Can a Low Maintainance Yard Still be Beautiful?

posyplanterJune 21, 2011

Hello there,

After digging out 40+ stumps, cleaning out patch after patch of brambles, doing an interior remodel of our older, fixer upper home, we are finally ready to tackle the porches, patio, and landscape. [the fun part!]

The neat thing is, after the initial cleanup, some wonderful things emerged that we had no idea were there. [A fall blooming Camellia, for example; love that bush!] Now, I'm undecided.......

After all the work we've already done, excessive maintainance is not something we want; we're looking forward to enjoying our yard and yet, I'm finding that conventional low maintainance plants and shrubs tend to bore me. I don't want anything funky,[this is an older home and I'd like to compliment it.]

For example, the Juniper tree in our backyard has done just fine on it's own, we never do anything except give it a little pruning, [well, at Christmas time it gets a lot of pruning,lol!] but I happen to love it; I bring branches into the house every year to decorate for Christmas and the smell is wonderful! I've begun to pair it with summer flowers like lavender and white yarrow and find that I love the combination. So to me, that's low maintainance, but something I still really enjoy.

Here is a list of other plants I'm considering: [I'd like input from people who have grown them, pros, cons, and advice on how to combine them]

Winter Honeysuckle

Japanese Holly

Climbing Hydrangea [evergreen would be a bonus!]

Jasmine [summer blooming & winter blooming]

More Junipers, perhaps lower growing



We've got a couple large magnolias in the front yard, two very large old oaks, some old roses,[wonderful scent, black spot resistant, yay!] a Confederate Jasmine, [has actually been low maintainance for me] Camellias, a few lavenders and herbs, Boxwoods, some Rose of Sharon that were recently acquired and not yet planted......I think that about sums it up.

Thanks, I'd appreciate some input!

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You could also ask on your local regional forum as plants that might be low maintenance vary with differing growing conditions and the area in which they are grown. I've given you a link to the Virginia gardening forum (which unfortunately right now has a spam attack filling a couple of pages,) but there are also midAtlantic and southeastern forums which may fit your location also.

Here is a link that might be useful: Virginia gardening

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 8:12PM
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Sure it can!! Low maintenance plantings can be just as attractive as more work-intensive, fussier plants. It's just a matter of keeping a few primary criteria in mind.

1) The larger and longer growing the plant, the less routine maintenance it requires. There is sliding scale of maintenance that starts with trees at the lower end (conifers or other evergreens being the lowest) and ends with annuals or annual vegetable crops at the highest. But as with anything in gardening, there are exceptions:-) However, this will provide a start.

2) Right plant, right place. Select plants that are well suited for both location (in terms of hardiness, soil conditions and sun/shade) and for mature size. Avoid large growing plants that will need to be pruned frequently to fit the space or to keep in scale. Avoid formal hedges in favor of looser, screening plants. Informal, more naturalistic planting styles will require less maintenance than a more formal layout.

3) Select plants that are known for disease resistance and for drought tolerance once established. Often, native plants will fit nicely into this slot.

4) Avoid plants that have aggressive or suckering growth habits or that self-seed freely unless this is what you want (i.e. groundcovers to fill an awkward slope, etc.)

5) Prepare the planting area properly before planting. If you have drainage issues, compacted or heavy soils or low fertility soils, correcting or improving the situation before you plant will eliminate a lot of unnecessary effort after planting. And reduce the need to fertilize often.

6) Many folks equate a "beautiful" garden with a lot of flowers. If that's your preference, look to flowering trees and shrubs to provide the bulk of color - they tend to be less work than herbaceous perennials. But many perennials are relatively low maintenance as well - look for those that do not require staking, frequent division or regular deadheading to look good. And there are a surprising number of 'evergreen' perennials as well.....and anything evergreen or that holds its foliage throughout the year will require less attention than those that die back fully or lose all their leaves.

