Low Maintenance Backyard Landscaping IDEAS
If you want a low-maintenance backyard that gives you plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors, start with the right plants. As a guide:
- Pick varieties for your USDA Hardiness Zone. If it's too tender, it won't last, and you'll be frustrated.
- Choose plants that need less water. Particularly in stressful hot-weather weeks, watering can be a labor-intensive chore.
- Analyze your yard, and plant to its conditions. Notice patterns of moisture on low-lying areas, and patterns of sun/shade when trees leaf out. Plant accordingly to ensure yourself the best chance at a maxed-out low-maintenance landscape.
- Buy healthy plants from a reputable grower. Both Sutter and Stribling recommend purchasing plants from a nursery that knows plants and their habits and can answer questions about performance and whether it's a good fit in a low-maintenance landscape. "This is your assurance that the plants are disease-free and have been well tended since the start of their lives, " Sutter says. Video: Watch tips for picking healthy plants.
- Research a plant's needs. A newly planted tree may seem small in the existing landscape, but that changes. If you pick an ill-suited spot or stuff too many plants in one space, you'll pay the price in unhealthy results. Tend your plants well and place them in a site they're suited for, and in time you'll be rewarded with healthy, beautiful flowers, shrubs, vines, or roses.
Good Building Blocks = Low-Maintenance Gardening
The basics will get you a long way toward a goal of low-maintenance landscaping. They include:
- Test your soil. An analysis through your local county extension office will help you determine how to amend your soil so that your plants get the right nutrients and have good drainage.
- Monitor rainfall to ensure your plants receive about one inch per week, or automate your irrigation. Options include professional installation, as well as a few soakers and emitters with a timer. "Instead of having to redo things from the ground up, you'll always have a good base, and it can make the difference between good results and nightmarish results, " Stribling says. "They're worth their weight in gold, and there are really efficient ways to do it. Water has gotten quite expensive and maximizing that is by far worth it. If a garden is watered well in its first couple of years, by the third or fourth year it can exist on its own with minimal supplemental watering."
- Buy the right tools and equipment. Tools make quick work of what would otherwise be time-consuming tasks. Do your research and find the right pruning, digging, raking, and other equipment that can help you make a low-maintenance landscape. Keep your tools sharp and clean to prevent potential spread of disease.
Regular Plant Maintenance = Low-Maintenance Landscaping
Before you even create a backyard landscape, you need to create a plan. And when it comes to low-maintenance landscaping, a good idea of steps to take will have you working less. They include:
- Maintenance changes: The first couple of years of a new landscape can be fairly maintenance heavy. But patience, persistence, and care pay off, Stribling says, for a low-maintenance landscape. "Don't be unrealistic; have patience and the garden will run itself in a few years, " he says.
- Go for fewer plants with big impact: "A lot of people will take this brand new bed and crowd it with 30 to 40 things, " Stribling says. Instead, think less is more: A few big-deal trees and a drift of the same high-performance, perennial can pay off to make a low-maintenance backyard. "You get to decrease maintenance dramatically, " he says.
- Tend to problems when they happen: Let plants get stressed by disease, lack of water, or over-fertilizing, and they'll require more care. Instead, create a low-maintenance landscaping schedule - formal or informal - to stay on top of problems. For example, walk around your yard every few days to pull stray weeds, deadhead here and there, and make sure nothing looks diseased or dying. "What I learned the hard way and what I tell every client is 'Call me before, don't call me later, '" Stribling says. "A garden is like a closet: Let it get too cluttered and it's way out of hand and you won't want to deal with it. Maintain a routine, and it won't have such an easy time getting away from you."
- Learn what your plants need: Prune an oak tree during warm weather and you invite disease. Transplant peonies in spring and they may not bloom the following year. The things that you don't know about your plants can become harder to deal with and go a long way toward preventing you from learning to make a low-maintenance landscape. "If you do things too early or too late, you won't get the best results, " Sutter says.
Check out our regional gardening guides for information specific to your yard.
Lawn Alternatives = Low-Maintenance Landscaping
Lawn is a maintenance-intensive addition to a backyard. Minimize yours by creatively using groundcover and flowerbeds in areas where a stretch of grass isn't necessary. You'll eliminate fertilizing, mowing, aerating, and other tasks associated with lawn upkeep.