I love plants. Trees, shrubs, and especially in San Diego native species like manzanita, oak, sage, and pine. I am frequently in the yard trying to find more space to add additional plants or replacing ones that have died. (My approach to plants is mostly trial-and-error and learning as I go about what thrives in San Diego so there have been some poorly picked casualties along the way.)
However, plants cost money – especially big trees. Recently I’ve recently reading a lot of books and articles about personal finance and philosophy like the Mr. Money Mustache website and the book Early Retirement Extreme. These readings, and others like them, are focused on thinking about priorities and lifestyle, not penny-pinching though the names may suggest otherwise. In regard to my quest for trees for my property it led me to think about other methods than buying trees at a nursery to get some nice specimens.
I started with calling a number of nurseries to comparison shop and get an idea of the price for 3 good-sized trees (24 inch planting box or larger). After calling around the best price I could find was $680 for 2 Palo Verde trees and one New Zealand Christmas tree. That’s a good amount of money but plants are something I feel ok spending money on since you can’t make up the years it takes to establish a tree.
I talked about making this purchase with my wife and we decided to wait a couple of months and think about it. As with many purchases, delaying for a bit is a good way to step back and contemplate to see if it’s really a legitimate desire/need or just a short-term itch wanting to be scratched.
During the “waiting period” I decided to search on Craigslist for free trees since I had gotten some plants and trees on the site in the past. In San Diego most of the free trees are palms which I wasn’t interested in but a quick search for “tree” or “trees” in the morning took less than two minutes and I thought worth doing for a week or two to see if something more attractive might appear.
Was I in luck! In less than a week I had found some large, gorgeous trees – an Australian Flame tree and a few African Sumac trees that were 100% free and within 10 miles of my house. Since I care for two young kids most days, I scheduled a Saturday morning to go get them. I arrived to the first tree, in Coronado, with a spade and my mini-van. It was advertised as 12-15 feet but was easily 20 feet tall. Undeterred, I spent the next two hours digging out the root ball and calling for a UHaul truck and a friend to help me carry the tree.
I headed home after the tree was out of the ground for lunch, the UHaul, and a good and willing friend. We returned and loaded up the tree in short order then dropped it off at my house before heading to East Village for the other two
trees which were thankfully already in boxes. 24 inch boxes were advertised but this ad overdelivered as well and we found three 36 inch boxes awaiting us, along with two 60 inch boxes. The three remaining trees are in the Pocket Park at J Street and 13th behind Mission if anyone is interested.
We proceeded to use a dolly, which broke, to move the trees into the UHaul. With the dolly broken we slowly shimmied the trees up the ramp and then headed home.
That evening and the next day I dug 3 large holes – 36 inches cubed – to fit the trees. All told, I spent about 12 solid hours digging and moving plus about 6 hours of time from my friend and wife. 18 hours plus a total of $92 ($76 for the UHaul rental and $16 for celebration beers) for three amazing trees. My original budget was $680 so this seemed like a great deal. Then I priced the trees that I did get – $450 per for the Sumacs and $1150 or likely more for the Flame. Awesome! Not only had I saved 86% from my original budget but I’d received far larger and more valuable trees as well. Based on the nursery prices, I’d paid 4.48% of the value of the trees I ended up with. Better yet, I’d potentially saved 3 gorgeous trees that may have ended up in the trash. Someone else may have taken the trees, but if not they likely would have been chopped down.
If you’re looking to add some trees to your yard, take a look at Craigslist and save some major money. It’s also a fantastic place to get free or discounted furniture and other goods. (And also a great way to get rid of items you don’t need anymore.)
If you live in San Diego you can even get free street trees that come planted for you! It’s a great program and you can even apply online. I received a Hong Kong Orchid tree under this program that has done great and has beautiful flowers.