Create the ideal low-maintenance outdoor area so you can spend less time weeding and more time smelling the roses
10 easy steps to creating a low-maintenance garden
Unless your thumbs are the deepest of forest greens, not many of us like to spend hours weeding and maintaining our gardens. Yet we all know how good we feel when surrounded by plants rather than metres of concrete with just one sad-looking yucca in the corner.
The answer to this dilemma is to be a little more savvy with what we grow and how we manage our gardens. Follow these 10 tips to make your garden easier to care for and gentler on the environment as well.
1. Know your site
By learning as much as possible about the weather conditions, sun exposure and soil type of your garden you’ll be able to choose plants that will happily grow there without needing to be cosseted. Clever gardeners grow shade-loving plants under trees, bog-lovers in damp soils and drought-tolerant ones on hot slopes. Understanding your site ain’t rocket science and it will definitely help to avoid wasting money on unsuitable plants.
2. Ditch the lawn
A smooth, green lawn is a beautiful thing but it can take an awful lot of effort to keep it looking that way. As well as your time spent mowing, feeding, watering and weeding, a lawn has a financial and environmental cost. So unless you have a puppy or children to play on it, do you really need one? Or could you reduce the size of the one you’ve got?
Think about those narrow strips or awkwardly shaped grass areas. Would they look better planted with groundcovers, shrubs or easy-care perennials? Also, lawn doesn’t often thrive under big trees so create large garden beds planted with shade-loving shrubs and perennials there instead.
3. Choose stress-free plants
Some plants will cope with little care and reward you with lovely flowers and nice foliage for most of the year. Others are more in the prima donna category. Yes, they might have gorgeous flowers for a month or so, but during the rest of the year they need spraying, pruning and so forth.
To ensure your garden has more of the former plants than the latter, check on a plant’s maintenance requirements before you buy it. Most native plants need little attention if positioned in the right soil and sun orientation, but there are plenty of easy-care exotics, too.
4. Ask the experts
If you don’t know a dahlia from a dianthus, or you’re unsure where to start when analysing your site, ask a reputable landscape designer for a consultation. For around $150-$200 (usually 1-2 hours) they can walk you through the site, pointing out the various aspects you need to be aware of. They can also recommend suitable plants.
5. Add the colour in pots
Some plants such as spring bulbs and flowering annuals add lots of colour to the garden for short periods, but then what? Growing them in containers is a great idea as they can be displayed when in flower then moved out of sight.
Place potted bulbs and annuals (matching containers look good) on the deck, on steps, in bare areas of the garden – anywhere there’s space. Once they become dormant or die down, move out of sight or simply replace the plants (and refresh potting mix). Try your local garden centre or bulbsdirect.co.nz.
7. Hedge your bets
Shrubs are great low-maintenance plants and most only need the occasional trim to look good. Shrubberies are still popular in traditional gardens, but for a more contemporary look use shrubs as low and medium-height hedges or plant in large, clipped blocks.
These can be tightly trimmed or left to grow more loosely depending on your taste. A mulch below to reduce weeds and the occasional feed is about all the maintenance required. Low hedges are great for edging borders, too, hiding the weeds and dormant plants.
8. Mulch it
Reduced water evaporation, fewer weeds, less erosion, improved soil texture, insulation (warmer in winter, cooler in summer), a more unified look… the list of positives just goes on and most of them mean less work for gardeners.
Use a 60-100mm layer of mulch wherever you can, plus pebble or stone mulches for your pots. Planting groundcovers in your mulch will help to stop the birds kicking it up and will prevent it all floating away during flooding.
9. Go big with the pots
Container plants need to be fed, watered and weeded just like those in the garden. Rather than using lots of little pots, make life easier by replacing them with a few big containers. Your garden will look less cluttered, too. If you like to move pots around, invest in some castors.
9. Feed the soil
The more you feed your plants the healthier they will be, which means fewer pests and diseases to deal with. Wise gardeners focus less on feeding plants and more on feeding the soil with nutrient-rich compost and other organic matter. If you only have time to do one thing for your garden every month or two, sprinkle some compost around your plants.
10. Water wise
Having a good watering regime is just as essential for healthy plants as feeding. An automated watering system is a time saver but make sure you use dripper or soak hose systems that send water to the roots of plants. You can waste a lot of water through evaporation by using spray heads and they may encourage fungal diseases to develop. Grouping plants with similar watering needs together also helps avoid wastage.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: James Knowler, Brigid Arnott/bauersyndication.com.au and Helen Bankers.