I’ve been psyched to look at landscaping projects for weeks, but Mother Nature seems to be moving a little slowly. Nevertheless! This week, I decided to do some digging (yes…pun intended) on options and costs for landscaping work in NYC. Upfront disclosure: my landscaping expertise begins and ends with succulents on my coffee table that appear to be surviving without water, and one of the reasons I live in NYC is to avoid yard work of any kind, so I was grateful to have Sweeten Expert Corey and Sweeten Expert Jonathan share their take on urban green spaces for this post.
Window box and balcony basics
Corey explained that the starting point for the most basic green endeavor might begin with window boxes or planters for a small balcony. Here, you are essentially paying for what you see: prices for boxes and planters are based on dimensions and materials.
A fairly standard 36 x 6 x 6 teak or cedar window box can come in at $150, you’ll pay less than $15 for the soil needed to fill that box, and you can spend between $40 and up to $100 for a plant set. On the higher end, you might opt for custom powder-coated aluminum planter boxes for their durability, visual effect, and color variety: a 30 inch cube is available for approximately $1,100. Photo below from balcony project by Sweeten Expert Corey.
Interestingly, although not surprisingly, Corey noted that there are no nurseries in NYC, so you need to factor in freight and delivery costs to cart larger plants in (typically from Long Island and upstate New York), which can add 7 to 10 percent to your project costs. You will also pay labor fees by the hour (~$85 to $135 by the hour) or day (~$400 to $500 by the day) for a contractor to install your window boxes or planters, though many homeowners may opt to undertake this level of work on their own.
So let’s assume you have a 10 foot by 4 foot balcony that you would like to line with 5 planters, you might spend between $750 and $5,000 on planters, with $75 for soil, $200 to $500 on plants, and $100 on delivery, totaling $1,125 to $5,675 in material costs. For a larger balcony or terrace, let’s assume you have a 20 foot by 20 foot space: you should plan $3,000 to $5,000 for a basic set of plants and planters, and $5,000 to $10,000 for a lush garden feel.
Terrace and rooftop transformations
If you have a terrace or rooftop, you need to first consider weight and building guidelines. Corey explained that many buildings have weight load restrictions which allow you to design your project within set constraints, but if you live in an older building, you may need to hire an engineer to inspect the roof, provide you with loading guidelines so that you can design the space within a safe pounds per square foot range. The cost for this engineer varies: if building records are available, you’ll pay $750 to $1,200 for the report. If the engineer needs to conduct a site visit (to check beams or poke holes in the ceiling or simulate weight on the roof), you’ll pay closer to $5,000 and possibly up to $10,000.
With a little more space, you have options for more specialized landscaping and you may need more durable fixtures. A pre-fabricated fiberglass planter can come in at $450. A planter with a higher-end irrigation feature will run closer to $1,000. Your options for plant selections are also more varied and more expensive: larger plants and planters can cost $3,000 to $4,000. Materials on a rooftop need to be able to withstand exposure to extreme heat, bitter cold, and repeated wet and dry life cycles, so you may find that spending $150 to $450 on planters gets you through a few seasons but then need replacement within two years. Photo below from Sweetened Greenpoint roof deck matched to Sweeten Expert Corey.
If you are starting with an unfinished rooftop, you will need to budget for surfacing: a roof protection board costs approximately $25 per square foot for labor and materials, and you have widely varied options for tiles, concrete-pressed pavers, or wood to sit on top of the protection board. Pavers are generally available in 2 x 2 foot pieces at $18 – $50 per piece.
Your contractor will also help you determine whether you need plumbing work to bring a water line to the roof. Many buildings already have water access on the roof; if yours doesn’t, you will need a plumbing permit and approximately $2,000 for the plumbing work.
Beginning at $3,000, you can explore options for adding a pergola to your rooftop to create a multi-dimensional space, add shade, and set apart outdoor areas. A pergola is inherently a highly-custom job because it requires design tailored to the layout and structural specifics of your space, so you should expect to spend between $3,000 and $10,000 alone on a fairly basic pergola.
If the scale of your roof project requires a crane, you will need to cover the cost of a permit and a daily fee for the crane, which adds between $2,500 and $5,000 to your budget, per day.
With so many variables for a rooftop, it is hard to throw out quotes for average costs, but if you are starting with a workable space, you can expect to spend $10,000 to $20,000 for basic roof landscaping. At $20,000 to $25,000, you can incorporate more custom deck and structural options.
Yard and garden inspiration
If you have a yard, there are a number of variables with budget implications. If you are demolishing older materials or removing debris from a neglected space, you will need to pay for the labor and removal before you get started with your new design. Homeowners with yards in urban neighborhoods need to plan for the unknown beneath the grass – many backyards only have a few inches of dirt and soil masking brick or bedrock or cement from prior owners. If you do dig up bricks or bedrock that will inhibit plant and tree growth, you can opt to invest in removal or you can supplement with planter boxes and a watering system. A crew of four for a day in NYC can come in at around $2,000. Irrigation ranges from $1,200 to $4,000, depending on how many planters and zones you need to cover, and the cost increases if you want to conceal the irrigation lines below patio or deck surfaces. Photo below from Sweeten Expert Palmer’s Brooklyn Playhouse project.
So, let’s assume you have a fairly clean slate for a yard and you are not planning to lay down patio or deck work. You should plan for $5,000 to $7,000 for minimal clearing and delivery of varied plants and planters. If you are planning to add more structural elements like patio stone, deck work, or fencing, you need to plan for an additional $15,000 to $20,000.
Two tips to share as you think about your project: Corey noted that you can opt to phase in landscaping over time to spread the cost over a few years and to allow larger plants and structural elements to take root and develop. This may ultimately add to the total cost of the work because you are paying for labor and delivery at multiple points, but it makes sense to think about landscaping as an evolving project rather than a one-time deal. Also, Corey pointed out that many landscapers have trade discount arrangements with furniture providers. While we didn’t look at furniture costs in this post, your contractor might be able to get you up to 40% off furniture selection and minimize delivery fees.
So! Those are a lot of numbers to mull over. Take a look at our quick summary of key considerations and photos of landscape projects by Sweeten experts, all below.
Overview of Total Landscaping Costs:
$3,000 – $5,000 : basic balcony or small terrace
$5,000 – $10,000+ : lush balcony or terrace
$10,000 – $20,000 : basic rooftop
$20,000 – $25,000+ : lush and custom rooftop
$5,000 – $7,000 : basic yard
$20,000 – $30,000+ : lush and custom yard
Other Key Considerations:
– freight and delivery adds 7-10 percent to your budget
– labor costs average $1,500 to $2,000 per day for a team of 3 or 4
– engineer inspection of roof, if needed, adds $1,000 – $10,000
– budget extra for furniture and outdoor accessories
For more inspiration, take a look at these landscape projects by Sweeten experts:
Front stoop by Sweeten Expert Jonathan:
Backyard by Sweeten Expert Eran: