How-To Project: Planning a Low-Maintenance Landscape
by National Gardening Association Editors
Landscapes that require minimum time and money to maintain require thoughtful planning and installation. Invest early in planning and structures, and you'll pay (and work) less later. Choose structures, plants, ground-coverings, and systems that will help to reduce watering, weeding, trimming, painting, and mowing.
Tools and Materials
- Paper and pencil
- Reference books on landscape plants and projects
Consider your available time. Determine how much time you spend maintaining your yard at different times of the year. Consider mowing, planting, pruning, weeding, watering, raking, snow shoveling, and other seasonal chores. What do you want to change?
List your needs. How do you plan to use your yard-for barbecuing, vegetable or flower gardening, kids' play activities, or simply viewing from the windows? Various activities require different ground surfaces, structures, or plantings.
Assess your landscape. Make a rough map and list of existing features, such as fences, trees and shrubs, buildings, and paved surfaces. Note problem areas, such as poor views, noise, lack of privacy, steep slopes, or places where plants grow poorly or water accumulates.
Choose timesaving systems and surfaces. Consider lower-maintenance alternatives to solve landscape problems, such as an automatic irrigation system for watering the lawn and garden; a deck, paved patio, or ground-covering plants instead of a mowed lawn; and a fence or vine-covered trellis instead of a clipped hedge. Choose brick or stone instead of wood surfaces to eliminate painting chores. Group shrubs and trees into mulched beds to reduce mowing, trimming, and watering. Mulch gardens to prevent weeds.
Select low-maintenance plants. Choose only plants that fit the space available. We all tend to underestimate how quickly and how large a small nursery plant will become. To reduce planting time, plant flowering shrubs or perennial plants that grow back each year instead of annuals that only last one season. Pick plants that thrive in your soil, sun, and climate.
Plant perennials that die to the ground in autumn, instead of shrubs, in places where snow accumulates or slides off the roof.
Choose plants with features that look good in more than one season, such as flowers in spring, handsome leaf color in fall, and attractive bark in winter.
Reduce or eliminate your lawn. If you have children or enjoy lawn games, about 600 square feet of turf is usually sufficient.
Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association