Low-Maintenance Landscapes

(December 14, 2015 )

Simplify Your Garden with Well-Planned Plantings


There are two types of gardeners: those who relish in the process and those who just want the finished product. If your goal is to create an appealing space that you love without the countless hours of labor, a low-maintenance landscape might be for you. While no garden is absolutely maintenance free, there are plenty of ways to have a beautiful landscape with minimal upkeep. Here’s how.  

MAKE YOUR MANTRA “KEEP IT SIMPLE”
 Simplify your design with large swaths of planting or paving rather than many small components. Create a system of paths based on your habits of moving around the garden, and make the main paths wide enough to negotiate with wheelbarrows and other tools.
 Group plants together that have similar needs, and grow them in a place where those needs are met, such as full sun, part shade, dry, or damp. Before you buy any plant, learn about its soil, light, temperature, and moisture needs.
 Mulch is a low-maintenance gardener’s best friend. Organic mulch, such as shredded bark, will smother weeds, reduce your need to water by retaining soil moisture, and ultimately break down to provide nutrients to your soil. Apply three to four inches of mulch on your beds once a year. For three inches of mulch on a one-hundred-square-foot bed, you’ll need approximately nine, three-cubic-foot bags. 
 To avoid unnecessary pruning, learn the expected mature size of trees and shrubs and choose locations where there is room for them to grow to their fullest potential without restraint.

PLANT FLOWERING SHRUBS FOR COLOR AND TEXTURE
 Generally, shrubs require less care than annuals and perennials, especially if you don’t have to prune. Fortunately, with the wide choice of flowering shrubs, there’s no need to sacrifice floral interest. Create a pleasing scene with a variety of shrubs with different foliage colors and textures as well as different flowering times.

USE HARDSCAPE CREATIVELY
 Paved areas not only reduce garden maintenance, they also increase your outdoor living space. Although more expensive at the onset, once in place they are virtually cost free, needing no weeding, fertilizing, mulching, or watering (except for an occasional hosing off). Choose hardscape materials that will blend well with the materials of your house to create generously proportioned outdoor dining and living spaces.

REPLACE LAWN WITH GROUND COVERS
 Replace all or part of your lawn with an attractive, low-lying ground cover that requires little or no maintenance once established. Appropriate ground covers vary regionally, so ask the experts at your local garden store for advice. (Garden store employees will have more time to talk on a weekday.) Options include sedum, creeping thyme, daylilies, low-growing hostas, Korean lawn grass, pachysandra, lavender, ferns, and certain varieties of clover or moss.

DESIGN LAWN AREAS TO MAKE THEM EASIER TO MAINTAIN
 There may be places in a garden where only a lawn will do. In those situations, design the lawn to make it as easy to care for as possible. Instead of planting the lawn right up against walls or fences, install a hard-surface border at ground level to accommodate the mower wheel. That will save having to go back with hand clippers or a weed eater to trim the grass along the edge.
 Trees planted in lawns are obstacles to lawn care as they drop leaves and block the line of mowing. If you want (or already have) trees and shrubs planted in your lawn, create large mulched islands around them rather than the typical one-foot radius of mounded bark. (Use thick layers of newspaper under the mulch to keep the grass from growing through.) Group together several shrubs or trees growing nearby into one large mulched bed rather than creating separate islands for each.  

PLANT EASY PERENNIALS AND ANNUALS 
 If you must have perennials, opt for easy-care types such as daylilies, coreopsis, fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum), stonecrop (Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ is a popular hybrid), English lavender, and lamb’s ears. Valuable self-care annuals include impatiens, wax begonia, and ageratum, which prefer semi-shade in all but very cool climates; and the sun worshippers such as cosmos, petunias, celosia, annual salvia, dusty miller, zinnia, marigold, and New Guinea impatiens.
With a little thought and planning, you can have a beautiful, easy-care landscape that leaves you plenty of time to relax and enjoy your piece of paradise. 

WRITTEN BY CATRIONA TUDOR ERLER
Photography provided by ©iStockphoto.com/Martin Wahlborg

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