Whether you’re trying to transition your garden into less work, or you’re starting from scratch and you want to start off on the right foot, these tips for a low maintenance landscape will help you do just that.
Who actually WANTS a landscape that’s a lot of work to manage and maintain?
Silly question 🙃. I don’t even want that.
Even though I love tending to my garden, I certainly don’t want to HAVE to do… well… anything I don’t want to.
I want to putter around and look at my plants and enjoy my time in the beautiful space I’ve created.
I DON’T want to slave away for the entire weekend trying to hack back the forsythia hedge row that would otherwise take over our property.
YET, I’ve been doing it twice a year for the last decade even though I’m miserable for every waking second of it.
Then, it occurred to me…
Maybe there are some things that we’re doing as gardeners that are actually creating MORE maintenance… and we don’t even realize it 🤔.
Or, if you’re like me… you’re literally just dealing with the same maintenance problem over and over again because it’s routine.
Have you ever stopped to actually think about how you can maybe STOP doing that work you don’t want to do?
As I started to list out all of the little maintenance things that can add up to a lot of work.. I realized I needed to record a video and write this article about it. Everyone needs to hear it.
So let’s get into these 13 gardening tips (and some major mistakes to avoid), so you can spend less time working on your yard and more time actually enjoying it.
Add permanent structures
When creating a low maintenance garden, my first suggestion is to add more permanent structures to the garden. Structures are things like patios, pergolas, arbors, walkways, fences, stone walls, etc.
Structural elements can bring your outdoor space together without requiring additional maintenance from you. While it may be an upfront investment to install structures, overtime they will create a landscape with a lot less work year after year.
So, if you are working towards that low maintenance goal, it’s definitely an investment that’s worth considering!
Do your research!!!
I preach about doing your research in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course. And this is the #1 way to cut back on overall maintenance in your garden. You have to know what you’re planting before you plant it.
So, no more frenzied trips to the garden center and grabbing a plant here or there. You have to stop doing that.
Instead, do some research ahead of time and choose the right plant for the right place.
No matter how much you love that hosta, if you don’t have a shady area to plant it in, it won’t thrive and will require more maintenance (extra watering, trimming off burnt leaves, etc).
No matter how much you love roses, if you don’t have a sunny yard, you will be disappointed in their performance.
Overall, just be intentional about what you are planting so you don’t accidently plant something that is either invasive or will become a maintenance nightmare.
Reduce the size of your lawn
When I think about maintenance, lawn is the FIRST thing that comes to my mind. Americans especially spend more time tending to their lawn than any other outdoor space.
You have to cut your grass sometimes 2-3x a week… fertilize it, treat it with chemicals and all kinds of terrible stuff to make it look nice.
So, cutting the lawn space down or eliminating it altogether could really make a difference.
Plus, this makes more room for beautiful plants!
Plant more trees & shrubs (especially evergreens)
In general, gardens that have more trees and shrubs are A LOT less maintenance than those with perennial plants that flower.
With trees, evergreens and even flowering shrubs… there’s not a lot of maintenance involved and they look pretty all year long. There’s no deadheading or cutting back or cleaning up or dividing involved.
So if you want something low maintenance try to cut back on smaller perennial plants and add more shrubs and trees. Just make sure you’re not planting an invasive shrub that will take over, like the forsythia in my yard.
Evergreens tend to be the lowest maintenance plant and also give you the biggest bang for your buck as far as structural interest and permanence in the garden.
Here’s a list of my favorite medium-sized evergreen shrubs for a low maintenance yard.
Use ornamental grasses & sedges
But ornamental grasses add so much life to a landscape and they are highly underutilized. Most grasses will need full sun but sedges tolerate quite a bit of shade.
If you do your research and select the right types, grasses and sedges will provide you with a lot of joy and add interest to your garden without having to do much maintenance at all.
You also get bonus points for choosing grasses or sedges that will add winter interest to your space!
Again this is all part of my course that you can join. You can learn about the different layers of the garden pyramid, how many of each type of plant you should use and how to plan it out for interest in all 4 seasons.
A great first step to learning more is to grab my Master the Mixed Border Guide!
Select bulbs that perennialize
You can use bulbs for a low maintenance option that will add color and interest to your space. Make sure you choose perennializing bulbs, not one and done bulbs. That requires work to dig them up and replant them.
For example, there are a few varieties of tulips that will perennialize, but the majority of them will not come back, or putter out after 2-3 years.
So, choose some nice perennial bulbs that can naturalize in the space and won’t require you to dig them up or divide them or do anything to.
