Many of us spend more money on our landscapes than we realize. The biggest expenses tend to go toward plants, water, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, gas, equipment and lawn care companies. If a limited budget is the biggest landscape problem you face, here are some places you might consider cutting back some in 2018:

1. The lawn. Most lawns can thrive on much less water, fertilizer and pesticide than we apply (note: before synthetic fertilizer was readily available, clover seed was added to all lawn seed mixes for its nitrogen-fixing capabilities). Consider the season too; fall applications of fertilizer and pre-emergent are far more effective than during other parts of the year. If you really want to cut down on expenses … let go of the lawn, at least a little. Much of this money is simply “mowed off” anyway, rather than turning into a long-term investment.

2. Consider changes in maintenance practices. Lower-input lawn care, redirecting downspouts, creating a compost pile, mulching with your lawn and garden waste rather than purchasing it, etc. It doesn’t matter what you plant in your landscape if the way you manage it is time-consuming and expensive.

3. Always, every time you create a landscape bed, improve the soil by adding some organic matter. Use your own clippings or other waste or get compost from local landfills or other places. This can help soil absorb moisture, loosen it up and ultimately improve plant health.

4. The most common landscape shrubs are barberry, spirea, yew, juniper, shrub roses and euonymus—shrubs that can require trimming or other care and that offer little value to insects and wildlife. If you have a clean slate, it’s easy to plant diversely from the beginning. Existing plants can be evaluated in terms of care, cost and environment benefits. Buying smaller sized shrubs may look sparse the first few years but they will soon catch up and have better root systems in the long run.

5. Add a tree to your landscape—a shade tree. Shade trees cool homes and yards, make them more appealing to be in and offer great habitat. One oak tree can support over 500 species of moths and butterflies. Like shrubs, they will soon catch up and develop hardier root systems. Cost? A small grow-bag tree may run $100-150, a seedling $10 and an acorn is FREE.

6. Add deep-rooted, drought-tolerant native grasses or perennials that will grow to full-size in just one growing season, even purchased as small plugs or in 3-4 inch sizes. You can also choose plants that will gently reseed themselves like little bluestem, penstemon, coneflower, Indiangrass, gayfeather and lanceleaf coreopsis.

Christina Hoyt, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum,