Low Maintenance Landscapes

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All plants and structures require some maintenance, but you have some choice as to whether your landscape will require a lot of maintenance or a little. Many homeowners enjoy lawn and garden work and knowlingly choose plants and structures that require a lot of maintenance. Others want an attractive and functional landscape, but would rather not spend evenings and weekends weeding, mowing, watering, edging and pruning. If you are in the latter category, you should work toward a low-maintenance landscape.

Mulched planting beds usually require less maintenance than the same area of properly maintained lawn. Two to four inches of shredded bark, wood chips, ground corncobs or similar organic materials control weeds, retain soil moisture and moderate soil temperatures, while blending into the landscape.

We don't recommend placing a plastic sheet under organic mulches, but crushed stone, marble chips and washed gravel must be underlain with black plastic for effective weed control. These inorganic mulches can reduce aeration of heavy or poorly drained soils (while providing only limited moisture retention), and they sometimes reflect enough sunlight to damage plants. Crushed stone and marble chips introduce exotic colors which violate basic design principles in many situations.

For those areas where a lawn is necessary, use a mulching mower to avoid having to rake leaf clippings and to reduce fertilizer needs (by returning plant nutrients to the soil).

Edging around planting beds reduces maintenance time - by separating the beds from the lawn - and helps unify a landscape design. Select an edging material with texture and color that complement the house and other landscape structures - stone, wood, brick, steel and plastic are all available.

A perennial ground cover under trees and shrubs also reduces maintenance requirements. Most ground covers grow well in an organic mulch and, if planted at the right density, can even be used in place of a mulch.

Use well-adapted plants that will require minimal maintenance. It takes a lot of time to maintain unnatural plant forms like topiaries, espaliers and pollards.

Space plants properly during the initial planting. If you overplant, you will have extra pruning, trimming and thinning. If you underplant, you may have to fill in with more plants.

Planting flowers in containers and small planting beds makes annual planting and removal easier.

A "natural" landscape usually requires less maintenance than most conventional ones.

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