Low maintenance gardening does not mean no maintenance gardening - careful planning, effort, and well designed time are still a must in any garden space. More time dedicated to this garden up front though will pay off in its relatively little need for attention later on. Finding the right combination of colorful foliage, well timed flowering habits, and beneficial ground coverage is the key to creating your own low maintenance garden.
First, identify the areas in your garden or landscape that you spend the most time on. Are these areas worth the upkeep, or would you rather redesign them? Evaluating space is a key initial step in a low maintenance garden. Design around lawn or turf areas, simple spaces are easier to mow. Consider utilizing walkways, paths, and patio spaces for easy access to garden areas and to reduce the space needed for gardening. Minimum maintenance materials such as concrete, brick, or flagstone keep borders well-defined and decrease upkeep time.
Invest early on in issues that could be long term. Drainage, for example, is important to evaluate at the start of your low maintenance garden. Adequate drainage is essential for proper soil aeration and to keep water in a usable form for plants. If water drains in less than 5 minutes, the soil is too sandy; if it takes more than 15 minutes, the soil has too much clay. Tube or tile drainage are popular methods for piping out excess water.
Understanding your soil is another important early step. The most accurate way to determine your soil type is to have it tested professionally. A complete soil analysis will offer valuable information on how to improve your soil content to its optimal state. Your soil may need additives such as lime or sulfur. Soil amendments such as compost, peat, and well-rotted manure offer nutrients to condition soil. Please contact your Extension office for a professional soil test before adding nutrients to your garden soil.
Lastly, select plants that will thrive in your low maintenance conditions. Ground covers such as Ivy, Hedera species, Wild Ginger, Asarum europaeum, and Japanese Spurge, Pachysandra terminalis, offer evergreen coverage that will thrive in shade areas. Other ground covers like Periwinkle, Vinca minor, Moss Phlox, Phlox subulata, and Snow-in-Summer, Cerastium tomentosum, offer seasonal flowering that varies from blue to pink to white. If incorporating trees, Crabapple, Malus species, Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, and Dogwood, Cornus kousa, are excellent options.
When planning for flowers, take the time to research which perennials and annuals grow well in both your zone and in the specific garden area you would like to cover. Perennials such as Peonies and Daylilies need full or part sun and would not do well in particularly shady or covered areas. Wildflower or meadow gardens are also an excellent choice for low maintenance areas. Wildflowers need little to no care once established and can survive in harsh or difficult climates and soil. When selecting seeds, look for 100% pure seed without any fill. The right combination will keep your garden flowering for months and benefit native pollinators and wildlife.
Low maintenance gardens are a perfect option for gardeners on the go and those looking for a more casual experience. This style can impress even the most professional gardeners! Give yourself more time to enjoy your garden space by cutting down on the time required to cultivate your garden space!