Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

Low-Maintenance Gardens

by Jane von Trapp


1. Korean boxwood (Buxus microphylla koreana 'Winter Beauty', zones 5-9); 2. Dwarf Japanese garden juniper (Juniperus chinensis procumbens 'Nana', zones 4-9); 3. Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris zones 4-9); 4. Japanese holly (llex crenata 'Convexa', zones 5-9); 5. Weeping Norway spruce (Picea abies 'Pendula', zones 3-7); 6. Bird's nest spruce (Picea abies 'Pumila Nigra', zones 3-8); 7. Dwarf Serbian spruce (Picea omorika 'Nana, zones 4-8); 8. Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa 'Pink Beauty', zones 3-7)
Eight Easy Plants.

Adapt the suggested plants to your home and region as necessary. The plants are widely available; their recommended USDA Hardiness Zones are noted.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could enjoy an attractive, colorful garden without spending all of your free time working at it? It can be done, and all it takes is some knowledge about the right plants and techniques. Find out about easy-care trees, shrubs, and perennials before you plant--and you'll save time and money well into the future.

Five Cardinal Principles

The principles listed here -- in order of importance -- will help you plan low maintenance into your garden:

1. Choose plants that are known to be reliable and problem-free for your area and that won't outgrow the space you are working with.

2. Reduce the size of your lawn or eliminate it entirely.

3. Prepare the soil well before planting so plants get a strong start.

4. Mulch to reduce weeds and conserve soil moisture.

5. If you live where watering is a necessity, install an automatic system, possibly drip.

Right Plant, Right Place

Considering the bewildering array of plants available at nurseries, choosing the best will require a little research.

Start by making a list of plants you like, or look around your neighborhood for interesting options. Consult gardening books or magazine articles to learn about the plants on your list, and enlist the help of a nearby nursery to learn how well local conditions would suit them: whether they grow well where you live, what their mature size is and if it will fit your space, when they bloom, and if they have any problems or special needs.

A common mistake is to choose plants that look just right on planting day, then rapidly outgrow their space, creating a continual maintenance headache. Unlike an interior design that looks best the day it is installed, a landscape design should look best about five years later.

Look for compact varieties of well-known plants. For instance, many traditional favorites, such as spirea, spruce, and holly, are now available in compact forms that are much more likely to suit the scale of today's smaller gardens. Most often these plants have part of their name in single quotes. Examples of compact plants are 'Goldflame' spirea, dwarf Serbian spruce, and 'Red Sprite' winterberry.

Named varieties may offer resistance to pests and diseases that plague the common species. Examples include 'Prairifire' crabapple, which is resistant to both apple scab and fire blight, and 'Carefree Delight' rose, which is rarely troubled by black spot, a common rose disease. Choosing disease-resistant varieties will result in fewer pests, and ultimately this translates into lower maintenance.

Some dwarf conifers, such as bird's nest spruce, grow very slowly, as little as an inch per year. Such slow growers are more expensive initially because a plant that is only 4 to 6 feet tall may be 10 to 15 years old. Growers have invested as much time and materials in these as in ones that are much larger. But the extra initial cost pays off over time because such plants need minimal if any pruning.

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