Landscaping on a Budget
Has your lawn seen better days? From overgrown weeds to brown patches, an unkempt yard might be bringing your curb appeal down a few notches. But before you shell out the money to hire a pro to fix it—or worse, give up on your lawn completely—check out these affordable solutions. All your yard needs is a little (cheap) TLC.
1. Take a Test
Some chronic lawn issues—such as browning, thinning, and wilting—may stem from poor soil conditions. Get to the root of the problem by using the Atree 3-in-1 Soil Tester Kit, one of the top picks in our researched guide to the best soil tests. Once you insert the probe into the ground, you’ll be able to measure the light at ground level, plus your soil's moisture and pH levels. Use these measurements to determine whether the conditions are ideal for healthy grass growth, or whether the soil composition needs improvement. Making a few simple tweaks might give you the lush green lawn you’ve always wanted!
RELATED: How to Test Soil pH
2. Much Mulch
If you've ever mulched your garden beds or created a rustic path in your yard using mulch, you know that windy days or mischievous squirrels can throw the stuff all over your yard. It’s not a great look! Luckily for those who love the look of mulch but hate picking pieces of bark out of the lawn, there's a faux alternative. This mulch-like mat, which measures 22 inches wide and 6 feet long, can be cut to size to create a custom garden path that will stay put all season long—no raking required.
3. Bring Beneficial Bugs
Fleas, grubs, caterpillars, and a variety of other soil-dwelling insects wreak havoc on lawns and cause huge headaches for homeowners. Before resorting to chemical pesticides, try an effective, all-natural solution: Fight back and win against lawn pests by releasing beneficial bugs—nematodes, to be exact—into your landscape.
Microscopic and translucent, nematodes hunt and eliminate more than 230 different kinds of lawn pests and pose no danger to people, pets, or plants. Sure, it might seem strange to buy insects—via the internet, no less—but BioLogic Scanmask makes the process of obtaining and introducing nematodes easy, affordable, and sanitary.
4. Weed 'Em Out
Dandelions, thistle, and other common lawn weeds quickly turn a lush carpet of green into a plot that looks ragged and unloved. Of course, there are various effective strategies for preventing weeds from emerging in the first place, but only a lucky few homeowners avoid ever having to remove weeds manually, the old-fashioned way.
Pulling weeds isn’t rocket science, but it’s physically taxing, especially for those prone to sore knees and backaches. Your best bet? A stand-up weeder like this model by Fiskars. Simply place the head of the long-handled tool over the weed, step down on the foot platform, and watch as serrated, stainless-steel claws grab the weed by the root.
5. Forge a Brighter Path
When out to rescue a rather drab yard, start with the age-old advice to work with what you've got. You can highlight your landscape's best features easily by staking solar path lights directly along their perimeters. Beyond that, your work is done!
A set like Voona's LED Solar Path Lights charge during the day on their own and illuminate for up to 8 hours after dark to make sure your delicate shrubbery is seen and your path lit—no need to change out a bulb or pay extra for electricity. The lights’ stainless steel design will look spiffy no matter the elements they’re exposed to.
6. Step On It
Let’s face it: bare, patchy grass negatively affects your curb appeal. For a virtually effortless solution, hide the eyesore with some garden accessories. This set of three Bits and Pieces stepping stones easily disguise ugly grass while adding a unique decorative element to your yard. What’s more, the nonslip rocks are comfortable for walking, so the stones can work double-duty as a pathway through your lawn.
7. Wear Your Tools
Yard maintenance can be as easy as buckling shoes when you're working with the innovative Abco TechLawn Aerator Shoes. Spikes embedded into the bottom of these one-size-fits-all soles poke holes into the ground as you walk to improve circulation of air, water, and nutrients and increase the odds of a lush and vibrant lawn. Just remember to strap them to the bottom of any sneaker or work boot before you go out to mow, and you can check off both tasks in one go!
