Landscape Architects -  Denver, Colorado / Tucson, Arizona:  Your Landscape Solutions by Tom Stephens - Landscape Architect. Creative Landscape Designs, Xeriscape & Outdoor Living Spaces

How to Develop a Budget for Your Landscape Project

by Tom Stephens, Landscape Architect of Your Landscape Solutions

How to determine a realistic budget for a landscape project is one of the most difficult challenges facing homeowners when they first decide to landscape a new home or to renovate an existing home landscape.  Over 95% of my clients and students have no idea about how to begin to develop a budget for their landscape projects.

When you decide to landscape your home or business, or a public space, where do you look for price and cost comparison information to help you develop your landscape budget?  There is no such thing as a price tag on a landscape project as you would find on a car, TV, computer or any other large consumer-type purchase.  To determine budgets for residential landscaping projects I recommend two general rules of thumb:

First, is to allow 10 to 15% of the current value (not cost) of your house and property for the general landscaping needs of a project. Included would be a small entrance walk and patio (about 400 square feet each); grading and soil preparation for lawns and planting beds; planting of shade, evergreen, and ornamental trees, deciduous and evergreen shrubs, ornamental grasses, flowers, and ground covers; installation of organic mulches for plant beds; sodding or seeding of lawn areas; and a basic, but efficient drip-type irrigation system.

Not included would be major construction or hardscape elements such as fencing, decks and pergolas, spas or hot tubs, swimming or ornamental pools and waterfalls, play structures, major retaining or screen walls, lighting, and other amenities that are nice, but are not essential to enjoyable outdoor living.

The second method is to determine the total square footage of the property or site (from a plot plan, an on-site survey). By deducting the footprint or ground floor area of the house and the hard surfaces areas such as the existing drives, walks, and patios, you can then determine the total area available for landscaping. Then apply a range of $4.34 to $5.95+/- per square foot, depending on the complexity of your project, to determine the budget range for a landscape project. See the accompanying chart for average dollar figures and percentage of the total costs/budgets for five basic landscape operations.

These average budget range figures were developed in a study we did in 1997-98 and updated in early 2005 of over 100 randomly selected residential projects we had completed for our clients since 1989. These projects were made up of both new and renovation projects, ranging from a small deck and patio project of less than 1,000 sq.ft. in Ken Caryl Ranch (Photo A) to a large single family residence and home/office on a 77+ acre ranch in Aspen (Photo B), and with an almost equal representation of contractor and do-it-yourself projects.  For this study we did the estimates in 1007-98 and 2004 contractor installed dollars.  We have found that do-it-yourself projects can be done for between 45-55% of these figures.

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The average size residential project in the study was 19,600 sq.ft., with a landscape area of 15,680 sq.ft. (80%). The total average costs per square foot was $4.34 to $17.83 for contractor installed projects and $4.94 to $19.53 for professionally designed and coordinated and contractor installed projects. The average costs for a do-it-yourself project in the study was $2.20 to $9.77 per sq.ft.  These cost figures will change depending on inflation and your local economy.

Many of these projects were completed in as many as five or six phases and over as much as ten years.  Less than 1% of the projects were completed in only one phase.  Several were done as a combination of contractor and do-it-yourself completed landscapes. 

In a 1986 Gallup survey on landscaping it was discovered that new home buyers and buyers of previously owned homes estimated that landscaping, on the average, added 14.87% to the value or selling price of their home.

In another Gallup survey in 1995, it was stated that since 1993, more than 20 million U.S. households have spent over $14 billion annually on professional landscape, lawn care, and tree care services. Total homeowner spending in the professional landscape installation and construction services category showed the largest increase, rising by 5% to $6.2 billion. Annual projections for 2005 are for $67 billion.  Landscape installation and construction also saw the largest increase in the average amount spent by homeowners, rising 40% to an average of $4,173 per household per year.  Factors that influence this growth include:  increasing homeowner focus on the outdoor living spaces as a target for home improvement, less available time for homeowners to spend on establishment and maintenance of their landscape projects, and a growing awareness of the environmental benefits of well-designed landscape and the need to design, install, and maintain them with a high-level of environmental sensitivity.

Landscaping your home brings several economic and environmental benefits. Money Magazine researchers say landscaping is one of the best home improvements you can make, with a 100 to 200% recovery value. Unlike many large ticket purchases;  trees, shrubs, and other landscaping elements appreciate in value over time. Landscaping is an important aesthetic and economic factor for homeowners while they occupy their home, and is an important selling point when it comes time to sell it and move to another home.


Lot size 60' x 95'

5,700 sf

           House footprint 1,350 sf
           Hard surfaces 503 sf
Landscaped Area 3,847 sf  (67.5%)
CONSTRUCTION / HARDSCAPE $2.54/sf x 5,700 sf = $14,500
BED PREPARATION $0.37/sf x 5,700 sf = $2,100
PLANTS & PLANTING $0.82/sf x 5,700 sf = $4,700
IRRIGATION $0.36/sf x 5,700 sf = $2,100
LIGHTING $0.25/sf x 5,700 sf = $1,400

TOTAL BUDGET $4.34/sf x 5,700 sf = $24,800
$24,800  (budget for total site area)
x 67.5% (landscaped area)

$16,740 to $24,800 Budget Range
Tom Stephens, Landscape Architect, of Your Landscape Solutions specializes in challenging and unusual residential, public, commercial, and industrial landscape architectural design, construction and maintenance co-ordination projects. Since 1964 he has focused on creating environmentally sensitive and economically efficient landscape projects using natural, recycled and low maintenance materials and techniques; colorful and eye-catching multi-seasonal color effects; and low-water use techniques (Xeriscape). Several of his projects have won awards; have been featured in newspapers, magazines, and on TV; and have been selected for various garden tours.

Contact Tom at 303-797-6700 or on our web site at 

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