The Low Maintenance Landscape
With today's busy lifestyles, homeowners are seeking ways to reduce maintenance in the home landscape. The creation of a low maintenance landscape requires proper planning and making wise choices. This includes the identification of areas that require a more manicured look and noting areas that are not as important to heavily maintain. There are a number of alternative choices of landscape building materials, plant types, design strategies, and ways to reduce effort and expense. The best place to begin the low maintenance landscape is to develop a plan for your property.
Developing a landscape plan
By creating a landscape plan, you can identify the areas of the yard that best serve as public, private, or service uses. The easiest way to develop a plan is to obtain a copy of your property plan. With the use of a copy machine, you can enlarge the plan to a size that you can work with in detail. Make several copies of the enlarged plan for alternative designs. If you do not have an existing property plan, you may consider hiring a surveyor to locate the boundaries, building and pavement, and tree locations on your property.
On a copy of your enlarged property plan, you can designate areas or zones of landscape use. Prioritize areas of importance, such as the front door entry, street views, and courtyard or patio areas as places to focus your landscape efforts. Areas that are not heavily utilized, such as storage areas, back property edges, fence lines and work areas can be designed for low maintenance options.
Eight simple tips to create an easy-care yard:
Although there is no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape, here are a few suggestions to minimize excessive landscape care.
1. Reduce the total amount of unused lawn area.
Beautiful lawns are expensive and high-maintenance landscape items. In addition to the mowing, rolling, watering, fertilizing, liming, pesticides and fungicides, thatching, and herbicides that are used to maintain a healthy lawn, lawn edging and raking can consume an extraordinary amount of time and expense. Maintaining proper play and open lawn space are important criteria for many homeowners, yet reducing unused lawn portions can save much on required care and maintenance. Easy to care for trees, shrubs, and groundcovers are excellent alternatives to excessive open lawn space. This may be achieved by herbiciding the unwanted existing lawn area, planting in low care woody plant species, and placing a thick groundcover layer of mulch. The first few years may require extra weeding and care, but as the trees and shrubs establish themselves a once a year cleanup will be all that is required.
2. Use quality, long-lasting landscape materials.
As you select or replace the types of structural features in your landscape, choose materials that do not require frequent replacement. Sidewalks, patios, decks, fences, steps, driveways, seating structures, trellis and gazebos, and furniture items should be selected for durability. A concrete or brick patio will last between 20-30 years, whereas a wooden or brick on sand patio may need replacing every 5-8 years. Recycled plastic lumber has a much longer life span and reduced painting or staining need than traditional treated wood for fences, decks, and steps. Concrete, brick, or stone edging blocks will last much longer than landscape timbers or railroad ties for bed edgings. Also, the use of mowing strips (concrete or brick pavers placed at the ground level) may be used for bed edges adjacent turf areas to reduce the need for edging treatments. Consider the initial cost and maintenance to long term cost and durability when selecting landscape materials.
3. Select perennial plants over annuals for landscape color.
To reduce replacement costs for annual plants (plants that last one season) consider the use of perennial plants (plants that come back every year). Depending upon your plant hardiness zone, impatiens, begonias, petunias, and marigolds must be planted every year. Choose daylilies, stokes aster, lantana, black-eyed susan, coneflowers, evening primrose or perennial phlox for long-lasting color.
4. Avoid problem or high-maintenance plants.
Hybrid tea roses, gardenias, and fruit trees are examples of high maintenance plants. These require regular insect spraying, watering, or fungicides in order to successfully grow in Mississippi. Select varieties of plants that are more resistant to insect, disease, and fungal problems, tolerant to wet or dry periods and extreme temperatures, and adaptable to poor soil conditions.
Examples of tough plants include, but are not limited to the following:
- Asian jasmine
- Dwarf bamboo
- Holly leaf fern
- Indigo bush
- Sword fern
- Stokes aster
- Black-eye susan
- Purple coneflower
- Evening primrose
- Louisiana phlox
- Narrow leaf
- Rain lily
- Louisiana iris
- Wild petunia
- Butterfly bush
- American beautyberry
- Flowering quince
- Virginia willow
- Wax myrtle
- Yaupon holly
- Parsley hawthorne
- Live oak
- Southern magnolia
- American holly
- Red maple
- Black gum
- Willow oak
- Winged sumac
- Bald cypress
5. Use geotextiles for weed control
Geotextiles, commonly known as landscape or weed fabrics, can reduce weeding efforts in sunny planting beds. By placing the fabric on the ground around existing shrubs and covering with a thick layer of mulch, this will effectively reduce the growth of many weed species. Pre-existing problem weeds should be controlled with an herbicide before covering. Geotextiles have the benefit of allowing water and fertilizers through the cloth and allowing plant roots to breathe. Groundcovers may also be planted in open bed space to compete against weed occurrence.
6. Put the right size plant in the right place
Constant pruning to reduce the height of plants can be avoided by selecting plants that will not exceed the desired height for the area they are placed. Problem places for large plants often occur underneath home windows, electrical and other utility lines, roof eaves, view sheds, and doorway entries. These problems can be avoided by asking the nursery owner for recommended plants that do not grow taller than the maximum height for the area required.
7. Place plants in masses, not individually.
Planting combinations are often more effective when planted in masses rather than individual specimens. Creating a dense shrub border in large island beds allows mowing to occur around the outside edge, and reduces the need for edging and weeding in scattered plantings.
8. Keep your landscape simple
A wealth of landscape plants and garden places often requires more specialized care. A simple, effective design and palette of easy to care for plants can create a beautiful care free landscape.
These factsheets were written by Robert F. Brzuszek, Assistant Extension Professor, The Department of Landscape Architecture, Mississippi State University.
Gardeners can purchase hard-to-find native plants during the Crosby Arboretum’s popular Fall Native Plant Sale.
The semiannual sale will be Oct. 21 and 22 at the arboretum. It begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. Arboretum members can enter at 9 a.m. Admission is free.