“Low-maintenance garden”… an oxymoron?
We just bought a vacation home and need ideas on what types of low-maintenance flowers, bushes, landscaping we can plant. There is no watering system, so the yard and beds must thrive on natural rainfall except for our quarterly visits. Also, how do you prevent ‘stick-tites’ or kill existing ones? Jeri in Missouri
Maintenance problems in the landscape are often the result of lack of planning. You are ahead of the game spending time looking at how you will use your vacation home before you spend $$$. Here are some principles that apply to anyone wanting to relax in their garden instead of just making it another entry on the to-do list.
- MAKE A REAL CHOICE: How will you use the space? Think about your property like you do your home, designating areas for specific activities. Do you need a dining room, or just an eat-in kitchen? If a playroom’s on your list, do you need a spot for horseshoes or a soft-ball field? How about a living area? How many will you need to seat? Do these spaces connect to one another? Be realistic and consider your lifestyle, year-round outdoor conditions and how many people will usually be in the spaces.
- MAKE A REAL PLAN: Using graph paper, lay out the property showing existing plants that will remain. Note topographic highlights of your yard, including low spots and berms, great views and not-so-great, then add in your wish list of garden rooms and where they’ll best fit into your landscape and your life. Don’t forget to leave space for utility items, such as trashcans/recycling bins and lawn equipment. (cherie’s tip: Make spaces convenient to one another and to your home or you won’t use them!)
- MAKE YOUR PLAN REAL: How will you maintain the property? Even if it’s your primary residence, a busy schedule might require your landscape still be low-maintenance. If you can’t constantly keep your eye on it, consider hiring someone to do that for you. If that’s not feasible, maybe “naturalizing” the property with only the designated spaces as maintained areas will better suit your lifestyle. Add paths to get from one “room” to the next, but pick not only your plant materials but also your hardscape materials intentionally to avoid high maintenance. A path or patio can be of many different materials, from bark mulch to lawn to pavers to concrete. Mulch and grass will require weekly or monthly maintenance; pavers and concrete will not. When it comes to plant materials, look around you at what is native. Contact the local agricultural extension or state-wide native plant society for a list of appropriate plants, then keep them mulched well. Use rainwater efficiently by grouping like-minded plants with low-water plants in the high spots and more-water plants in the low spots. Check to see if a rain-water harvesting system would work in your area, too.
As far as getting rid of grass-burs or stick-tights or any other pest plant, organic methods abound with some more effective than others. Several websites offer proven ways including the old-fashioned way: hand-pulling. But weeds are opportunists. Bare spots, dry spots and wet spots are all accidents waiting to weed. If this is a turf area, you might look at installing a native grass and allow it to grow to mature height, crowding and shading out warm-season weeds.
Whether part-time, full-time or all-time, your home’s landscape can be a labor and cost intensive proposition. Even a little cabin in the woods begs for extra planning on the front end to ensure a low-maintenance garden, giving you the time to vacation wherever you are.