeting hasn’t been discussed by now. There is a reason it comes later and that is to not limit what will make your vision possible.

Nearly every landscape element has variable costs. There are large and small trees and expensive, moderate, and inexpensive paving materials. Stay true to your vision and first and then back into the budget.

You want to give the most thought to the permanent elements that carry the greatest value. For example, if a swimming pool is involved in the design you must get that centerpiece of your design just right.

Think of this as a jigsaw puzzle with different-sized pieces. A swimming pool is a huge piece that dominates the landscape. Any uncertainty needs to be worked out before moving on to smaller pieces such as the pool house, walkways, and plantings that surround them.

Every living landscape element has a root system that must be respected if they are to thrive. For this reason, you may wish to organize your landscape elements into three categories, living, permanent, and flexible, or temporary. The latter could include outdoor furniture, playsets, and sculptures.

Site Work Is a Vital Element

The easiest way to get and keep your budgeting process in check is to start with an item that is usually an afterthought. Site work is everything that happens that doesn’t directly contribute to the project.

It includes demolition of unwanted plants and hardscapes and disposal costs. This may be one or several days of intensive work with heavy equipment and labor. As you can imagine, this portion of the project can easily add up to thousands of dollars.

Site work may also include supplemental drainage measures, temporary fencing, and permitting.

So, get this number on the table first.

High, Medium, Low or No Go

The best way to work to a budget is by thinking in terms of budget ranges and expected elements. If you and the designer agree on the elements you want, such as a pool, driveway, plantings, and so on, then the budget can be managed by working with the size or quality of each element.

  1. Settle on the must-have features or elements to include in your outdoor living space (e.g. patio, seat wall, firepit, pergola, kitchen station, lighting, etc.)
  2. List them in a column on the left axis.
  3. Then to the right of that column create three more columns: HIGH, MEDIUM, and LOW.
  4. Now fill in the grid with estimates of the cost for each element with its high, medium, and low price points. (e.g. a natural stone patio may be high, fabricated stone medium, and standard brick pavers low).
  5. These high, medium and low costs should include the materials, labor, and equipment to build them.
  6. The sum of the respective high, medium, and low columns will give you a broad budget range for planning
  7. Choose specific quality/cost targets from each high, medium, or low column to further tighten up the budget.

If you can add it later, you may elect to eliminate an element to further manage your current budget. Just be aware that there will be additional mobilization costs to complete that work at a later date.

Add Mobilization Costs

A talented landscape designer will know how to phase in construction phases if that becomes necessary to manage the budget or lifestyle timeliness.

He or she will plan for the least disruption of the current landscape to accommodate subsequent phases.

You will want to keep in mind that mobilization is required for each phase. This is typically around 5% of the total project cost. Thus, breaking a project into 3 phases increases the cost by an additional 10% for the 2nd and 3rd phases.

When choosing landscape elements it helps to identify a high, medium, and low-cost alternative for each. This could be small, medium, and large plantings or slightly different plant species.

For hardscapes, the material costs are one factor and so is installation labor. Combining both into a unit cost be square foot makes budgeting easier.

We Can Make It Work For You

Your outdoor living lifestyle is limited only by your vision and the budget you plan to commit to it. We’ll guide you through our proven process for making it work.

Our experienced team of professionals look forward to learning about your next project.  Contact us for a casual, no-obligation analysis.