Plan carefully to make the most of your landscape dollars. Sketch out your yard and include the contours of your home along with any patios or decks, walkways, driveways, paths, flower beds and retaining walls. Add features you want, and then split the project into phases so you can complete a little at a time to minimize the amount of money you need to spend all at once. Consider setting up a consultation with a landscape architect and having her look over your sketch. You can get advice for much less than you would spend if you had the plans drawn up from scratch.
Use gravel, concrete pavers or poured concrete for the most inexpensive paths and walkways. If using gravel, select small pieces of angular gravel (labeled "1/4-inch minus") for the least amount of slippage underfoot. Avoid pea gravel or other smooth stones. Attack weeds as you see them pop up.
Furnish existing decks and patios with inexpensive seating and occasional tables. Check big box stores, thrift stores and yard sales. Deals can often be found at summer's end. Dress up the area with a thrifty outdoor rug, some plants in containers, and perhaps some garden-style wall art. Add tiki torches, outdoor lamps, post lights or candle lanterns for evening ambiance.
Add a do-it-yourself water feature. Liners, pumps and fountains are available at home improvement stores and can easily be added to your yard, deck or patio. Create a retaining wall wherever you need one using textured concrete blocks made for this purpose. A trellis or arbor is another easy addition and can be enchanting and create privacy.
Sharpen lawn mower blades approximately every six weeks during summer months so the lawn stays healthy. Use thin layers of chopped-up grass clippings and some slow-release nitrogen to fertilize the lawn and help keep it green. Consider planting fescue seed, which is drought-resistant and doesn't need a lot of fertilizer to flourish.
Outline new flower beds with a garden hose to achieve contemporary curved shapes, and then install edging to define the beds and keep the lawn from encroaching. Enrich the soil properly with compost and other add-ins according to the advice of nursery personnel or the cooperative extension office in your area. Mulch with organic materials such as pine needles or shredded leaves, and check with your city to see if it will provide free mulch. You can apply these over layers of newspaper for extra weed control.
Invest most of your plants budget in trees, shrubs and flowers native to your area since these are most likely to flourish. Plant perennials and put in fewer than you think you need. You can divide them next year and fill in the beds then. Start plants indoors from seed, purchase plants and trees in late summer when they are on sale.
It often pays to invest in the biggest trees you can afford since they grow slowly and larger ones have much more impact on a landscape. However, investigate carefully. With some species, smaller trees are set back less by transplanting than larger trees, and will actually grow large faster.