How Much Did It Cost to Replace My Lawn with a Garden?

AFTER: Garden in summer 2017, the third year after removing the lawn

I recently read through Emily Henderson’s backyard makeover and was horrified at the cost ($19k for materials + $10k for design and labor). We were able to replace our lawn for much less – just over $4k for the first three years – because we did the design and labor ourselves, and planted smaller plants that would take a while to grow in.

To be fair, my yard’s smaller and has no remaining lawn; additionally, we don’t have any boulders or hardscape (we plan to install a path) We did build an arbor ourselves, which was the most expensive single part of the initial installation!

BEFORE: My uninspiring “lawn” aka clover patch with two anchor shrubs in May 2013

Installation Costs (2015):

Front yard in three planting beds, 2015

  • Compost + soil amendments = $350
    • Cedar Grove compost
  • Plants = $730
  • Tool rental = $200
    • Sod cutter
    • Tiller + truck rental
  • Arbor + misc. project materials = $750
    • Lumber
    • Concrete
    • Stain
    • Rabbit fencing
    • Conduit
    • Electrical boxes + low-voltage system
  • Lighting = $470
    • Path “mushroom” lights
    • Two uplights
    • Hanging lamp for trellis

Total Installation Costs = $2,500

Year Two Additions (2016)

We had a high attrition rate for our plants in the first year, in part due to the major drought. I planted in spring rather than the previous fall, so the plants weren’t well established before the summer heat. In the second year, we added more plants to fill in gaps from deaths and under-planting.

“Shady bed” in June 2016 – the neighbor removed the large pine on the property line in fall 2016

  • Plants = $1,150 (for replacement as well as planters, pots, and other areas outside the original lawn footprint)
  • Planters (2 metal watering troughs) = $350
  • Bulbs = $100

Total Year Two Costs = $1,600

Year Three Additions (2017)

My garden in July 2017, three years after lawn replacement

  • Plants = approx. $60 (bought directly from a neighborhood landscape contractor)

Total Costs for First Three Years = $4,160

I learned a lot during the process since it was my first real garden. I’ll admit that the tiny plants for the first couple years tried my patience, but what’s three years in the grand scheme of things when I can spend $4k on a whole garden instead of $9k just on plants?!

We’ll probably spend another $5k on the garden path, depending what material we pick and if we do the labor ourselves *groans*. (If I were to do it again, I’d install the path at the same time as the garden, but c’est la vie.) Assuming that’s the case, the DIY lawn replacement will come in around $10k, versus $30k of a designed and installed full-grown-in-year-one garden. Since I don’t have a spare $20k laying around, I’m happy to be able to have a beautiful pollinator garden for a third of the cost ;)

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About Tracy Durnell

Seattle-area graphic designer and SFF writer inspired by the Pacific Northwest, crafting a sustainable and intentional life.

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