Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Low Maintenance Landscape: Fact or Fiction?
Is there really such a thing as a low maintenance garden ? A low maintenance LANDSCAPE maybe, but a garden? After all, gardens are labors of love and gardening as a hobby is tremendously popular, so just how much do we want to minimize its care and tending? Well, I for one know that the time and attention and expense we each want to lavish on our gardens may be a personal thing, but in general few of us would quibble that easy care gardens are a good thing. So what can we do to make our gardens lower, if not low, maintenance? Here are 5 low maintenance gardening ideas I've use in my own gardens and landscape. Result: less work, less expense, and more enjoyment.
I. Plant More Shrubs, Fewer Perennials and Annuals
It's math really. Plant one big thing, or lots of little things. Take care of one big blooming plant, or lots of smaller bloomers with smaller root balls but larger appetites for water, fertilizing and deadheading... not to mention the time investment in getting so many plants in the ground. And unlike perennials, shrubs seldom if ever require dividing and take up a lot more garden real estate from the get go. They also don't have as great a tendency to just disappear over time or lose vigor and form.
As for annuals... one dramatic, heavily blooming shrub easily has the same colorful impact as multiple flats of annuals which have to be planted year after year...after year. Relatively speaking, annuals are far more expensive, resource intensive, and less eco-friendly. (Consider all the plastic cell packs and trays we discard).
II. Consider Lawn Alternatives
Let's face it. A lush green lawn is a LOT of work. Planting, mowing, fertilizing, watering, pest and disease control. There goes your weekend. When I simply couldn't get my small lawn to look good year round (and in my mind, if your lawn looks bad, it doesn't matter how good your beds look), I replaced it with larger flower beds, expanses of beautiful gravel brick and stone, and finally, a small expanse (in both front and back) of high quality, highly realistic looking, synthetic turf.
I realize synthetic turf is not practical for all. It's expensive, not appropriate for huge lawns (at least in my mind), and quality varies greatly. But when used correctly, selected carefully, and surrounded by beautiful garden beds, it is a marvelous thing. It is some of the best money I've ever spent in my small landscape. I used the company NexGen and you can read about my experience with it, including installation in this blog post.
Be realistic about what will grow well in your geography and climate without heroic efforts on your part. Plant what wants to grow where you live (poison ivy being an exception)! When my native redbuds went to seed happily...and everywhere...in my back garden. I carefully selected those I wanted to remain based on my design objectives, and then allowed them to grow in place, pruning them as they grew. Life is too short, and summers too hot, to try to force your will onto finicky plants that are not meant to grow in your climate.
IV. Pick Your Battles
Ask yourself some important questions. When do you enjoy your garden most? In the cooler months or the warmer, hot ones? Then expend your efforts and plan your garden accordingly. Be minimalistic about the rest. I am not a fan of summer in OK, so I plant heavily for spring and fall, but very little extra for summer months. A few peppers and tomatoes and I call it quits. I don't want to be out in the heat deadheading, weeding, mulching and even harvesting...though summer may be YOUR favorite season. As for me, I water in the cool of the day, then run back inside to enjoy the garden from my kitchen window.
What is worth the trouble to you? You love lilies, so will happily take the time to stake them along with your peonies, but wrangling all those prickly roses that are so disease prone and high maintenance? Leave that to someone else. Spend time on those garden lovelies that your soul simply MUST have and leave the rest.
V. Use Evergreens Lavishly
Nothing looks so good, for so long, in so many seasons, with so little effort, as the noble evergreen. I use them lavishly in a myriad of ways. They help me garden efficiently and handsomely, while serving as a beautiful, easy care backdrop for colorful shrubs and flowers. Once established, they are generally drought and heat tolerant, require minimal pruning (or more, according to taste), and are pest and disease free for the most part.