How to Create a Low Maintenance Garden

dreamstime_xl_63837083For over 30 years I have been a passionate gardener, spending every weekend and evening creating a huge perennial garden of jungle-like proportions. I loved every minute of it for most of those years, but as I approached 60 years of age it started to take more time and energy than I had to give. So many people I have talked to, young and old, are also ready to create a low-maintenance garden — beautiful spaces they can relax and entertain in, have room to dine outside and grow a few fresh fruits and veggies, yet not be slaves to their garden.

                The key to creating a low-maintenance garden begins dreamstime_xl_41638536with design. Think of how you want to use your garden:

-Patios and decks where you can relax, dine and entertain

-Walkways to comfortably get around your garden

-A welcoming entryway

-An area for kids and pets to play

-A service or work area for compost bins, trash bins, wood storage and chopping area,  garden shed for tools

                Once you know what you want, you can plan your own 61eEzrm2V1L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_layout of how to fit those things in or consult with a designer who can help you with a plan. There is an excellent book by Valerie Easton called ‘The New Low-Maintenance Garden’ that can give you lots of inspiration but also magazines, garden design books and Pinterest can give you good ideas. Considering lawns are very high- maintenance, taking continual mowing, edging, watering, fertilizing, and weed control, minimize lawn areas by replacing some with generously-sized patios and decks, seating areas, walkways and raised beds. Replace lawn below the dry root-filled shade of trees with wide swaths of low-maintenance groundcovers.

                Evaluate the plants in your garden. Remove any plants that are creating problems. If a plant requires spraying for insects or disease every year, take it out. Do you have plants that are too big for their allotted spot, that you have to continually prune? Is it attractive or more of an eyesore? Once you have a clean slate, select plants that are easy to maintain and happy in the conditions in which you want them to grow. There are many beautiful NW natives well adapted to our drydreamstime_xl_5767342 summers and wet winters. Dwarf conifers in a wide array of colors, forms and textures require very little fussing. Many trees, evergreen and deciduous shrubs, perennials, ferns and grasses can be low-maintenance. See sidebar for some suggestions or see us for more options.

                Very few plants grow well in concrete-like soil so it’s important to improve the soil in whole beds or large planting holes for new plants to get a good start. Right plant, Right place means putting sun tolerant plants in mostly sunny spots and shade lovers in full shade or afternoon shade. Put wet tolerant plants in boggy spots and stick to drought tolerant plants in roasting hot areas, where it’s difficult to water or where you don’t want to water for years to come. Even drought tolerant plants need regular watering for their first year or two. We have many handouts with wet-tolerant, drought tolerant, NW natives, etc. to help you find plants for your situation.

                To lower water use, group plants with similar water needs together in beds. Use drip or soaker hoses to save water and reduce weed growth between plants. Mulching between plants conserves water, cuts down on weeds and keeps your soil in good tilth. Using weed barrier or a layer of card board or newspapers below mulch can cut down on weeding. If you have an automatic watering system turn it off on days we get sufficient rain and adjust  the amount of watering time as seasonal temperatures change.

                There is no doubt that vegetable gardens are much easier to maintain in raised beds. You can concentrate on improving the soil in beds instead of paths and better soil grows healthier vegies. Use drip irrigation to conserve moisture, lessen disease and discourage weeds between plants. Floating row covers of Harvest Guard placed over vegies like kale, broccoli, cabbage and other brassicas and spinach, chard and carrots keeps them totally insect free with no sprays. Close planting for complete bed coverage keeps weeds from moving in. Be sure to rotate your vegetable crops to prevent disease and insect problems.

                Gardening is such a sensual, life affirming pleasure when it’s not overwhelming. Whether you revamp your whole garden or take on a few improvements each year, you can reach the goal of a beautiful yet low-maintenance garden.

Here are some suggestions of plants:

Low-Maintenance Plants:

Perennials:

Acanthus

Arabis

Astrantia

Aubretia

Bergenia

dreamstime_xl_30885869Candytuft

Hardy Geranium(avoid self-seeders like Claridge Druce)

Heuchera

Hosta

Muckdenia

Nepeta

Pulmonaria

Sedum

Sempervivum

Solomon’s Seal

Also most ferns and ornamental grasses (avoid self-seeders and running types)

Shrubs:

Barberry

Daphne

EuonymusFine_Line_Buckthorn

Fine Line Buckthorn

Flowering Currant

Fothergilla

Itea

Japanese holly varieties

Mahonia

Nandina

Osmanthus Goshiki

Spiraea

Winter Hazel

Witch Hazel

Viburnum

Also most dwarf conifers

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4 Responses to How to Create a Low Maintenance Garden

  1. Annette Youngberg says:

    Thanks, Karen, this is just what I need at 66. The knees and back are really making some aspects of gardening much more difficult. I have my nice community garden plot for vegetables and around my house I am just looking for color, form, seasonal interest year around, and ease of maintenance.

  2. Lori Hendrick says:

    Thanks Karen, you read my mind. I just turned 70 and have been thinking about this issue often. Thanks for the ideas. Having seen your garden I can’t imagine how you can make it simpler, it is so beautiful!

  3. Rose Hart says:

    Thank you Karen. I always treasure your expertise. Do you have suggestions about bulbs?

    • Karen says:

      Rose, I would plant mostly the small bulbs like small daffodils like Narcissus Tete a Tete, snowdrops, winter aconite (Eranthus), checkered lilies ( Fritillaria meleagrus), Anemones, fawn lilies etc. that put on a lovely spring show and disappear mostly without much cleanup. I would avoid rampant spreaders like Muscari and ones that have a long season of dying foliage (like some of the large daffodils. Karen

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