Reduce # of annuals
Annuals are the highest maintenance plants you can get. They require constant maintenance: deadheading, trimming, fertilizing, replacing, etc. Lugging bags of potting mix around and having to change out planters several times a year may not be worth it to you as you look for ways to cut back on maintenance.
The photo above is from Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. The plants are beautiful, but not practical for the climate in Pennsylvania. They are all annuals and/or tropical plants that don’t really grow in the northeast.
Overall, annual and tropical plants require a high level of upkeep that a home gardener probably wont want to deal with.
Consider native plants
Many native plants are very low maintenance because they are suited for your climate and conditions. So… they often don’t need fertilizing, deadheading, etc. and they will come back each year if the conditions are right for them. They’re also great for providing food and habitat for wildlife, so they will bring more “activity” into your garden.
Just be sure that you’re choosing plants that are native to your geographical REGION (where you live). Natives don’t go by the USDA growing zones you may be used to. They are listed by locations where they have been found to grow in the wild.
Learn more: Why Choose Native Plants for Your Landscape
There are a few issues though. Some natives will spread around quite a bit or need a large space to do this. Others will self seed and pop up in your garden wherever they see fit. So if that will bother you, you need to pass those types of natives up.
Be very selective about the natives you choose and do your research on them before you plant them.
Remove high-maintenance “diva” plants
Remove high-maintenance diva plants. You know what I’m talking about. If you have anything that’s invasive or taking over or just a huge pain in the butt to grow… Out it goes.
I know it’s beautiful, but Chinese wisteria has NO place in a home garden and is incredibly invasive. Same goes for running bamboo and any other plants on the invasive species list.
The photo above is from Chanticleer Garden in Wayne PA. Botanical gardens like this are where you go when you want to see the exotic stuff. Why? Because they have a staff of gardeners who are paid to maintain these diva plants and the expertise to do it properly.
Ditch the containers & hanging baskets
Container gardening is significantly more work than planting in the ground. So if you want to reduce the maintenance, stop planting in containers and stop buying hanging baskets.
That means all of those really cute and cool “small garden ideas” you see online are OUT.
If you can’t help yourself, use a drip system to water your containers. You can also plant evergreen shrubs or perennials into the containers instead of annuals.
Then you won’t have to water, fertilize or change out the plants from season to season or year to year.
Provide enough space for plants to grow to maturity
Another thing you can do is to provide enough space for plants to grow to maturity. So, when you’re placing a new tree or shrub, make sure that you know it’s full size. That way you can provide enough space for it to grow to maturity and you won’t have to deal with regularly trimming or trying to make that plant “fit” in a space that it really doesn’t fit.
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see with new gardeners…. because we want our landscapes to be “full” and lush with layers and layers of plants.
And that can take years.
So, you may want to plant larger plants now. And, in the meantime continue with your annuals or smaller perennial plants. As your larger trees and shrubs grow and get more established, you can work on reducing the amount of smaller plants, thus reducing your maintenance.
Install drip irrigation or select waterwise plants
If you can’t get rid of all of your perennials and you live in a very hot climate, you can install drip irrigation to cut back on their watering needs. However, you’ll still need to fertilize, cut them back, deadhead them, split them up etc.
So, this low maintenance landscape tip this won’t eliminate maintenance completely. But, it will reduce it. Alternatively you can choose plants that are “drought tolerant once established” to eliminate the need for drip irrigation altogether.
Plant a living groundcover
Using a living groundcover for your garden beds will greatly reduce the amount of maintenance so long as you select the right one. The act of constantly having to re-mulch an area, or fight weeds with rock beds is time consuming.
If you are able to find a nice groundcover that’s NOT aggressive, it can eliminate your need to “re-mulch” each year and also will reduce the amount of weeds you have in your garden.
There are many groundcovers to choose from and that’s something you’ll have to research yourself to make sure it’s right for your space… but I’ve noticed a significant difference after establishing groundcovers in my beds.
If you follow even just a few of this tips for a low maintenance landscape, you’ll be well on your way to a garden that you can enjoy without spending every weekend keeping up with the pruning, trimming and weeding that comes with a high maintenance garden that wasn’t planned out.
If you want to learn more about how to choose the right plants for your space and stop making the most common mistakes I see home gardeners make, head over to my 3 Gardening Secrets training. It’s a free 45 minute masterclass with expert advice that will shave years off your gardening learning curve.
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- Is it Legit? Shrub Hub Review by Professional Landscape DesignerI’m a professional landscape designer and I tried Shrub Hub to see if they could help me reimagine my front yard. Here’s some pros, cons and a complete review.
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