Gardening experts offer advice for ways to save money in your own garden

Before your garden concludes its fall fanfare of amber, vermillion and russet foliage, consider your yard from another perspective - how you can save money in your garden.

Fall is the time to prevent erosion, plant prudently, plan water conservation and avoid pipe damage. Seven local experts share their wisdom as to which fall yard upgrades are savvy investments.

1. UPGRADE SPRINKLER HEADS - 'The single most effective way to control costs is with water,' asserts Rich Christenson, landscape division manager for Teufel's Landscape and Teufel Nursery, headquartered in Beaverton.

'Fixing the sprinkling system will pay dividends,' he explains, because sprinklers usually water unevenly, so 'typically homeowners, instead of figuring out what's wrong, will run it longer,' resulting in over-watering. 'At the end of the summer, you can see the hot spots where there is no coverage.'

Christenson's solution is not merely to adjust sprinkler heads, but replace them with heads that are more powerful and efficient. His recommendation is Hunter Industries MP Rotator nozzle ($10) that casts a 360-degree, 20-foot stream, and, he says, 'It's so simple' for a homeowner to retrofit. 'It's a great upgrade homeowners can do on their own.'

Mike Gailey, sales center manager at Horizon Irrigation's branch in Tigard, adds, 'MP Rotators use 25 percent less water than the average sprinkler with the same coverage.'

2. INSTALL A RAIN SENSOR (for automatic sprinkler systems) - 'You don't have to turn the system on and off, the sensor does it,' Christenson explains, 'It's the right thing to do to conserve water.'

To encourage homeowners to install water sensors, which have only recently become available to nonprofessionals, Tualatin Valley Water District is offering up to $200 rebate on cost of parts for rain sensors. However, this rebate only applies to specific moisture sensor models that are installed on the ground. Homeowners are required to receive pre-approval to qualify, see or phone 503-848-3086.

According to Jim Meierotto, conservation coordinator at TVWD, funding for rebates was still available as of mid-September, but is limited. Meierotto says the only local outlets that sell qualifying units to non-professionals are Ewing Irrigation and Horizon Irrigation, both with branches in Tigard.

Horizon Irrigation retails a qualifying model, Rainbird SMRT-Y, which has four stations, for $260. Gailey explains that the sensor can be expanded, with each additional set of three stations costing $50.

Alternatively, Home Depot carries Toro water sensors that are installed into rain gutters. However, because they are not installed on the ground, they do not qualify for the TVWD rebate. For $30, a DIYer can install a Toro Wired RainSensor by connecting it to a sprinkler timer. Or, for $100, a DIYer can simplify installation with Toro's Wireless Rain Sensor, which requires a separate controller module to interface with the sprinkler timer, explains Steve Barrick, irrigation expert at the Home Depot near downtown Beaverton.

Fortunately, installing rain sensors does not require municipal permits, according to Mike Howard, senior plan examiner for the city of Beaverton.

3. DRAIN IRRIGATION SYSTEMS - The passing of fall also means the onset of freezing weather. When the mercury drops, Barrick of Beaverton's Home Depot advises homeowners: 'As soon as it starts to freeze, you want to drain your sprinkler system, if possible, so it doesn't freeze.' He adds, 'Draining will save a lot of money in the long run, so you don't have a bunch of broken sprinkler valves.'

If that unfortunate event does happen, Barrick recommends replacing the broken segment using couplers, about $5 each, and a new section of pipe, about $2.

4. PLANT IN FALL - 'Plants set in ground in the fall don't need as much supplemental irrigation as those planted the previous spring,' according to Teufel's Christenson. He explains that this is because fall-established plants focus energy on root development, while spring-established plants focus their energy on foliage.

'This is true for trees and bushes, but not true for plants that are not hardy in our climate, like ornamental banana trees,' he adds.

To further increase plant survival rates, TVWD's website advises homeowners to identify microclimates within their yards, 'Make note of your yard's hot and dry, and shady and damp areas, as different plants need different amounts of water to survive. Group plants with like sun and water needs together.'

For assistance in plant selection, TVWD's website has a list of 'Low-Water Use Plants for the Portland Area,' such as flowering crape myrtle that tolerates full sun exposure.

For additional conservation-minded garden design ideas, visit TVWD's lush but water-stingy demonstration garden in Beaverton and Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District's demonstration garden at Cooper Mountain Nature Park in Beaverton, which showcases hardy, native plants.

