Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines

Low-Maintenance Gardens (page 3 of 3)

by Jane von Trapp

Some Practicalities

There's no real trick to proper plant spacing. If a plant's mature width is 3 feet, it needs about half that distance all the way around. But if your plants are slow-growing, or if you want them to grow together and look as one eventually, space them slightly closer. (This also minimizes weeds in ground covers.)

When you prepare a new bed, make sure you pull weeds, roots and all, or they will return to haunt your plantings. A layer of woven fabric weed cloth can help in some situations. But weeds can still grow through the opening made for the plant. Unfortunately, the weeds that root into the cloth are much more difficult to pull.

Mulch is a very effective weed deterrent. If a weed seed sprouts, it is very easy to pull with roots intact. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded bark between the plants. Shredded bark, as opposed to nuggets or chips, provides the best coverage and, in my opinion, looks the best. Mulch adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down, and it also shades the soil in summer and insulates it in winter. Replenish mulch every few years. If you replace it annually, you may run the risk of making the mulch layer too deep, and it will smother the plants. It's better just to freshen it with a light top-dressing at the beginning of the season.

Even if plants require only minimal maintenance, water and fertilizer are still essential. A drip-irrigation system on a timer eliminates the need to stand with a hose or to move sprinklers around. A little water for a long time is healthier for plants than a lot of water over a short period, so invest in a drip or soaker hose, drip irrigation, or more elaborate system. Since most of the water goes underground, drip irrigation really cuts down on weed growth, particularly in dry-summer climates.

Amending the planting hole with a commercial planting mix or homemade compost will provide just the boost new plants need. To make fertilizing a snap, use controlled-release fertilizers; one application can last an entire season. Or apply water-soluble fertilizers automatically through your irrigation system.

For fencing and garden benches, use cedar or other rot-resistant wood--no paint, no stain, no fuss when you let it weather naturally.

So there you have it. You can ignore your garden and enjoy it, too.

Jane von Trapp is a landscape designer living in Connecticut.

Illustration by Janet Fredericks

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