Low Maintenance Landscaping

Most of us don’t like doing yard work. A friend of mine even sold his house so he would have a smaller garden to deal with! So what are the secrets to spending less time taking care of the landscape and more time doing what you really want to do? This article will deal with: planning, turf areas, plant choice, mulching and irrigation.

Most people never plan a landscape, it just happens over a period of time, haphazardly – depending on what pretty plants they see at a nursery on any given weekend. But having a plan is essential. The whole area needs to be looked at to determine what would best serve as lawn space and which parts would make the best beds. Look at soil quality and depth to decide whether that particular part of the yard would best be served by beds, turfgrass, or hardscape.

There isn’t a single species of grass that can be pointed to as the best choice for a low maintenance landscape. Everything depends on the conditions within the garden: drought tolerance, sunlight exposure, foot traffic and your own aesthetic preference. In a very sunny area of the yard buffalo grass is a good choice. It requires little or no mowing and very little water. In a drought situation, however, it will turn brown and stay that way until the next good rain. Bermuda or Zoysia grass is another option for sunny areas, but these require more water and much more mowing. In shady areas of the yard you can choose St Augustine or Fescue, but they will require water in drought or heatwave conditions. Also, when planning a lawn, try to eliminate the corners. This will make mowing easier and mean less weedeating required. Make sure there is a well-defined border between the grassed area and the beds to stop incursion.

Choosing plants for your low maintenance landscape takes a little research and some common sense. Don’t plant bushes that require shaping and constant trimming. Try instead native varieties that grow in a more natural way. Check out your local agricultural extension office for lists of plant choices. We all love those pansies and petunias adding a flash of color to a walkway or entryway, but they require constant watering, deadheading and replanting as the seasons change. They are a lot of work. Try a flowering groundcover like verbena or purple trailing lantana that only requires cutting back once a year. Grasses are a much under-used plant choice and require very little maintenance. The native varieties are hardy and drought tolerant and give a different texture to the landscape. These only require trimming back once a year in the late winter. Research which flowering shrubs do well in your area and in your soil. A little homework will bring you a big reward.

One of the biggest maintenance headaches in a landscape is keeping the weeds under control. I’ve spent many a back-breaking hour digging out Johnsongrass and other invasives, but once they are out make sure to give the entire bed area a good layer of shredded mulch. At least three inches. This will stop most seeds from reaching the soil and germinating and goes a long way toward a sustainably near weed-free landscape year after year. The other advantages to mulch are moisture retention, so you won’t so much wilting during droughts, and temperature regulation to keep the soil and roots at a reasonably constant range. Mulch also breaks down over time to add natural fertilizer to the soil, so make sure and top up the level each year. It is hard work, but the rewards are tenfold.

The biggest labor-saving device is an automatic irrigation system. They are invaluable, so put some thought into the design and make sure a licensed professional installs it. While the grass area requires spray irrigation, use drip zones for the flower beds. They use much less water and are very efficient, targeting the planted areas that need moisture the most.

These are a few ideas for low maintenance landscaping. Remember the golden rule: keep it simple. The more elaborate the design, the more work it will be to maintain. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean boring, either. You can have a design that is simple but still full of colors and textures, so spend a little time thinking about your design when creating a new landscape or changing an old one. It will be time well spent.