One of the quickest ways to add curb appeal to homes or businesses is landscaping. It can also be extremely costly, starting at about $8,000 to $10,000, depending on what’s to be done. For some, that’s a luxury that isn’t affordable or attainable. What if there was a company who helped you with the design, gave you a template on all the plants needed, told you where to plant them, and drew up a digital design of what your new yard could look like? Well, there is!

U-Plant Landscape Design began in Grand Rapids in 2019 and has grown to work with over 200 homeowners in just that short time. Started by Sandy Jonick, who is equipped with knowledge as a former lawn and tree care company employee, a florist, and a digital landscape designer, the small business’ slogan is “We design it … you plant it.”

While working at another landscape company as an office manager, Jonick handled calls from potential customers willing to put in the sweat equity who just wanted designs for their yards. They’d frequently say, “You know, we can dig a hole. We just don’t know what to put in it or where to put it. Can you provide a design for us?” At the time, her employer wasn’t interested in doing that, so she started researching the market to see if such a thing existed. “I found that there wasn’t really any company that would provide all the tools a homeowner would need for a professionally designed landscape that they could plant themselves,” Jonick said.

Since last year saw more families at home than ever before, attention turned toward home improvement projects, many of which included lawn care and crafting functional and appealing outdoor areas, patios, and fire pits to expand living space to the exterior. Jonick has designed many of these landscape plans all over the state, including homes in Saugatuck, Traverse City, Leelanau, and the coast of West Michigan.

Here’s typically how the process works. Jonick meets with clients onsite to survey and access the space, the grounds, existing plants, natural light, and so on. Customers relay their ideas, and Jonick shares her vision. Using CAD software to digitally draw over a photograph of their existing space, she places plants, ornamental trees, shrubs, mulch, rocks or stone, and more. Customers can see an image of their home with a mock-up of potential landscape designs. Once designs are approved and requested changes made, they receive a plant list to take to the greenhouse/nursery of their choice. This includes the suggested variety and labeled images of where to plant each item, but not the planting itself.

This customizable DIY landscape design approach differs from traditional landscape companies in a few ways, including lower cost and more customization. The actual planting/application process can be self-paced as time and budget allow. Traditional landscape companies often provide their own planting crew, individual plants, and products, but digital landscape design companies like U-Plant in West Michigan or Twin Oaks Landscape in Ann Arbor can save homeowners thousands of dollars by not hiring a landscaper to do the actual labor. Traditional landscape companies often give customers an aerial shot of their mockup – a format that is more difficult for homeowners to visualize how their space will look, especially if it’s a new build surrounded by piles of dirt.

For Jonick’s work, the first design space/design bed is $145, and each additional space ranges from $30 to $50. This price includes the site visit/consultation, design, updates/changes, plant shopping list, and label designs.

“A lot of people enjoy doing the work, or they’re not afraid to do the work. They just need to know where to dig the hole and what to put in it,” Jonick said. “I wanted it to be affordable to the homeowner looking to do the work themselves and not spend a ton of money getting there.” Jonick said traditional landscaping for a ranch home exterior around the foundation would typically cost $5,000 to $8,000, whereas the designs only would be about $350 (plant purchases not included, of course).

Using this approach can also be a good idea for homeowners or business owners who already have plants and hardscaping material to repurpose instead of buying everything new. “The satisfaction of a hard day’s work truly plants the proud seeds of a job well done,” according to Jonick.

“It’s a really fun business, and I enjoy doing it,” she said. “It’s something that homeowners appreciate because it allows them to get out there and get their hands dirty and make something beautiful.”