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Landscaping on a budget: Designer offers tips for making the most out of your yard

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    Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania, Ohio, on May 24, 2018.

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    Landscaper K.C. Ahlers speaks during an interview at a property he landscaped in Sylvania.

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    Landscaper K.C. Ahlers poses for a portrait at a property he landscaped in Sylvania.

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    Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

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    Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
    Buy This Image

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    Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
    Buy This Image

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    Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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KC Ahlers, a landscape designer for Sylvania’s A&J Landscape Center, has seen it all when it comes to landscaping nightmares.

Sometimes he’ll drive through neighborhoods or visit friends’ homes and just shake his head. For some of his clients, there is no option but to recommend a costly redesign. But for many homeowners, it is possible to create a clean, beautiful yard on a modest budget.

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Landscaper K.C. Ahlers speaks during an interview at a property he landscaped in Sylvania.

The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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“People always want these big bushes, but if you go with a smaller bush, it will be half the price and it will end up being the same size in a couple of years,” Mr. Ahlers says, then calls out to a large dog named Henry, who is sauntering around a property Mr. Ahlers is working on in Sylvania. “Try to stay away from the big-box stores too. A local garden center won’t buy its product more than 100 miles away. A bigger store will buy from Georgia or Tennessee, and those plants aren’t used to the soil here, so they might not thrive.”

Those plants and bushes can be bought most cheaply this time of year or late fall. They are much more expensive when stores or garden centers truck them in early in the spring.

A redesign of the yard and beds for front and backyards of a home can typically average between $5,000 to $10,000, but homeowners often make the mistake of thinking more is better, Mr. Ahlers says, and that is not necessarily the case. On the Sylvania home he was finishing up, the previous owner planted more than a dozen pine trees. Mr. Ahlers took out a dozen trees and created beds with spaced-out plants and flowers, giving a more open design, something that those looking for a new home often cite as a desire in a property.

Mr. Ahlers used existing material on the property to add some character, including a bench on which he was able to place potted plants and existing pots and containers in which he was able to plant a variety of colorful flowers.

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Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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“I was able to utilize a lot of material on the premises to save her money,” Mr. Ahlers says. “I like to incorporate material that is already there. My job is to give her what she wants, but help her save money too.”

In an article, “40 Awesome and Cheap Landscaping Ideas,” on backyardboss.net, editors offered similar advice. Suggestions pictured included a refurbished old-style bathtub fill with colorful flowers, bloom boxes put together from old wood lying around, a patio set built from wooden pallets thrown away by big stores, even flowers planted in extra rain gutters.

An even simpler suggestion from editors is LED or solar lights placed around a path. Often, a dozen lights can be purchased for less than $20, and the inexpensive effort can add a little class to a mundane-looking yard.

Mulch is also a relatively inexpensive fix that can make a flower bed pop with color, particularly when bright flowers are added. A good mulch has a dual purpose: adding color to beds but also providing nutrients for flowers and bushes. Mr. Ahlers warns against using cheap mulch. Some cities provide compost or mulch for free. But it could be mixed with black walnuts, which can kill plants. A nutrient-rich mulch with a combination of topsoil and compost is the wise choice.

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Landscaping done by K.C. Ahlers at a property in Sylvania.

The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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But sometimes the cheapest thing for homeowners to do is to properly maintain material they already have.

“A big problem I see is that people don’t do the proper maintenance. It’s like owning a vehicle or a house. You need to take care of them,” Mr. Ahlers says. “If you don’t take care of your landscaping, it can become overgrown and get a disease or fungus.”

Other steps he suggested include:

■ Don’t overfertilize your lawn.

■  Buy hanging baskets, but then plop the flowers out of the baskets and plant them in the ground for an instant flower bed.

■ Before tearing out a lawn, consider if a $50 bag of grass seed and cheap spreader can do the trick.

■ Bury your downspouts with a pop-up drain so flower beds don’t flood out.

■ Talk to a landscape designer for ideas or scroll through the Internet.

But transforming a yard has to begin with a vision, a vision that doesn’t have to be fulfilled overnight.

“The No. 1 issue for people is that they don’t have a plan. If you go on a trip, you have a plan. Develop a master plan and break it into small pieces to make it cheaper, and 10 years down the road, you’ll have that landscaping you envisioned,” Mr. Ahlers says. “People always say that they will think about it next year, then 10 or 15 years go by and they don’t have that landscaping they wanted. If you don’t have a plan, you won’t realize it.”

Contact Brian Dugger at bdugger@theblade.com or on Twitter @DuggerBlade.

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