Budgeting for Success & Money Saving Tips

Saving Money and Time

Our customers have told us the biggest challenges of replacing grass lawns with beautiful water-efficient landscapes are related to TIME and MONEY.

It’s very important to get a rough yet realistic estimate of the cost of your project before you start spending money; we’ve all heard the horror stories about the kitchen remodel that stopped with the work only partially complete because homeowners grossly underestimated the cost of the projects and ran out of money. This does not have to happen to you and your new landscape if you take just a little time to plan it out.

Two of the most important factors related to cost are:

  1. whether you plan on using expensive materials (exotic plants and stone, for example) and
  2. whether you plan on doing most of the work yourself or hiring others to do it.

We have found that you can expect to pay anywhere from less than $5 per square foot to over $20, depending on your answers to these two questions.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about cost.

Cost of design:

Our L2G program requires a design but NOT one done by a professional. A simple pencil drawing will suffice.

If you want to hire a landscape designer to create the drawing it will cost about $300. Another option is to purchase residential landscape design software, available on the internet for under $100. You might find the software takes a little getting use to, but you might also end up enjoying the process.

Cost of killing and removing you lawn

The most labor-intensive part of the process may be removing your old lawn. Although killing the existing lawn may be time consuming, it’s not necessarily physically demanding. But removing the dead grass can be a lot of work as it usually requires removing the top two to four inches of soil. You may be able to hire someone to do this for you for about $500-$900 depending on the size of the lawn.


Kill the Lawn Yourself

Most of the L2G participants killed their lawn using chemicals. To do a good job of killing the lawn with chemicals someone needs to spray it once, then each week for the next three to five weeks keep watering the lawn and spray any new shoots that come up. The problem with paying someone to do this work is it will cost the contractors a lot of money to drive to your property each week – even if he or she is there for only a few minutes. So what often happens is the contractor will not take the time needed to completely kill the grass.

Although you need to be very careful and to read and understand the instructions, the good news is killing the lawn with chemicals is not very physically demanding work, so many homeowners can save the money and the headache of paying someone else to do the job.

Digging Up the Dead Grass

This is NOT a money-saving tip, but an important one just the same: pay someone to dig up the dead grass. People typically had from 2 to 10 inches of soil removed with the dead grass; removing this soil is back-breaking work. Even some people who did all the work themselves said if they had to do it over again, this is the one job they would pay someone to do.

Free Disposal of the Dead Grass

People had different strategies for disposing of the dead grass. The easiest thing to do is just pay someone to haul it away; this might cost $150 to $300, depending. But if you are a thrifty gardener, here are a few alternative strategies:

  • Trash can - Shake the dirt off the dead grass then throw the dead grass in the trash can. The trash can might not be large enough to take all the grass in one week; so you might have to add a little grass to the can each week for several weeks.
  • Free City pickup - After shaking off the dirt, put the grass in bags and call the City for your annual FREE bulk-trash curbside pickup (call 562.570.2876; only limited quantities will be picked up and the trash must be bagged according to the City rules, so call the City before bagging up tons of grass).

Install the Plants Yourself

For most people in our survey, this was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole process; so even if money were not an issue, they preferred to install the plants themselves.

If Paying for Labor – You May Save by Hiring the Neighborhood Gardener

If considering hiring others to do the work, it’s important to get the right person for the job. One of the best ways to do this is to find landscapes that you admire, and ask those homeowners who they worked with (designer and/or installer) and whether they would recommend that person. So if you find a professional you might be interested in hiring, ask that person for references.

If you need to hire someone, consider your neighborhood gardener. You might have to tell them exactly what you want done, but the gardener probably knows how to do most of the work, such as digging up the grass, hauling it away, and installing the new plants. You avoid a time-consuming search to find a contractor, the quality of their work is already known, they have a reason to do a good job (their long-term relationship with the neighborhood), and they probably work very hard for a reasonable fee. We also recommend finding landscapes that you admire, and asking those homeowners who they worked with (designer and/or installer) and whether they would recommend that person.

Cost of plants:

Probably the three most important cost factors related to the cost of plants are:

  1. Common vs. exotic: exotic plants will cost more, common plants less. While it’s fun to add a few uncommon plants, they can get pricy.
  2. Less mature vs. full grown plants: fairly young plants of a particular species will cost you less than larger, more mature individuals that a nursery has had to “nurse” for several years. Other than trees, many plants can achieve close to full size in one to three years. Some experts believe it’s healthier for plants if they are purchased young and allowed to mature in the soil that will become their permanent home, as oppose to maturing in a pot.
  3. Labor. As with other aspects of your landscape, doing it yourself is, well, free. Expect to pay about $3 to $7 per plant for installation.


Buy wholesale

Wholesale nurseries often sell plants for 40% or more off retail prices. Although these nurseries are about 40 minutes to an hour away, the savings can be significant. Click on these names to get more information on the nurseries and their locations: Tree of Life Nursery, Theodore Payne Foundation, Las Pilitas Nursery; and for succulents try Waterwise Botanicals.

Use the L2G 15% off coupon

If you are in the L2G program and approved by the program to construct your new landscape, you’ll receive a coupon for 15% off the retail price from our partnering nurseries (restrictions apply, see coupon for details). Click here for a list of local partnering nurseries.

Buy less mature plants

To save money, buy plants in 1-gallon containers rather than 5-gallon. Younger plants will cost less than 50% of their more mature cousins; but many of them will fill out very nicely in 12 months or less.

One of the amazing things about looking at some of the landscapes on the L2G website is this: many of the photos were taken soon after the water-efficient landscapes were installed, and the landscapes look a little scrawny; but photos of the same landscapes taken one year later show beautiful and lush landscapes with large flowering shrubs and other plants.

Cost of the irrigation system:

It takes a new drought-tolerant garden one or two years to get “established”, that is, for the plants and root systems to significantly mature. Once established, your L2G landscape will require much less water than during its establishment period. Some of the factors you should consider when estimating the cost of irrigating the new landscape include:

  • Will you be able to use an existing irrigation system, with minor improvements, to meet the lower water needs of your new L2G landscape?
  • Do you want to install a completely new, very efficient irrigation system such as a drip system?
  • Can you do most of the work yourself or do you need to hire someone?
  • Do you want a fully automated system or are you willing to invest the time necessary to do a lot of the watering yourself?


You may find that you will save money by purchasing the drip system components individually instead of as a kit. The great part about the approved product list is that it contains individual drip irrigation components. Purchasing complete drip irrigation kits can often leave you with extra parts that will not be utilized in the retrofit project. If designed properly, drip irrigation applicants can buy the exact amount of materials needed without having to worry about wasted parts or money.

Free City Pickup

The City of Long Beach offers a special trash pickup service for oversized and special handling items. Residents are permitted two free special pickups per year and are advised to utilize this resource to properly dispose of grass or an old sprinkler system. Visit the Environmental Services Bureau website to schedule a trash pickup time.

DIY Installation

Irrigation in general is often viewed as a more technical side of landscaping, but don’t let that stop you from considering a “Do It Yourself’ approach. A DIY installation is a common way to save time and money instead of hiring someone to do the work for you. A DIY project allows you to work on your own schedule – and when paired with the approved products list – allows to work within your own budget as well. The Long Beach Utilities Department has provided many resources for those applicants who are motivated to install the drip irrigation system themselves. With a little bit of prior research and careful planning, you will be well-equipped to install your drip irrigation system. Refer to the “How to Video” and the additional outside resources provided on the Lawn-to-Garden website to assist with the retrofit project.

Free Mulch Program

The City of Long Beach has an outstanding program that provides free mulch to residents. Many of the trees that are serviced throughout Long Beach are cut and recycled into usable mulch. Mulch provides a number of benefits to both a garden and a drip irrigation system, so participants are encouraged to take advantage of the free city service. Listed below are a few ways that mulch can benefit an irrigation system:

  • The drip tubing is stabilized once it is covered with mulch.
  • A mulch cover protects the drip tubing from animals and other potential threats.
  • The moisture within the soil is retained for a much longer period of time from a mulch top cover.

The drip irrigation inspection conducted by the Long Beach Utilities Department must take place before mulch is placed throughout the garden.

Visit the Sustainable Long Beach webpage (longbeach.gov/sustainability/programs/mulch-delivery/) for a free mulch delivery request form and hours of operation.

Outside Resources

We invite you to review the following list of resources which may help you with your drip irrigation project. These outside resources can be used to become familiar with drip irrigation and its uses; how to install drip irrigation, and what it takes to maintain an irrigation system. Inclusion on this list does not indicate an endorsement from LBUD.

Most of the people with successful projects (55%) did NOT install a new irrigation system. Some of these people just used their existing irrigation system. Others decided to live without an irrigation system, reasoning that once their new plants were established (which takes a year or so), rain would provide enough water during the five or six “winter” months; and for the rest of the year the plants could easily be watered by hand once every 2 to 5 weeks.

Other people simply converted their existing irrigation system to drip. Here is a guide to help you with the Drip Retrofit(PDF, 3MB).

Cost of hardscape:

Hardscape can be a wonderful addition to most landscape: new walkways, patios for outside entertaining or dining, decorative planters that add interest to your landscape. Hardscape features can add the most pleasure to your garden by increasing your livable space and creating a peaceful place for you to relax. Another benefit to most hardscapes is they require little maintenance: no watering, mowing, fertilizering, etc. (Please remember: your L2G landscape can contain NO impermeable hardscape such as concrete; any hardscape you add must allow water to infiltrate into the soil.)

There are two basic cost issues related to adding hardscape.

  1. The cost of material can range from a couple of dollars per square foot to more than five or six dollars depending on your choice of materials (such as inexpensive brick vs. flagstone).
  2. The second cost issue is whether you will install the hardscape yourself (zero labor cost) or pay someone to do it (usually several dollars per square foot.). As always, when considering paying someone to do the work for you, check their references – that’s the best indicator of whether you will be happy with their work or not.

You’ll find a lot of information about hardscapes at your local hardware and specialty stores and on the internet. This research will help you figure out whether it’s a project you can handle yourself or if you need to hire someone.


Minimize the Addition of Hardscape (Pavers, Brick, etc.)

Think twice about adding a lot of hardscape into your design. These materials tend to cost a lot of money and, unless you are doing the work yourself, can be expensive to install. That being said, some hardscape additions, such as pathways made of brick or flagstone that had been placed on a bed of sand, are fairly simple to install yet look quite beautiful.