Clever, Low Maintenance Garden Design Ideas

We all want to have a good-looking garden, but who wants all the work that goes with it? Did you know that it’s possible to have a lovely, carefree, low-maintenance garden without resorting to vast areas of gravel and paving stones?

In this article, I’ll share some clever ideas to help you reduce the amount of work you put into your garden while increasing your enjoyment. Read on to learn more.

Get Your Priorities Straight!

Think about the ways in which you will use your garden and establish a list based on your gardening goals. For example, if you have children or pets, establishing a safe, pleasant play area may be your top priority. Once your charges are happy and safe, you will have a little breathing room to work on your other garden dreams, such as:

  • A privacy hedge
  • A winding path
  • A water feature
  • A veggie plot

..and so on.

Imagine your overall dream for your garden; break it down into mini, doable projects and prioritise them. This method helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand.

Ideas For Simplifying Your Garden

If you’d like to have a lawn but don’t want to spend countless hours of every year fertilising, mowing, watering and cursing moles, try thinking of grass as a bedding plant. Establish a small, specific area where you will have lawn space.

Keep the boundaries straight and the lay of the land flat. Go for a tough, close-growing, drought resistant grass that won’t need frequent mowing and watering.

Invest in a wide span, mulching mower that will help you make quick work of your mowing tasks. With a mulching mower, you won’t have to rake up grass clippings. Just leave them on the lawn to decompose and feed the soil. Alternately, you may wish to purchase a mulching mower with a collection bag and just add your grass clippings to your compost bin.

During the late spring and summer months, you may want to take a break from lawn care by allowing your grass to naturalise. This is a good way to save time and water and attract wildlife to your yard. If you’ve sown wildflower seeds in with your grass, you can enjoy a nice, seasonal wildflower meadow.

You will want to mow before winter comes. When you do, remember that you should not take off more than a couple of inches of grass at a time. If your grass has grown very long, mow it at the highest setting your mower will allow. Give it a week of rest and then mow it at a medium setting. If you are happy with this length, leave it and call it “done” for the winter. If not, give it another week’s rest and have another go at it.

Eliminate The Need To Rake

Your mulching mower will chop grass up finely so that you can leave it in place to nourish the soil naturally. You can also use your mulcher to eliminate leaf raking. Just mow over leaves to create nutritious mulch for your grass or garden.

Be sure to mulch heavily under border shrubs and bushes to reduce the amount you have to water and to discourage weed growth. If you are going to use pebbles or bark chipping as mulch, lay down landscape fabric first. If you are going to use shredded leaves and grass clippings from your mulching mower, this is not necessary as the heat generated by the decomposing mulch will keep weeds down. If you do this, don’t allow the mulch to pile up around the trunks of your trees, bushes and shrubs. As organic mulch decomposes, it nourishes the soil, but it can also burn plant and shrub stems.

Choose Set-It & Forget-It Fencing

Instead of wooden fencing, choose aluminum or resin versions that look just like wood but never need paint or stain. If you want a fence for privacy rather than containment, consider planting a slow-growing evergreen hedge instead of installing fencing. You may need to clip your hedge from time-to-time, but you will never need to paint it.

Eschew Finicky Plants!

Choose your plants carefully. Look for attractive plants that are native or naturalised to your area and do not need much care and pruning. When selecting bushes and shrubs, look for tough, slow-growing evergreens that will not need much care and will not shed leaves.

In areas where you do not want lawn or large shrubs, ground covers such as Periwinkle are a good choice. With their pretty green leaves and lavender flowers, they make a lovely backdrop in your garden. Their enthusiastic growth habits work to discourage the growth of weeds.

A few other good choices in low-maintenance shrubs include:

  • Forest Flame Lily Of The Valley
  • Mexican Orange Blossom
  • Common Gum Cistus
  • Japanese Skimmia
  • Bigleaf Periwinkle
  • Spotted Laurel
  • Firethorn

Conifers make up another group of evergreens that can come in very handy in an easy-care garden. Ranging from low-growing ground covers, such as Blue Carpet Juniper to lofty cedars, spruces and firs, conifers are long-lived and require little care.

Versions such as the Tree of Life (Arborvitae) are slow-growing and only attain a height of about seven feet. These make an excellent choice for a small garden and can double as a living Christmas tree come the holiday season. Avoid fast growers like the Leyland Cypress as they need frequent pruning to keep them at a manageable height.

Plant A Bountiful 4’ x 4’ Veggie Garden

If you want a veggie patch, understand that you can grow a lot of produce easily and in a very small space. Use the “square foot gardening method” to plant a high production 4′ x 4′ kitchen garden near your back door.

Square Foot Gardening (SFG): Growing More in Less Space

This kind of gardening saves resources, time and effort while improving your daily diet.

Avoid These High Maintenance Garden Additions

  1. Don’t plant annual bedding plants because you will just need to plant them again next year (unless they are self-seeding). Instead, look for pretty, native or naturalized flowering perennials that will return year-after-year, once established.
  2. Avoid container gardening as containers do not retain water well, so you will end up spending a lot of time watering your plants. Instead, make the most of the areas of soil you have.
  3. Don’t set up a fussy, elaborate fish pond with high maintenance filtration and heating systems. Instead, set up a natural pond or bog pond to attract local wildlife. Stock it with tiny, live-bearing, guppy-like Mosquito fish (gambusia affinis) and/or inexpensive goldfish to keep the mosquitoes down.
  4. Don’t build a big, exposed deck that will need painting or staining every year. If you are going to build a big deck, be sure it’s covered. You may also want to install artificial turf over it to protect it and provide a lawn-like setting.

You Don’t Have To Make Excuses!

Although some might think a low maintenance garden is an indication of a lazy character, there are surely a lot of good reasons for keeping a carefree outdoor space, such as:

  • No time – Who isn’t busy with work, school, relationships and more these days? Keeping a simple garden maximizes your down-time.
  • Brown thumb – If you don’t know anything about plants, you cannot be expected to keep a luxuriant garden full of picky plants. Good choices and smart planting gives you the opportunity to succeed at gardening.
  • Physical challenges – If you are a senior citizen or person with a disability, you may not be able to tend to a complex garden, but that’s no reason why you should not enjoy a pretty, pleasant outdoor setting. Gardening is good exercise and a great way to combat stress.
  • Minimalism – There’s no reason for minimalism to appear bleak. If you are a minimalist, your garden should graciously reflect your preferences.

Follow the tips presented here to keep it simple and make the most of your low maintenance garden!

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