8. Evergreen Grass
If your pet makes a mess on the living room rug, there's an endless number of cleaning solutions that can get rid of those stains. When your dog goes on the lawn, however, there's little you can do to keep the grass from turning brown. If you want to keep your turf healthy and green, you'll need to keep it from becoming a doggie bathroom.
Consider establishing a pet station in the corner of your yard or on the far side of your patio. Train your dog to use a strip of fake grass, like this one from Pet Grow, rather than the lawn. The pad comes in several sizes and the artificial grass washes clean with water from a hose and can remain outdoors year round, whether it's lawn mowing season or not.
9. Dethatch Your Grass
Thatch—a buildup of organic matter like dead grass, stems, and leaves—can provide beneficial nutrients to your lawn, but too much of it can stunt grass growth. If your lawn is looking meager and you notice a mass of organic matter choking your grass blades at their base, then it’s time to dethatch.
The GreenWorks Corded Dethatcher, the best overall pick in our researched guide to the best dethatchers, will help you get the job done in no time. The lightweight push tractor cuts a 14-inch path with its sharp, stainless steel tines while running on a 10-amp motor. It performance is comparable to that of its competitors, but it runs on electricity, not gas, and thus has a much lower carbon footprint.
10. Feed It Right
The best fix for having a healthy lawn is making sure it has a good diet. If you consistently feed it the nutrients it needs, you’ll avoid problems in the future. Applying a grass fertilizer like Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food ensures that your lawn is healthy enough to endure foot traffic, and also prevents new weeds from growing. A well-fed lawn also absorbs water and nutrients better than a yard that goes unfed. Because this fertilizer can be applied any time of year to any type of grass, there's no no excuse not to start caring for your lawn now.
11. Control Your Watering
Overwatering a lawn can “choke” turf, depleting it of the oxygen it needs (and wasting water in the process). Too much water can drown the roots, eventually making the grass more susceptible to disease. You'll get the best results by watering turf early in the day—watering at night makes the lawn more prone to fungal diseases, which can cause unsightly rings and brown patches.
Smart controller options for automated sprinkler systems can lower your risk of overwatering your lawn. If you water using a sprinkler with a hose, add an affordable controller like the Orbit B-hyve between the faucet connection and the hose. The controller can adjust watering to match weather conditions. If you need an available faucet for filling pails, just add a dual or multiple faucet connection.
When bare spots and weeds make up more of your lawn than green blades, it probably is time to overseed. Overseeding a lawn—adding fresh grass seed without turning the soil— every few years helps to maintain a lush look. They key to success is making sure the new grass seed comes in contact with the soil, which means you may have to dethatch the lawn first (see above).
If your current turf has served you well, go ahead and overseed with the same variety of grass. If the lawn has never really flourished, do some research to determine the type of grass that best tolerates your local weather conditions—or just purchase an all-purpose seed mix like Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed. The 20-pound bag can cover up to 8,000 square feet of lawn.
13. Replace Unsightly Spots
As most homeowners can attest, there are always a few spots on your property that grass just won't grow—perhaps because the area is too shady, or gets a lot of foot traffic. Shade coverage changes as trees mature, so if the grass under a tree’s canopy starts failing, one solution is to overseed it with a shade-tolerant grass. Another easy, low-cost idea is to replace the grass with a shade-tolerant ground cover. A favorite for tree understories is North American native coral bells (Heuchera).
Some grasses and ground covers don’t take kindly to foot traffic, so if grass between the driveway and front door (or back under that tree) pales in comparison to the rest of the lawn, consider replacing it with a steppable plant. White Irish moss (Sagina subulata) can form a dense mat or fill in between pavers or flagstone. Try this large pack of seeds, and water it well after sowing, then on your lawn’s schedule. Technically not a moss, the perennial can spread rapidly and is easy to control in USDA Zones 4 through 10, taking some sun and shade.
Prices listed in this article are accurate as of August 4, 2022.
Whether you're a lawn care novice or a master gardener, everyone can use a little help around the yard. Subscribe to The Dirt newsletter for tips, recommendations, and problem-solving tools that can help you tame your great outdoors.