Low maintenance landscaping

You want to spend as little time as possible working on your yard? The solution is low maintenance landscaping. It’s absolutely possible to create a landscape that looks awesome and that requires little maintenance. It’s just a matter of making the right choices. That means choosing things that require little maintenance and staying away from anything that requires a lot of maintenance. Simple enough. You will find on this page some pointers on how to make the right choices, as well as tips on how to make things easier.

Low maintenance landscaping: no mowing or weeding
Low maintenance landscaping: no mowing or weeding

If you’re thinking low maintenance landscaping, simply forget about the perfect lawn. Maintaining a perfect lawn is very time consuming.

  • On a dry summer, you can spend hours every week watering your lawn. If you live somewhere where dry summers are not a problem, then that’s not an issue for you, but for most people it is. There are three solutions.
    • You can install a sprinkler system, but that’s rather costly.
    • You can select a lawn variety that resists droughts better, but don’t expect amazing results. When there’s a drought, you lawn will turn yellow just few days after a regular lawn.
    • You can choose to replace your lawn by something more drought resistant, like creeping thyme. You should know that creeping thyme looks quite different from turf grass. It grows to a few inches and blooms, but can be mowed like grass. Also note that creeping thyme requires a lot of sun and a well drained soil.
  • To keep your lawn full and healthy, you may need to use fertilizers.
    • You may think that chemical fertilizers fit right in with low maintenance landscaping. They will make your lawn green fast, if you apply them well and follow all the indications. On the other hand, they have two main disadvantages: they tend to overfeed your lawn when applied and then starve it afterwards, plus they are not good for the chemistry and ecosystem of your soil. Worms, your soil’s biggest allies, don’t happen to like chemicals.
    • Organic fertilizers are less concentrated and usually have a slower dispersion rate. So they don’t make your lawn as green as fast, but they’re actually better for your lawn and they’re also good for your soil’s ecosystem.
    • Of course, a lawn growing in optimal conditions (lots of sun and water and a well drained soil) requires only minimal fertilization. So you may consider replacing the lawn in those locations where the conditions are less than optimal.
  • To maintain a decent looking lawn, you will also have to do a lot of weeding. On a fair size lawn, weeds can spread like wildfire. Here are a few suggestions on how to fight back.
    • They say that, to prevent weeds from taking root and multiplying in your yard, you need to keep your lawn about three inches high and to sow grass seeds wherever you see raw soil. This is easier said than done. For one thing, only a lawn that grows in very good sun and water conditions can be kept this high. If this is your case, keeping your lawn high will bring you a few inches closer to your low maintenance landscaping goal. If on the other hand, you have less than optimal conditions, your grass will be too weak to stand up straight if you leave it this high and your lawn will look bad.
    • You can use a weed puller and pull them all by hand. Very effective, but a hell of a lot of work. A far cry from your low maintenance landscaping ideal.
    • You can use chemical weed killers. Once again, chemicals may seem like a good choice for anyone interested in low maintenance landscaping. For one thing, they are often largely ineffective, plus they unbalance the chemistry and ecology of your soil. Easy but far from optimal.
    • You can choose to replace your lawn by another type of ground cover. Some, like Creeping Thyme and Creeping Jenny, are more aggressive than turf grass. Others, like Bishop’s Goutweed, grow higher than most weeds.
  • And of course, low maintenance landscaping or not, regular mowing is a must. What can you do to spend as little time as possible mowing?
    • You can choose a slow growing turf grass variety. That will save you a few days. So instead of having to mow every week, you will have to do it every ten days. You may even find out that it grows just as fast as your neighbor’s regular grass.
    • You can ask you children or your neighbor’s children to mow it. Don’t expect perfection though.
    • You can choose to replace your lawn by something that doesn’t need mowing. Bishop’s Goutweed and Periwinkle are two possibilities, but neither resist being trampled.
You may think “Here’s a low maintenance landscaping solution! I’ll just have people take care of my lawn”. Then make sure you pick the right people and be ready to pay a steep amount. Low cost lawn maintenance companies will do the minimum, so you shouldn’t expect that they will make your lawn look it’s best. And they will almost certainly use those harsh chemicals you should really refrain from using. So, to conclude, low maintenance landscaping and perfect lawns don’t go too well together. Just remember that the level of maintenance required for your lawn is directly proportional with the quality of lawn you expect to have. Awesome lawn, lots of work. Average lawn, average work.

