A low maintenance garden: do’s and don’ts

September 16, 2016

“I want a low maintenance garden.”

We hear this request more than any other from our new clients. We understand that your garden should be a place for relaxing, entertaining and enjoying our beautiful weather.  No one wants to spend their entire weekend being a slave to the garden, especially in the heat of summer, or in the dreary rain.  Although there is no such thing as a no maintenance garden, creating a low (or lower) maintenance garden is possible. It does take a little extra effort in planning and preparation, but with a few considerations and some modifications you can spend more time relaxing in the garden than you do working in it.

Medina Crushed Gravel Walkway with Concrete Patio and Hydrangeas by Sublime Garden Design (800x570)

Do’s & Don’ts for creating a low maintenance garden

Do:

  • Choose the right plant for the right place: Knowing the conditions in your garden is the first step to selecting plants for each area.  How much sun? What type of soil? Is it soggy or dry? Understanding your garden will help you best select plants that are naturally suited to your garden conditions will make them easier to care for down the road. Grouping plants together that have similar exposure and water needs will also make life easier and your plants happier.
  • Plant groundcovers as a living mulch Just like mulch, a dense layer of groundcovers will help keep weeds down and control erosion and moisture in the soil.
  • Install drip irrigation: Drip irrigation is an efficient and cost effective way to save water and time. Drip irrigation loses less water to evaporation and saves you the time of hand-watering. Once your irrigation is installed don’t just set it and forget it!  As seasons change and your garden matures the watering needs change too.  What was enough water to keep things thriving in May just won’t cut it during a heat wave in July.  It’s also beneficial to check up on your system while its running to check for leaks and clogged lines. Your plants are also good indicators of how well your irrigation is dialed into what they need. Keep an eye out for wilted and/or yellow-brown leaves (note that this can be caused by too little or too much water).
  • Select low maintenance plants: Beyond choosing the right plant for the right place you will want to minimize the use of plants that need to be staked, divided or deadheaded to look their best. You may sacrifice some flower color but can make up for it with foliage color and texture for interest.

Lynnwood gas fire pit and cedar structure by Sublime Garden Design (800x570)

  • Utilize annuals in containers instead of planting beds: The showy display of annual flowers can’t be beat but they tend to require more water and maintenance than other garden plants.  Planting in containers allows you to control the irrigation and high nutrient requirements more easily,  while keeping them up close or as a focal point to enjoy all summer.
  • Feed the soil with compost instead of fertilizer: Mulching your beds with compost in lieu of fertilizing provided the nutrients needed to keep your soil ecosystem happy which in turn feeds your plants.  Mulch and fertilizer in 1 step! A good composted mulch will keep feeding your plants much longer than fertilizer as well.
  • Mulch mow your lawn: Having to stop constantly to empty the bag on your mower is time consuming.  By using a mulching mower instead you not only save time but you are also putting nutrients back into the soil by leaving the clippings on the lawn (tip: to minimize spraying grass clipping in the planting beds mow the perimeter of the lawn areas with the bag on and then remove the bag to mow the remainder).
  • Maintain a buffer between the edge of your lawn and vertical surfaces:  Mowing right up against your house, a wall, or even a tree trunk leaves a portion of long grass that requires an additional step (edging) to keep the lawn maintained.
  • Install edging around lawn: Keep your lawn from creeping into neighboring beds or pathways by installing metal or aluminum edging.

Don’t:

  • Use landscape fabric: The dream of never having to weed again is just that, a dream.  Landscape fabric has a way of floating to the surface over time.  Critters or rakes slowly shift the mulch exposing the ugly black fabric.  Even if you’re lucky and it stays put, pulling weeds that root onto the fabric is more difficult and less successful than in a regular bed. Most importantly, landscape fabric can create a barrier that disrupts the water flow to the roots.
  • Use plastic mulch chips: I suppose the idea here is that it always looks fresh and you never have to reapply.  But there lies the problem…it NEVER breaks down! You will forever have bits of plastic in your garden.   Composting or mulching every few years may be more maintenance but it also adds nutrients, reduces water evaporation and keeps weeds down.  Keep it natural!
  • Use artificial turf: Artificial turf requires no water and can be incredibly realistic and convincing… until you get up close.  This may sounds great until you realize what it takes to maintain it.  Weed seeds and moss spores can still blow in and take root.  Leaves and debris must be blown or raked off regularly and can’t be mulched in with the mower as in a natural lawn.

artificial-turf-1400x930

  • Plant too close: Although a little instant gratification is always tempting be sure to consider the mature size of your plants before planting.  Space them far enough from each other and structures to reduce maintenance.  A large shrub planted a few feet from the foundation or walkway will need constant pruning to keep it in bounds.  Planting shrubs too close together means you will need to relocate them later or be faced with pest and disease issues from the overcrowding.
  • Plant the wrong plants:  Fast growing plants are tempting at the nursery.  They will fill in an area quickly and are typically less expensive because they are easy to propagate quickly for resale.  Just remember, slow and steady wins the race and it can be true with plants as well.  Planting garden thugs will cause you more headaches and work down the road.  Plants that readily re-seed or spread underground can quickly invade your lawn, shade out other plants and need constant maintenance.

These are just a few tips to help you reduce the time and resources required to keep your garden looking great.  A little effort in the planning will keep you off your knees and in your lounger for years to come.

What tricks do you have to reduce your garden maintenance duties?

 

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