It's impossible to have a maintenance-free garden/landscape. But you can certainly reduce the amount of time and effort you have to devote to keep a garden looking good if you follow these basic concepts. And the one maintenance chore I would never recommend omitting or shortcutting is mulching on a regular basis. Mulch will continue to improve the soil, help keep weeds in check and it will also help to conserve soil moisture, reducing the need for more frequent watering. If you use something like compost as a mulch, it will virtually eliminate any need for supplemental fertilization. And it makes everything look neat and tidy ;-)

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 9:38PM
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Thanks y'all, for the input!
98charles, yes edible landscaping is something I've been very very interested in; it just makes sense! I'd like to grow some passionflower/fruit on an arbor since I love the smell of the flowers and would love to have some fruit for juice and jelly. [have a friend who grows passionfruit and has offered some starts from her vine.] I'm gradually redesigning our veggie garden so that it's incorporated into our backyard, patio area. I'd like to eventually be able to have dinner in a backyard Potager garden, if we so choose!
nhbabs, thanks for the input; I've posted a plant-specific question on the Mid Atlantic forum and hopefully will get some answers there as well......
gardengal, your list is very helpful, thanks! I happen to love flowers, but don't want to spend all spring and summer pruning, dividing, deadheading, not to mention spraying for bugs, and disease! We garden organically, so that's just another reason to choose wisely; anything that is going to need chemicals to stay alive in our area is definitely out. I work hard enough with a handful of fruit trees and our veggies; organic treatments usually need to be applied oftener, at least in my experience!
Mulching and composting is something I happen to enjoy BTW; I'm one of those "compost whackos" lol! I really don't consider that to be excessive maintainance.
......but all too often I believe people assume that to have a beautiful landscape [that we can really get out there and enjoy, rather than only observe from a distance] is to spend hours and hours tending it, and I'm not convinced it has to be that way. The Juniper, lavender, and yarrow growing in our yard for the last several years has proven that to me!
When I quit "fussing" over the lavender, it took off and truly amazed me, and blesses me every summer with a long period of delightful blooms!....and the yarrow and Juniper? Well, they've pretty much always just done their thing; all we do is give them a good pruning [and once a year mulching]
If anyone has grown the specific plants on my list, or done landscaping with them, I'd love some suggestions for combinations, placement, typical plant habits, care, etc.
My goal is to have a beautiful landscape to enjoy all year round with little fuss and bother.
Thanks again y'all!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 2:03PM
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We're totally with you about the Low Maintainance! We've had to landscape the entire yard since the previous owner of 15 years had only planted a single maple tree (looks pretty but I hate those roots). We started in the front and we're working our way to the backyard. The only grass we will have is in the fronts (either side of the driveway). It takes me only about 6 minutes to mow with the push mower (my favorite yard tool!!!). We've got placed all our trees (since they take the longest to get mature size - oh how I envy your big oaks). With all the HOA restrictions we will only be able to have 5 trees in the entire yard. I've been careful in my selections. Once we get the remaining hardscaping in, we will be adding shrubs etc. One neighbor has a beautiful plush landscape but when you look deeper and see what he has to do, it's pretty minimal. He hires his work out but he rarely has anyone there except to mow the little bit of grass in the's nice to have my inspriration across the street.

I got a book from the library (sorry I don't remember the name) that had excellent suggestions on low maintainance landscaping.

As far as plants, we had the climbing hydrangas but didn't have much luck. I must confess that they got off to a rough start because we didn't get them on the sprinkler system for a year or two. I was going to retry them for under my deck.

We had a rose of sharon in the shade (it prefers sun) and it still did quite nice. Didn't bloom as long but was very nicely shaped (w/o trimming).

