Updating landscape is a great investment in tough economy

This is not a plea for plants to cost more, but you must know plants are cheaply priced. If you are shopping for value during a tough economy, plants are a good value. Updating the landscaping around your home is an investment paying you back in increased home value and decreased energy bills if you site your landscaping appropriately.

More than 20 years ago, I worked at a nursery ordering plants from wholesale growers and selling them to you, the retailing public. The job included unloading thousands of plants off 18-wheel trucks by placing them on carts pushed to their display area. Often, existing plant displays were moved to create a fresh display.

Plants need daily tending with watering, removing dead or yellow foliage and newly sprouted weeds. Of the hundreds of plant varieties sold, I was expected to know how much sun or shade each required, how large they grew and whether they would perform well in our zone.

This is a huge amount of labor, time and knowledge devoted to a product that, at the time, cost $4.99 for a gallon.

Fast-forward 20 years. Heating, transportation, and fertilizing costs have exploded with the price of oil. Watering costs have increased due to municipality's inadequate preparation for drought restrictions and bans. Most plants still sell for $4.99 a gallon. Labor expenses have been mitigated over the past two decades due to immigrants taking many nursery jobs.

What should a one-gallon plant cost? Eddie Aldridge, a successful, recently retired plant grower, estimates most one-gallon shrubs should retail for about $13. It's great we don't have to pay that price. However, at the higher price landscaping choices would be treated with greater scrutiny and respect.

Create a plan for your landscape by choosing the right plant for the right spot. This reduces the quantity of plants needed and makes their cost per square foot less. How? Letting a plant, in the right spot, grow to its full size will take up more square footage in the landscape, thus requiring fewer plants and little or no pruning. Beware, back end costs of poor landscaping can be treacherous. A groundcover is initially more expensive than lawn but cheaper within two to five years due to maintenance expenses. These are the types of issues that scrutiny and respect expose.

Maximize the landscape value of plants by installing them yourself. If you can't, save significant money by hiring laborers to amend the soil, plant bushes, spread mulch and then water everything in. You will be your own working contractor.

Have fun. Landscape projects, with a little thought, are decadently satisfying because they make ugly areas quickly pretty. Too often, ugly areas in life require input, and a lot of time, without knowing if the solution will ever be pretty.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens. Her most recent books include "Garden Paths and Stepping Stones" and "Perennials for Georgia." E-mail her at taradillard@agardenview.biz or visit www.agardenview.biz.