Five Landscape Ideas for Less Maintenance and More Enjoyment. By Grant Williams
Would you ever ask a carpet layer to cover your floors with carpet that never needs vacuumed? Do you think a cabinet builder could come up with a countertop that will never need wiped clean? It’s a ridiculous notion I know. So why is it that so many homeowners expect to have a landscape that never needs maintenance? How low is low maintenance? Everything comes with some level of upkeep. The challenge is to find specific solutions that fit your needs and situation.
I have a client who adamantly insisted in our first meeting there would be no Yews on his property. Growing up, his parents made him prune their Yew hedge two or three times a year to keep it from crowding the sidewalk. It scarred him for life I suppose because to this day he can’t stand Yews. To him, they create maintenance and should be completely avoided. In reality, whether or not you like Yews, they are actually useful, extremely hardy plants that occasionally are a great choice in the landscape. I suspect that if the shrubs my client grew up with were a smaller variety that did not constantly outgrow the space, he would not have this hatred for a plant that was more than likely just planted in the wrong place.
One of the most common concerns I get from design clients is the worry that their new landscape could potentially create a lot of maintenance. I have to ask specifically what they think low maintenance would be. Everyone has different ideas of what low maintenance is so it’s important that I know where he or she is coming from to design solutions that work for the client.
The bad news is, there is no such thing as a maintenance free landscape. Even if those rabid yews had been a smaller variety, chances are that at some point they would have still needed some attention. Whatever your perception of low maintenance might be here are some helpful ways to make your landscape require less maintenance and be more enjoyable.
Reduce the size of your lawn. I am going to write an entire article about this soon so I’ll keep it short for now. Nothing else in the landscape creates as much maintenance as turf-grass. By reducing the overall area you have to water, fertilize, and mow weekly, you can save thousands of dollars and countless hours on the mower. Create planting beds instead to take up space. Use plants that won’t get overgrown and only require minimal amounts of water.
Plant for the space. The most typical mistake people make that creates unnecessary maintenance is poor plant selection. A row of China Girl Hollies might look great under your picture window for a year or two. However, when the third or fourth year rolls around and your window is only three feet off the ground, they have to be pruned constantly to keep them from covering the view. Soon the plants are over-pruned and become unhealthy. Not because China Girl Hollies are high maintenance, but because they are in the wrong place.
Another consideration with plant selection is whether or not the plant will have suitable growing conditions. Make sure the plant requires the amount of sunlight or shade, and soil conditions you have on site. Many plants will survive inadequate conditions but will never perform like they were intended.
With careful selection of plant material for mature size and good growing conditions, you can save yourself years of aggravation and hard work maintaining a plant that is in the wrong place. Most plants are low maintenance if they in the right location.
WARNING: NOT ALL IRRIGATION SYSTEMS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Most irrigation installers do not take the time to correctly design systems for matched precipitation, or even watering across an area. Well-designed irrigation systems can be the key to managing the landscape on a daily basis. Quality installations allow the ability to control and regulate specific watering needs of plants and microclimates in your garden. Just because the sprinklers get things wet does not mean they evenly distribute water. This commonly results in dry spots or areas that constantly stay muddy. Other than drip or soaker applications, you should be able to adequately and evenly water each zone in 30 minutes or less. Consistent watering, even in minimal amounts, greatly improves the health of all plants and therefore reduces maintenance requirements of the landscape.
Do you know if you are a City Utilities customer in most areas, your sewer bill is directly related to your water useage? This means the more water you have going to the landscape, the higher not only your water bill will be, but your sewer bill as well.
Improve the Soil. If you have tried to dig a hole in this part of the country, you know our soil isn’t the greatest. Poor soil makes plants unhealthy. Some well-meaning homeowners try to subsidize the unhappy plants with fertilizers or unnecessary watering. This is exactly the type of maintenance we need to avoid.
The best way to improve soil is by adding generous amounts of compost or other organic material before planting the area. Highly organic soil helps plants grow more a fibrous root system and take in nutrients easier both of which directly result in healthy vibrant plants that do what you want them to do.
Design it. The last and most general suggestion for low maintenance landscaping is good design. Each of the items mentioned should be part of a well thought out landscape plan. Professional designers should always design for low maintenance by selecting the right types of plants for the project, choosing professional grade, high quality materials, insisting on irrigation that will help the plants thrive to their potential, and ensuring soil conditions are in line with the plant needs.
All of these decisions can be researched and made independently through the Internet or trips to good local nurseries. The time you spend preparing and studying could save hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in maintenance in the future.