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I bought my house in 2007, and we inherited a crazy backyard. I'd like to completely redo it, but cost is a big issue. Estimates for a complete landscape are around $30,000, which unfortunately is out of our budget. Since our house has lost quite a bit of value, a HELOC is out of the question.

It's too much work for just one person to do, so I've considered hiring day laborers, and doing it myself.

My plan is to have them remove all green, saving a few apple trees for replanting. But outside of that I have no idea what else I need to do.

  1. Is there a person I can hire to figure out a plan, and coordinate this whole ordeal, or will they have their own personnel?

  2. I have a yard waste recycling bin, but the amount of brush needed to be removed will be more than a single bin full--What are my options for getting rid of the underbrush?

  3. The yard is tiered, and ideally I'd love to level it out. Is this feasible?

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What are your local laws for burning brush? :) –  Doresoom Aug 12 '10 at 19:04
    
Definitely consider renting a chipper to turn the yard waste into a pile of chips. If you don't want the chips as mulch, then make a pile in a corner of your yard to turn into compost. Add other yard waste to it, like grass clippings, leaves in the fall, even vegetable food waste, like watermelon rinds, etc. The compost will be very valuable to improve your soil once it has broken down. –  user558 Aug 15 '10 at 22:50
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2 Answers 2

A few thoughts...

  • Talk to some local landscaping companies. You can probably find one that will do a plan for you (for a fee). This will make it easier in that you have something to work from.
  • For the yard waste, look into renting a chipper that you can feed the brush into and it will spit out mulch. You can use the mulch in flower beds.
  • If you want to remove tiers, I'm guessing you're going to need to move a lot of dirt. You will probably need to rent equipment for this, unless you are willing to hire some one.

It sounds like you have a really big project in mind. If you are serious about doing it yourself, give yourself plenty of time.

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I've been in a similar situation, from the sound of it.

There are tradeoffs associated with getting people in versus doing it yourself, and some may not be immediately obvious.

  • There certainly are project managers that will do everything for you, from design through briefing contractors to levelling and final planting. They'll even come for regular visits for a few seasons afterwards to keep everything spick and span.

    The advantage of this approach is that they will do everything and you need have no skill whatsoever to get a great looking result. The disadvantage... is that they do everything, and they will not only charge you for their (expensive) time but also for their labourers, disposal, equipment hire, and so on and so on.

    In practice my experience is to steer clear of agents of this kind unless you really have to get it done immediately, for example if you want to sell the house this year.

  • An alternative is to do everything yourself. It's actually quite feasible given enough time (longer than you might think!) to clear the land, burn or chip the brushwood, then hire diggers and dumpers to level the land. But there's a remarkable amount of skill in making sure that you keep the trees you want to keep and that the ground is correctly graded with stones removed, top-soil neat, and sub-soil buried.

  • What I've found to work well is a middle way: I've done planning and unskilled work myself, then hired in sub-contractors to do the specialised work.

    So for our garden I spent a few weekends in the winter (when everything had died back) clearing to the ground, then in the spring (when the ground wasn't so waterlogged) had our local equipment hire firm supply a digger and a driver for a day to do the levelling. The fellow who came along was brilliant, truly an expert, and well worth the $300 or so we paid him for a long day.

I've found this in other situations, too: the specialists who would typically work as sub-contractors on bigger building projects most often know as much, and sometimes much more, than the lead project managers about the specifics of specialised tasks. If the job is simple and you have plenty of time then there's nothing particularly complicated about managing good subcontractors.

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For alternative two, it is always good to have friends or family with stressful jobs. Offer them an opportunity to get rid of their work rage by doing physical activity. They have to pay to go to the gym, but they can do it for free in your back yard! (Unless you are truly clever, and get them to pay for the privilege of doing really useful work for once.) –  Jan Fabry Aug 14 '10 at 8:30
    
@Jan - totally. I've enjoyed the gardening lark as it's a great contrast to the day job. –  Jeremy McGee Aug 15 '10 at 19:05
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