The flower bed

The flower bed can also be quite time consuming. You do need to get your knees in the dirt to plant, weed and nurture. What are the things you can do to spend as little time as possible on your knees?

  • Choosing the right plants is the key to low maintenance landscaping.
    • Annuals versus perennials. You may think “I’ll buy only perennials so I won’t have to redo it all every year”. That’s a very good idea, but it may not be exactly what you need. If you have a shady flower bed, for instance, you will find that many annuals will perform better in your garden. The reason is that instead of using energy preparing their roots and producing buds for the following spring, they use that energy blooming and making seeds. Also bear in mind that some perennials need winter protection.
    • Low maintenance plants. Some plants are just trouble free. They are never sick and they require almost no care or fertilization. These are the ones you should include in your selection. Sometimes it may simply be a question of choosing the right variety for a given plant. Some varieties of Honeysuckle, for example, are very low maintenance, while others are more prone to disease.
  • And then there is weeding. Usually, whenever the wind blows it carries along a large variety of seeds of all sorts which can take root wherever it finds the right patch of soil. How can you prevent them from invading your flower bed?
    • Limit raw soil space. The more raw soil there is in your flower bed, the more chances there are that weeds will take root among your flowers.
    • Consider covering any raw soil with mulch or bark chips. Some people even use a geotextile under the mulch to ensure that no seed will reach the soil and take root. This may be a solution if you have a lot of space to cover, but is hardly practical for smaller spaces. You should also know the mulch is more likely to move around on fabric, so you will have to rearrange it regularly so as to hide the fabric. Pebbles are also a solution to hide soil or fabric, but interesting ones are very expensive and the regular ones you find in hardware stores are certainly not a plus for your landscaping.
    • Why not use a nice ground cover? Choose a plant that you like and let it cover the ground. It will fight for its place under the sun and give weeds a hard time. Creeping Jenny and Periwinkle may be good choices, although you should know these plants can be invasive. So you will eventually have to limit their growth.

Plants, plants, plants

Plants are living organisms. Although some require minimal care, all of them do require some care sometimes.
  • Newly planted bushes and trees can’t rely on a well developed root system to help them make it through the winter, so although they are winter hardy, they may require some protection for the first few years. Eventually they will be more maintenance free.
  • Most plants require little fertilization once they are well established. So simply try to stay away from those plants that require constant fertilization, like most varieties of roses, for instance. For those not so hungry plants, you simply need to add some natural fertilizers, like manure and compost, and add some fresh soil every once in a while.
  • Trouble free plants. Employees at the nursery often know quite well which plants need constant care and which are trouble free. Some plants seem to attract all the bugs and diseases, while others always remain strong and healthy.
  • Some plants need to be trimmed regularly. Think about it and consider choosing plants that don’t need trimming.
  • Winter resistant plants. Some plants can go through every winter trouble free while others have a harder time resisting the cold and sun during the winter. You should always choose plants that have a hardiness zone number that is lower than the hardiness zone for your location (for more information on hardiness zones, see either Wikipedia or The Unites States National Arboretum). If you live in a region that has a hardiness zone number of five, for example, consider choosing plants that have a hardiness zone number of three or two. If you choose plants that have a hardiness zone number equal to the hardiness zone number for your region, you will probably need to install winter protection or risk loosing your plants.
  • Location, location. Depending on where a given plant is located on your yard, it may need protection from thrown snow and ice. Even the most hardy plants may die if dirty snow and ice gets shoved on them all winter long. So simply don’t put anything where you or anyone else is likely to shove snow or ice during the winter time.

It is impossible to create a landscape that is completely maintenance free. Even if you chose to install a synthetic lawn and plastic plants, you would have to wash them up once in a while. Plus you would have an awful looking landscape. Landscaping is all about design, architecture and life. So you would be missing the last but most important factor.

But if you make the right choices, your low maintenance landscaping dream may in fact become reality with time and so you may end up spending less and less time working on your yard or garden as years go by.

Have you considered all the possibilities? There are some landscaping ideas you may not have thought of.

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The right plants in the right locations with the right conditions