5. BUY LOCALLY GROWN PLANTS - 'Buy local' is not just a byword for chefs. Gardeners should also consider local sources for more robust plants with longer survival rates, according to Rich Christenson of Teufel, which has wholesale nurseries in Portland, Washington and Idaho.

'There is a problem when material is grown in an area outside ours: The plants are less hardy. There are all sorts of problems.' He elaborates, 'They can be more lush and top heavy and can fall over and split. Even the cheaper plants at Home Depot or Lowe's often are not as good as those grown at a local nursery. Locally grown plants have a greater rate of survival.'

Perhaps the converse is true for plants only intended to last a season, such as chrysanthemums, for which purchasing at the lowest price-point might make sense.

6. PRESSURE WASH SURFACES - When it comes to decks, patios and walkways, 'most people pressure wash in springtime,' Christenson observes, but pressure washing in fall 'cleans off dirt so slime doesn't grow. This will save problems all winter.'

The cost savings, he notes, is that 'this keeps (concrete and wood) material from degrading.'Another advantage of pressure washing in fall is it makes the walkways safer all winter long.

7. MULCH - 'Mulch helps prevent weed growth. Most anytime is good to mulch,' Christenson advises. However, mulching in the fall has an added benefit, he says, 'If you have a yard with a slope, rains can cause runoff. Mulch is a natural for minimizing erosion.'

TVWD's website posts specific recommendations for mulch types: 'Organic mulches include aged manure, compost, bark chips or wood chips. (These) enhance the soil's ability to store water, cover and cool the soil (and) minimize evaporation. Organic mulches also help with weed control and reduce soil erosion.' In contrast, the district points out, 'inorganic mulches, rock and gravel . . . absorb and re-radiate the sun's heat . . . increasing the amount of water that surrounding plants will need to thrive.'

According to Jeff Grimm, owner of Grimm's Fuel Co. in Tualatin (, 'Garden mulch, the fine black bark dust, cost for one unit (7.5 yards, covering 1,200 square feet, 2 inches deep) is $160 if dumped. If we install it, it's $270.' He laughingly encourages, 'So put it on really, really deep, and buy it all the time!'

8. INSTALL A RAIN BARREL - Rainwater is a cost-saver, but only for limited purposes.

Although it's not potable for indoor use and volumes captured are generally too small for yard irrigation, rainwater is practical as a soil treatment, explains Jason Garvey, owner of Portland Purple Water in Beaverton.

Rainwater is a key ingredient in the firm's 'compost tea,' a nutrient-rich soil additive that can improve soil quality, according to Garvey.

'Think of using rainwater as being a steward for the soil,' he says. 'Municipal water contains chlorine and chloramines, which are antiseptic, so putting them on the ground makes it difficult to grow the beneficial bacteria that make soil healthy.' He explains further, 'Clay soils, that's what we have, are vacant of these type of bacteria. So we spend lots of money to haul in more soil and compost.' He concludes, 'But we might take a different approach and build soil.'

Although Garvey says the cost savings are difficult to quantify, the payback has a low threshold, as Portland Purple Water rain barrels start at $75, or $125 with delivery and installation.

9. PRUNE - The effects of overgrowth are most evident in fall. Snap photos of disheveled plants as a reference, then prune in winter when the foliage does not obscure branch patterns, Teufel's Christenson advises.

He adds that gardeners who prune this year benefit next year, when there are fewer leaves to clean up.

10. SHOWCASE YOUR GARDEN WITH NIGHT LIGHTING - Admittedly, adding night lighting to a garden isn't a cost savings. However, Christenson suggests that adding, 'lighting enables gardeners to enjoy their yards during the long, dark winter months.'

Garden lighting also adds curb appeal, providing house sellers with an edge over the competition.

Solar-powered lights are the simplest outdoor lights to install. However, unlike wired lights, the timing cannot be scheduled automatically and duration of lighting is limited to the degree that the sunlight charges the lights' batteries.

Despite these limitations, Mike Howard, senior plan examiner for the city of Beaverton, offers his opinion on solar lighting, 'Personally, I have tried the solar ones. They're great! They still work after five or six years and only cost about $1 apiece.'

Officially, Howard states that permits are not required for installing outside night lighting. However, he cautions, a permit would be required to add an outlet or to connect an electrical box directly to a wire.

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