Creating landscape designs that are easy to manage and maintain is becoming a crucial component of many designs, large and small. Homeowners want to spend time relaxing in their outdoor living area or enjoying a pool or fireplace area. They don’t want to spend time (or money) keeping their landscape in tip-top shape. More and more homeowners are requiring eco-sensitive landscapes as well — ones that don’t require the use of chemicals or gallons of water. Creating such a space is not as much as a challenge as it might seem though.
Rethink your plant list and their numbers
Now is the moment to remove any species that aren’t built to cope with drought, high temperatures, subzero conditions or whatever your particular weather challenge are. Building a workable suite of plants means fewer call backs for replacements, and more importantly, it means landscapes that look relaxed and thriving rather than just hanging in there.
For instance, with their 2-tier root system, Flower Carpet roses are well suited to a range of climates and conditions. Hardy in USDA Zones 4-11, they perform equally well in drought, high humidity, high temps and sub-zero conditions. And with 9 colors/varieties to from which to choose — from soft white, pale pink appleblossom and yellow to mid-range amber and the more vibrant pink and red tones – there’s something for every client’s taste.
In choosing low-maintenance replacement plants, think “high impact – low care”. Select plants that stand out — particularly when planted in multiples — but don’t require constant deadheading, pruning, chemical spraying or special care. Examples include agastache, cinquefoil, yarrow, dead nettle, liriope, lantana, sage, heuchera, coreopsis, salvia, sedum, agapanthus, ornamental grasses, coprosma, ligularia, echinacea, penstemon and cordylines like Festival ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Raspberry’ which are drought and heat tolerant, yet add a lot of impact and require very little care.
When choosing plants, remember to select plants that have season-long (or even year-long) interest. In addition to the old standby evergreens, ornamental grasses area a natural in this area, as are some varieties of perennial geraniums, plants with silver foliage and red twig dogwood. Landscaping expert David Beaulieu has a few favorites and a dozen reasons why he finds this to be a dependable, low maintenance landscape plant.
Don’t underestimate the importance of ground covers and mulch
Re-open your old textbooks and remember what you learned about mulch. That it helps keep the soil temperature cool for fragile plant roots. That it stops the soil from drying out to quickly. That it slows erosion and crusting. And as a bonus, if your using a good organic mulch like wood bark, it helps build a living soil full of all the necessary micro flora and fauna needed for healthy plants.
Remember though, that bark mulch and wood chips are very high in carbon and very low in nitrogen. Because of that, as the wood decomposes, it pulls the available nitrogen from the surrounding area in order to complete the process of breaking down. Adding a slow-release nitrogen to the soil prior to laying the mulch (or even on top of the mulch) will help to keep the nitrogen in balance during this process, thereby enriching the soil.
Pine needles are gaining popularity as a natural, attractive mulch and are particularly suited to areas around acid-loving plants.
Live mulches are another option, even for areas affected by drought. For instance, Creeping Myoporum (Myoporum parvifolium) is native to Australia but readily available in the US and has become a favorite of drought area landscape professionals. It grows 6-10 inches tall (depending on the variety) and its rich green foliage spreads to 10-15 feet. It has very low water needs and can tolerate full sun. Prostrate rosemary is another good low-growing, drought-tolerant groundcover for Mediterranean-type climates. For those in more moderate climates the choices are broader — from glossy green vinca to colorful phlox subulata and sturdy ajuga and sedum, to low growing varieties of juniper, and so much more.
Regardless of your choice, simply mulching all your landscapes will boost their green factor impressively.
Containers can also be a boon to low maintenance landscapes. Depending on the size and type of the container, they can be moved around to fill in empty spots as needed, offering versatility in any setting. They’re also a great solution for clients looking to add a few small trees or shrubs to their landscape but suffer from poor soil or limited space. For instance, Fairy Magnolia, growing to only 12 ft in 7 years, has an upright compact form and is ideal in large pots, either in its natural form or espaliered on a potted trellis.
With their easy-care attributes and extremely long bloom cycles, Flower Carpet roses are an ideal option, either as standards (tree roses) or in their natural form.