While most people are at home during this pandemic, we’re spending more time outside breathing in the fresh air and enjoying our landscapes and gardens. A record number of people are running to the local garden center, wondering how to update their landscape with low maintenance plants. Considering low maintenance garden ideas are at the forefront of choices, let’s understand what goes into designing a low maintenance landscape.
Low Maintenance Garden Considerations
What is Full Sun to Full Shade?
Most don’t understand the meaning behind full sun or part sun. “Full sun” is a garden in direct sunlight for 6-8 hours each day. Think parking lot baking hot sun. A “part sun” garden would get 4-6 hours of sun from the eastern, southern, or western directions). And then there’s the morning and evening sun which plays a part in the equation too. A “part shade” garden would be 4-6 hours of the morning sun, but afternoon shade. Imagine lots of morning sun from the east. Then deciduous trees and evergreens flanking the west side of the property shading the garden from the late afternoon and evening hot sun. Full shade would be a woodland garden-like setting with 2-4 hours of dappled sunlight. The number of hours of daylight an area gets will determine what plant choices you have to choose. The more sun you have, the more options in plant palettes you have: the less sun, the fewer choices.
To measure sunlight, take note of where your home is on a plat plan directionally. Google maps is a great place to observe this concerning where the sun comes up and goes down and how it passes over your property. Take your plat map and note at the top of each hour where the sun is versus the shade. Draw lines on the map showing each hour. This map will give you a good idea of your sunlight hours to best choose the right plants.
Consider the Problem Areas in your Landscape
Add low maintenance garden areas by eliminating high maintenance problems. If it’s erosion, is it from a steep slope and bare soil showing? Do you need a retaining wall or an appropriate mulch to hold in place to protect the soil from eroding? Or do you have a deer problem? If so, do you have any restrictions on erecting a fence to keep the deer at bay? Are you dealing with full shade and lots of tree roots? Choose perennial dry shade groundcover plants, or add irrigation for a solution.
Sometimes folks make it harder on themselves by picking the high maintenance areas to garden. Then, they get frustrated and discouraged with the amount of time it takes to maintain it. Making observations and notes ahead of planning can alleviate the headaches later.
More Lawn; More Maintenance
Understandably, the more lawn you have, the more time you’ll spend maintaining it. Lawns are a high-maintenance ticket when it comes to overall gardening. Add up the number of hours it takes to cut it, fertilize, water, and edge it. If you want to eliminate portions of it, start in areas that are already having sparse coverage. More homeowners turn to low-maintenance groundcovers like ajuga, thyme, dwarf mondo grass, pachysandra, and sedums. If you miss the smell of fresh-cut grass, get a fresh-cut grass scented candle instead. Set back with your iced tea and enjoy the scent without the sweat!
Water your New Plantings Consistently
After choosing a plant and planting it, the nurturing of it will take some time. A low maintenance plant doesn’t mean you can plant it and walk away. On the contrary! The first year is crucial to getting its roots established in its new environment. Homeowners will often notice transplant shock in the first couple of months with leaves turning yellow and dropping. Maintaining a consistent watering schedule will give each plant a long-term anchoring in the landscape. If you’re not committed to hand watering, consider an irrigation system for your new plantings. Irrigation systems will cut down on time spent in the garden and keep the plant’s health up while it gets its footing.
Which Mulch to Use in your Garden Landscape
Mulch is an excellent add-on to low maintenance landscape designs. Mulch will add a pleasing curbside finish to the landscape beds. Besides, it keeps weeding down to a minimum and helps maintain moisture in the beds. In Western North Carolina, using either pine needles or double or triple ground hardwood mulch is preferred. A steep slope will benefit from the pine straw since it knits together and doesn’t swim downhill in a hard rainstorm. Double ground hardwood mulches do well with flatter areas or slightly sloped areas. It is more substantial and heavier than pine bark mulch, and the shredded ends hold together, staying in place better during rain.
Plants for Low Maintenance Gardens
Four Season Garden
To achieve a well-rounded landscape design for low maintenance gardening, start with the winter garden. Evergreens are the “bones of the garden” and ensure you have coverage in all four seasons. Add to that four-season shrubs that bring in color from flowers, berries, bark, and leaves.
Anticipating each shrub’s need for space to grow to full maturity is critical in placement. Imagine them full-grown when purchasing and allow for growth when placing in the low maintenance garden. If not, it won’t be low-maintenance as you’ll be periodically pruning each year to keep it small enough for its inadequate space.
Pest & Diseases
Choices are abundant at any garden center, and there is a variety of the same type of shrub. For instance, several azaleas and rhododendrons are susceptible to the fungus Phytophthora rot and crown rot. But, select resistant varieties and plant in a well-drained and well-aerated soil full of organic matter away. Prevent stormwater from collecting and sitting around the root ball. By following the cultural practices for each plant and buying amended varieties can keep your garden low maintenance and long-lasting.
Buying native plants have their advantages too. Natives protect natural wildlife habitats and require fewer fertilizers, pesticides, and water to maintain. (means more time on the porch) Natives also help prevent erosion on steep banks and help with stormwater management. The seeds and fruit in the winter help provide food for the birds and animals and create a natural habitat. Besides, native plants offer more nectar compared to their counterparts, making the bees happier too.
Xeriscaping with Drought Hardy Varieties
If you have a hard-to-water area or haven’t set up irrigation, drought-tolerant varieties can be an option. Once plants are established, less water can be a low-maintenance option by choosing sedums, succulents, and specific native grasses. Rock gardening has been an emerging part of landscapes, especially where rock is so abundant. On a steep slope, consider this option for a low-maintenance garden idea.
Lots of Bang for your Buck
Who doesn’t like an encore of blooms? There are many varieties now that give you lots of ‘bang for your buck’ with double bloom times throughout the season. When you have full-sun, you have these options! Try the Endless Summer hydrangeas that bloom on new wood and old wood. Another favorite is the Sonic Bloom Weigela that will bloom intermittently throughout the season. Double-Knockout Roses are an all-the-time favorite and come with the pest and disease resistance that old-time roses don’t bring along. Bloom-a-thon Lilacs and reblooming irises have double blooming capabilities as well. Ask your landscape garden designer what’s available in your area.
No Deadheading or Pruning
Keep it natural-looking, in my opinion, is a vote for low maintenance gardening design. When we get out the garden hedge trimmer, you’ve crossed over into ‘old man-ville.’ The oldies like to have everything shaped like meatballs, I’ve noticed, in the retirement center mecca of the world. Most old, established neighborhoods have a lot of sheered off, sick looking plants with no character.
This precedent all goes back to planning and selection in the beginning. Select a plant where it will live, thrive, and grow to its fullest potential without restrictions. Not allowing enough space for this will require higher maintenance, which is what we’re all trying to avoid so we can get to the beach faster! Keep pruning to a minimum by sighting it correctly, to begin with, and choosing varieties that stay tidy and have strong stems. Many dwarf varieties have come out on the market suitable for smaller areas and just right for foundation gardening. Adding to these shrubs are perennials that don’t need deadheading constantly, and you have yourself more time on the porch swing.
If you are a bit overwhelmed with all there is to do in making your garden more low maintenance; I can help. I serve the Henderson and South Buncombe county area of Western North Carolina. I will come and access your garden area, discuss your needs, and wants and establish a design that will eliminate more time in the garden than you’re willing to spend. I’ll explain each plant to you in the presentation, how it grows, what it looks like, and it’s characteristics. A layout will be shown with full-color pictures to keep and use for reference later. Make plans now and have more time on your back porch this summer! Call today for a consultation or contact me.