If we had a dime for every time we have been asked to create a maintenance-free garden, we could close up shop and spend the rest of our days trying to decide which of the world’s gardens to jet to next. However, there is no such thing, just as there is no such thing as a room that doesn’t collect dust, or a house that doesn’t require something to be fixed from time to time. Things take work to keep them looking their best. However, don’t despair, there are things that can be done to keep that work to a minimum, and we are about to tell you about some of them! What follows is a list of a few things that can make your life easier, as well as a couple that might seem like good gardening solutions, but actually will make your life more difficult. So, without further ado…
1) Right plant, right place. We can’t stress this enough. Planting something in a place where is won’t be happy means that you are going to have to expend a lot of energy to try to make it happy, only to have it languish anyway, most likely. Square peg, round hole. But by choosing plants whose needs are matched to their environment, you get a stronger, healthier plant that can ward off disease and whatever Mother Nature throws at it much better than its wrongly-planted counterpart.
1)Choose plants that are known to be low maintenance. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s hard to be strong when at a garden center, faced with the most beautiful Hybrid Tea Rose that you have ever seen. However, if you resist temptation and stick with plants like Baptisia, Nepeta, Coreopsis, ornamental grasses and perennial geraniums, for example, you will find that besides planting them where they will get enough sunlight, and giving them ample water, you will need to do nothing else. Tip: see what grows well in parking lot islands around where you live. If plants grow well there, they should do really well in your garden!
3) Plant native. Like “Right Plant, Right Place”, planting plants that are native to your area will give you a head start when it comes to their health, and thus to the amount of work you will have to do. You still need to pay attention to light and water requirements, etc, but once that is satisfied, your native plants should be pretty care-free.
4) Try mixing in some flowering shrubs. Shrubs tend to require a little less maintenance than perennials, as they are larger and their woody structure helps protect them from environmental conditions. And many have flowers that rival any perennial. Choose your shrubs based on their ultimate, mature size so that a few years from now you aren’t ripping them out because they are blocking a window.Weigela is a great choice for flowers!
5) Take out some lawn, and replace it with groundcover. Grass is one of the most labor intensive plants that there is to maintain. (For a funny perspective on grass, click here) Groundcovers, by contrast, are some of the easiest. If you replace even a small percentage of your lawn with groundcover plants, you can reduce your weekend work substantially.
6) Plant bulbs. Other than the initial labor of planting them, bulbs will give you years and years of trouble free enjoyment. Plant them along with the above mentioned groundcovers, and enjoy!
7) Mulch. Mulch can help reduce the germination of weeds, looks good, and helps insulate the plants in winter, when applied correctly. We like to use a mulch/compost mix that does all these things and feeds the plants at the same time. Apply 1-2 inches of good mulch around the plants, taking care not to let it touch the crown of the plant, which could cause rot.
“Labor saving” devices which aren’t:
1) Weed fabric. While on the surface, weed fabric seems like a good idea, there are more reasons not to use it than to use it. First of all, it is very time consuming to plant through it, as a hole for each plant has to be cut by hand, and typically the hole is not cut big enough and the plant ends up getting jammed in. Secondly, the roots of the plant can then get entangled with the fabric, which can hamper growth. Thirdly, deciding to add a plant at a later date is a pain, because you have to clear away the mulch on top of the fabric, and then cut a hole in it. And last, but definitely not least, is that it doesn’t deter most weeds! A weed seed that lands on the mulch that is covering the fabric will be perfectly happy to grow there, especially if a few years have gone by and the mulch has decayed into lovely rich soil!
2) Over mulching. In general, mulching is a good thing. But there can definitely be too much of this good thing. Yes, a nice thick layer of mulch applied every year will smother weeds. But it will also smother your plants. Trees, too. So use mulch in moderation. The best course of action with respect to weeds is to pull them out by hand while they are still young. Eventually, your plants will grow together and leave less room for weeds to grow, so your work will diminish over the years.
Please, PLEASE don’t build mulch volcanoes around your trees! It will smother them!
Instead, make sure the root flare is exposed and mulch around it.
As they say, “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow”… But it’s ok if that shadow is of the gardener sitting in a lawn chair with some coffee, looking out over their (almost) maintenance-free garden!