Guide to Planning a Low Maintenance Landscape
I firmly believe that everyone should be able to enjoy their yard, whether they have a lot of time to work on it or not. If you share this school of thought, low-maintenance landscaping is for you. Creating a landscape that basically takes care of itself means that you can have your quality green space and the time to enjoy it too. A low-maintenance landscape also requires fewer resources for its upkeep, which helps you and the environment. When planning your low-maintenance landscape, the first thing you’ll want to consider is shrinking your lawn (if you have one). While these emerald green carpets are as much a part of the American Dream as the white picket fence, they are gluttons for water and need a hefty time investment in order to keep them in peak condition year round. Less than perfect lawns also create the temptation to use expensive (and toxic!) fertilizers and pesticides to bring them up to snuff.
If you still want green open space, there are many other groundcovers you can use besides grass. White or red clover is one good alternative. Clover is a hardy groundcover that’s easy on bare feet and needs a lot less water and maintenance than most lawn grasses. Your local nursery can help you find other groundcovers that may be better for your region. You may also want to consider a mix of different groundcover species for the best seasonal coverage. Keeping your ground covered reduces water evaporation, which saves you resources and work.
Next you want to look at what plants you’ll be using in your low-maintenance landscape. Having fewer large plants like trees and shrubs versus many small plants can be a timesaver in the long run. A couple of large plants take up as much space as a bunch of small plants, but fewer landscaping elements means less plants to worry about and maintain. Larger specimens will do better in extreme temperature than smaller specimens of the same species because they have more extensive root systems and are better established than their diminutive kin.
The most important tip I can offer for low-maintenance landscaping is to use native plants as much as possible. Plants that are native to your region are the best adapted to your regional weather and soil conditions. They will automatically require much less attention than many foreign species because they have thrived on their own in the region for millennia. Native plants also give the added benefit of habitat for native animal and bird species.
Plant perennials! Once perennials are established, they keep going year after year. Annuals need to be replaced every season, which is a much more work and time intensive. Annuals that reseed themselves are another good way to go. This group includes many wildflower species, such as California poppies.
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Another thing to consider is if the plants you are using in your landscape are tolerant of extreme weather conditions common to your region. Plants that can take a licking and keep on ticking won’t need special attention every time there’s a drought or a cold spell. Most native species have evolved to thrive in whatever the local weather conditions can throw at them, but there are also many common landscaping plants that are cold, heat or drought-hardy. Look into which weather conditions are the most severe in your area, and pick hardy plants accordingly.
Make sure that your landscape is disease-resistant! Constantly treating plants for molds, rusts, or other lawn diseases is time and resource consuming. It isn’t too difficult to find native and common landscaping plants that are disease-resistant. Two other important elements to a disease-resistant landscape are plants that are well-adapted to your climate and having a wide variety of species. Plants that thrive in your particular climate will be less likely to become weakened and susceptible to disease, and a heterogeneous landscape is less likely to succumb to disease than one that consists of only one species.
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Garden pests are another issue to consider in your low-maintenance yard. Pest-resistant plants are an obvious choice. Companion plants are also useful to keep pests off of plants that might otherwise be vulnerable to them – nasturtiums and chives help keep aphids away, for example. Hosing down your plants every so often is also a good idea. This will dislodge most bad bugs if they’ve had a chance to gain a foothold. When dealing with pests, remember: a few bad bugs aren’t a big deal. It’s a matter of controlling the population, not obliterating it.
Now it’s time to plan your watering regimen. Drip irrigation is your friend! There will be an initial time and money investment to set up the irrigation system, but once that’s done watering is a snap. Drip irrigation, which is basically a system of permeable hoses arranged around your plants and connected to a water source, is much more water-efficient than a sprinkler system or watering by hand. If you would rather water by hand, however, remember that watering less often but more deeply is the best way to go.
Finally, don’t skimp on the seasonal maintenance. It will save you time in the long run. Mulching and fertilizing in the spring and fall and pruning every winter will keep your landscape attractive and your plants healthy. Healthy plants need a lot less care than unhealthy ones because they will be less susceptible to time-consuming pests and diseases.