Go low-cost but bold with rental landscaping

Scripps Howard News ServiceMay 3, 2013 

As long as there’s a backyard outside your rental house, the door is open to creating affordable outdoor living spaces – if your landlord doesn’t mind. Many rental homes lack backyard landscaping, or what’s there is dull and doesn’t reflect any personal style. To create a wonderful space in just one or two weekends, consider tips from the Small Budget Gardener.

Two keys: First, make low-cost choices. Second, choose portable items, so you can take them to your next house.

Portable patio: The most affordable patio makers are plain concrete squares known as “steppers.” The smallest ones are about 12 by 12 inches and 2 inches thick and run about a dollar each. Larger, 2-foot sizes can run about $3 each. Use them to create a new patio for about $100. The steppers can be set edge to edge, or you can leave a gap for decorative gravel, grass or groundcover.

Fire pit: Create a fire pit for about the same cost using concrete block tumbled in giant drums to make them look old. All over Pinterest are examples of how to create a fire pit by stacking these blocks just so. Some repurpose old washing-machine drums to hold the fire, surrounded by dry walls of block. Their weight is such that stacked creations don’t need a foundation or mortar. When it comes time to move, unstack, load up and go.

Paint and stain: Painting or staining can turn worn-out wood fences or sheds into something delightful. Often, fencing at rentals is a hodgepodge of wooden slats, but a can of stain can unify the spans via subtle color. Water down latex paint to make it more like stain in your favorite color. Or if you’re looking for a lovely cottage garden, use whitewash to transform an everyday look into a clean and tidy background.

Trellis: A wall trellis is easy to make with scrap twigs – or simply buy a cheap wooden one and paint it. Some gardeners are recycling old screen doors, metal bedsteads and sections of old wrought-iron fencing as trellises. These flat panels stand against walls to allow vines to climb up for a beautiful, vertical garden. Best of all, you can simply detach the trellis and take it with you.

Plants: Big annual plants are always the best choice for rentals. You can grow them from seed or buy them in low-cost six-packs to make your summer-living spaces look nestled into the landscape. The most powerful plants are big, burly sunflowers. Use in a patch or row or as a single specimen. Hollyhock is another great choice that leaves you with a whole crop of seeds for next year. Cosmos, foxgloves and all the amaranths are easy-to-grow choices.

As always, containers are the best way to grow anything more long-lived, such as dwarf fruit trees and blueberries. The larger the pot, the more powerful it will be in greening up rental spaces with big plants that will go elsewhere when you do.

Learning to garden as a renter is a great way to save money while improving your lifestyle. Even the smallest spaces can be incredibly rewarding when transformed with these ideas.

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