Low Maintenance Gardening

Need a nearly-carefree yard?
Here are some plants, trees, shrubs and annuals that work your landscape (so you don’t have to)

If you have only a small space for a garden, or if you simply do not have the time you need to have a more elaborate garden, don’t worry. It’s still possible to have a low-maintenance, low-hassle garden that brings you the beauty, joy, and relaxation that you seek. If you’re in an urban area and you just don’t have much green space, or if you’ve got a little space but not much time, here are some tips to choose the best plants and techniques to create a beautiful garden that won’t require much time, effort or expense to maintain. 

Tip 1: Don’t make it complicated.

You might be thinking about buying lots of potted plants or maybe planting a small flower bed, or perhaps adding some outdoor furniture or some art to your small space. Annual flowers are pretty, and come in all colors and sizes, but if you’re short on time and funds, remember that annuals need to be replanted each spring. Consider some small perennials and small shrubs for a low-maintenance, compact garden design. They might cost a bit more to start, but that’s generally it—you won’t have to keep going back to your garden center and purchasing more. 

Some pretty, low-maintenance perennial ideas:

  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Coral Bells
  • Day Lily
  • Hosta
  • Ferns

Tip 2: Consider losing the lawn.

Even if you have a small lawn, you must mow it, fertilize it, and water it. Think about replacing your grass with easy-care, small trees, shrubs, and perennials for a pretty, vibrant look. Many small trees can be planted in pots or containers, which allows you to move them indoors if they aren’t a perfect match for your particular hardiness zone. Just ensure you have the right soil for your small tree, and add compost. Or, if you have enough space, think about planting a clover lawn. 

Some small tree options:

  • Hawthorn, Pagoda dogwood (Zone 3-5)
  • Crabapple, Kousa dogwood (Zone 5-7)
  • Redbud, Harlequin glorybower (Zone 8-9)
  • Japanese maples can grow in virtually any zone, in any soil. 

A quick chat about clover lawns:

There are many benefits to a clover lawn, including the fact that you’ve probably got clover in your grass right now. Clover encourages pollinators, and no matter how hot and dry the temperature is, clover stays green. They’re disease and pest resistant, so there’s much less need for chemical fertilizers and pest control. Here are a few varieties:

  • Dutch white clover grows and spreads quickly and will mature to 8 inches. 
  • Micro clover is drought tolerant, dense, and requires little mowing. 
  • Red clover can be grown in combination with other clover. It’s low maintenance and hardy in Zones 4-8 and grows to be 12 inches tall if you don’t feel like mowing. 

Tip 3: If you really want the grass, think ornamental grass. 

You may not realize how useful ornamental grass can be, from many perspectives. They’re very low-care, and they add an attractive element, all-season color, and some texture to your space, with long lines and gentle movements in the wind. They’re drought-resistant and are great in troublesome areas with rocky soils, poor drainage, or not much sun. All you have to do is cut them back in the winter, add a little fertilizer, and not much more. 

Consider these:

  • Ginger Love
  • Blackhawks
  • Karl’s Cousin
  • Mexican Feather Grass
  • Shenandoah Switch Grass

Tip 4: No time to water? Succulents are for you. 

Succulents come in all kinds of interesting shapes and colors, and have unique, fleshy leaves. The best part is, they really don’t need much more than sunlight. Actually, these plants thrive on neglect! If you forget to water your plants, this is the one—it doesn’t even need to be watered more than once every two or three weeks. They don’t require regular fertilization, either. Just find a good pot with a drainage hole and a nice, sunny spot. They can be moved indoors or outdoors, as the weather dictates. They’re easy to reproduce through propagation by stem or leaf cuttings, which is also a money saver. 

Here are a few beautiful succulent options:

  • Agave
  • Aloe
  • Kalanchoe
  • Sempervivium (Hens and Chicks)
  • Jade

Tip 5: Create a raised flower bed.

If you don’t have time to water and weed a garden, this is a great solution. Use a raised bed with low-water plants, such as lavender, sage or rosemary. Or, if you like to cook, try some veggies like lettuce, tomatoes, or radishes. 

Here’s how this will help you:

  • A garden bed saves space because it allows more plants to be closer together. This is also beneficial for curtailing weed growth. 
  • Raised beds also keep away digging rodents like moles. 
  • If you line your bed with landscape fabric, it will do even more to keep out the weeds and the digging pests. 
  • Raised beds allow the soil to drain well. Raised bed irrigation kits are a one-time purchase that will help maintain soil moisture over the long term.

There are always methods to achieve a beautiful yard without the time drain of constant maintenance work. Embrace the wildness and quirks of a low-maintenance garden. It doesn’t have to be perfect for you to enjoy it. Take a more relaxed approach—tell yourself that your yard looks great, even though you didn’t need to put very much time or effort into it.

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