Landscape Tips from the Pros

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By Robert Sharoff

For most people, an ideal garden would be full of flowers and require no maintenance at all. But short of using silk flowers, that type of garden just doesn’t exist.

One can, however, minimize maintenance with careful planning.

“Low maintenance does not equal boring,” says Doug Jimerson, co-owner of Studio G, a creative agency that specializes in garden, pets, and food editorial. “You don’t have to settle for a shopping-mall landscape just because you are time-starved.”

What follows are 10 tips to get you started. And if all else fails? Well, try the ultimate low-maintenance approach: Hire a gardener.


Use plants that are appropriate for your climate.Choosing the right plants is half the battle. The more stress plants are under from inappropriate soil and climate, the more likely they are to succumb to insects and disease.


Have a less-formal garden.Instead of rigid borders and beds with everything evenly spaced, try a more naturalistic approach with plants such as ferns and wildflowers that are supposed to look a little messy and freeform.


Use hardy plants that don’t require much care.Annuals, for example, need to be dug up every year. Vegetables are highly susceptible to pests. But ornamental grasses and herbs can fend for themselves in most situations.


Eliminate or downsize your lawn.Favor of more trees and shrubs and flowers over grass. “A lawn takes more maintenance than just about anything else you can plant,” Jimerson says. “You have to mow and fertilize it and keep it disease-free. It also takes a lot of water.”


Leave your lawn long.If you can’t live without grass, raise the blade on your mower to 3 inches or so. A closely cropped lawn – say 1 or 2 inches tall – increases plant stress, which in turn increases maintenance. And because taller grass more effectively shades the ground, it discourages weed growth.


Avoid concrete.When planning patios and walkways, resist the urge to economize by using concrete instead of stone or brick. “Stone and brick are easily replaced if they crack,” says Michelle McKay, owner of McKay Landscape Architects. Concrete, on the other hand, must be broken up and carted away.


Don’t forget to mulch.Mulching inhibits weed growth and helps soil retain moisture. A layer of organic mulch should be between two and four inches deep. Avoid using sawdust as a mulch, as it eats up nitrogen as it decomposes.


Water wisely.“A conventional sprinkler is one of the most inefficient and wasteful ways of watering your garden,” Jimerson says. Far better, he says, are various drip-irrigation systems: porous hoses concealed under mulch that distribute water where it’s needed. There are also systems for container gardens that consist of a main hose with smaller tubes every few inches that go directly into different pots.


Avoid overkill with herbicides and pesticides.Are a few dandelions such a bad thing? And if they are, why spray the whole lawn? Go dig them up. The same is true with insects. “People tend to panic when they see an insect or insect damage,” Jimerson says. “The key is to know your enemy. A single tomato worm can do a lot of damage to a tomato patch, but it’s only one worm. Find it and squish it.”


Fertilize sparingly.A single application of time-release fertilizer at the beginning of the season is enough for most gardens. If you add enough compost and manure to the soil, you may not have to fertilize at all.

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