As a landscape designer, here is the one sentence I hear from virtually all my new clients: “We don’t want to do a lot of maintenance.”
Most of my clients also want to be environmentally responsible. I wholeheartedly support taking care of the environment and taking care of yourself by installing a low-maintenance garden.
And so we design a beautiful, low-water and drought-tolerant yard. The garden looks great, and it remains low-maintenance for years to come. The owners enjoy their free time and their cool garden. It’s a happy ending.
Well, at least most of the time – because “low-maintenance” doesn’t mean “no maintenance.” Every garden is a living thing and thus needs a bit of love and care to prosper. More so in the first two years and less so later in its life, but it never should be left totally to its own devices.
Following are tips to maintain your garden – and keep free time in your schedule.
• Freshly installed planting areas need regular weeding. Seeds dormant for the past 10 years are suddenly sprouting due to all the earth movement during installation.
Typically we see a flurry of weed activity beginning anywhere from a week up to three months after installation, depending on whether weed suppressants were used. Daily or at least weekly weeding is a must until the weeds vanish. They will eventually become much less aggressive, because we cover all planting areas with a thick layer of mulch that prevents them from sprouting, but remain vigilant during the initial strong growth phase. If you can’t do the weeding yourself, hire a gardener.
• A ground-cover “lawn” from plugs (for example, thyme or Carex pansa) is even needier in the beginning, requiring weeding until it is fully grown in, which can take up to 24 months depending on the species. Maintain it on a daily or weekly basis so that the more aggressively growing weeds don’t choke the young plants.
• Water more often than usual during the first two dry seasons, even if a once- or twice-weekly watering is the final goal. The first two years are different – think of your plants as babies that need extra care.
• Always keep a layer of 2-3 inches of mulch on your planting areas. Replenish the mulch twice a year, using bark mulch or in some cases even gravel or fully composted compost. Discuss the choice with a landscape professional. To avoid crown rot, do not mulch directly against the trunk of a plant.
• Most plants are quite happy to be fed with compost, but some are not. For natives, less is more – don’t feed them. Acid lovers like azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias need acid fertilizer. Citrus needs citrus fertilizer – feeding once a month improves fruit production and makes the trees happy.
Lawns require a low-grade fertilizer like Bio Lawn. Feed two or three times a year. Don’t feed in spring, as it would encourage growth and result in endless mowing. Roses (not shrub roses) benefit from rose fertilizer.
• Most low-maintenance gardens require either monthly or quarterly care once they are grown in, but weeds should still be controlled on a more regular basis. Every weed pulled while it is young and hasn’t yet flowered saves you from pulling another hundred weeds that would grow from the seeds.
• Gardeners can efficiently perform monthly or quarterly maintenance – they know what to cut back when, what not to cut, and how and if to feed. Some gardeners also offer coaching and will train homeowners in caring for their gardens.