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 6:18PM
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On its head does beauty require a constant touch up? Is beautiful a constant? We are often told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a fickle observer is there ever was one. If your desire is a stasis dream on.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 6:57PM
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Thanks again, for the input.
aloha2009, did your Rose of Sharon still bloom in the shade? We were planning to put them in part sun/dappled shade.
There is also a viburnum [snowball bush] here that will need another location. It used to be beautiful but now it's sulking, because we moved a shed right beside it, and it doesn't get much sun.
Yes inkognito, beauty does require constant attention and "maintainance", and I know better than to expect a stasis, lol! However, there are beauty/exercise/diet routines that are so demanding that they discourage us before we even get started, and I simply don't believe it has to be that difficult or some of those matters we have a choice! I can do a difficult, strenous workout [some people enjoy that] or I can go for a pleasant jog or brisk walk, jump on the trampoline with my kids, etc.
I can choose a demanding hairstyle,[Usually the more unnatural a style is for the individual, the more fuss and bother it will require.] or I can go with a look that is naturally complimentary and beautiful, and much easier to maintain. It's up to us, and one style isn't right for everyone. However, we can't exactly just let ourselves go either, or there will be negative consequences, [to our health, if nothing else!]
I believe our landscapes are the same way; the more "unnatural" I choose to go with my designs, the more fussing I will need to do, to keep them looking that way....and ultimately, that is often what ends up discouraging us. Often I hear people complaining about all the work their yards require, and it doesn't sound like they're really enjoying them at all. If that is what some folks like, and they are enjoying all that fussing, then more power to them! That is evidently what works for them, but I know it wouldn't work for me. Mulching with healthy compost, watering, even occasional pruning don't bother me; I enjoy those things. It's the constant "fussing" that gets me, especially when we race past most of the plants in our yard, see them at a distance, and rarely get out there and actually enjoy the landscape. To me, that is most unfortunate, because we miss some of the simplest and yet greatest blessings in life. I'd rather have less of the constant "fussing", have a more natural landscape, and enjoy it with those I love.........all year!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 10:52AM
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Posy, yes my Rose of Sharon did flower for about 3 weeks, just not as abundant as others that I saw in full sun. Ours was on the NE corner of the house with aspens in front of it too. I think you will be happy with your location. I heard they can sucker around but we never had a problem.

Posy what I heard you say was LOW maintainance not NO maintainance. Your explanation was eloquent. I don't want a barren wasteland (we're in semi desert) but I don't think it's right nor do I want to pay the $300 a month water bills that some neighbors do. Xeriscape has a bad connotation because of those that just rocked their entire yard and called that xeriscaping.

One of my hobbies is gardening/landscaping. I say one because there are definately other things I like to include too. I like deadheading, mowing (even though it doesn't take long) and propogating. My DH likes to trim bushes, hack things down to the ground, and weeding (yes I know how lucky I am). We are choosing plantings with water usage and maintainance in mind. We want a lush xeriscape yard with LOW maintainace, so that we can garden and other leisure activities.

Each plant that is placed in our yard is carefully thought out as to what will it give us (beauty, scent, seasonal flower etc) and what does it take to care for it, and is it invasive.

Gardengal really did an excellent job explaining how to keep thing lower maintainance. I used to be able to get all the free compost I wanted for my garden. It looked like nice rich black soil. It was well aged so little to no smell (I even put it by a sitting bench).

One thing to keep in mind is when are you most likely to see/walk through a particular area? In areas that I only go through during the summer, I look for summer bloomers and don't concern myself with what it looks like during other seasons. Being though you are in zone 7 you are likely to be outside enjoying your yard more months then myself in zone 5. My front yard that I see year round, I include both evergreens and trees that provide seasonal interest. I've got flowers sprinkled in front to give it some "fun".

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 11:53AM
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Thanks aloha, for the response; that info. helps. Ditto on the evergreens in front; they used to bore me, but I'm learning that there are many more choices than I realized. There are lots of low maintainance plants that stay green in our zone; I don't have to be stuck with boxwoods. I've even found evergreen ferns, yay!
Incidentally, we were planning on "trying" the Rose of Sharon on the northeast side of a backyard shed, which is in the process of becoming a summer canning kitchen & summer laundry. [Complete with my wringer washing machine, to save water and make recycling our water for the garden easier, with biocompatable soap, of course!] It's only steps away from the garden, and that has me really excited. I've done laundry that way before, and we watered our gardens with recycled laundry water one summer a few years back, during a terrible drought. It saved our plants and harvest that summer, and I've wished for a more permanent setup ever since. Of course, you can't let "greywater" sit around; it needs to be dispersed immediately,[regulations vary] and you need to be careful with detergents. I'm pretty careful with that anyway, so no problem there.
Someone suggested eucalyptus, bugleweed, Christmas fern, wintergreen, and viburnum to me recently as all being low maintainance once established. Anyone growing those?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 1:02PM
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We had (and will have) Viburnums. VERY easy to care for.
You brought memories with your saving your washer water. We didn't do that but would save any overspray from our shower. It's amazing what we'll do to keep our plants alive and healthy.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 10:49PM
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LOL! So true; I have a kitchen window box overflowing with verbena that often gets watered with leftover dishwater. [I have a dishwasher, but some things still need handwashing.] I find myself considering the plants more than the dishes, when it's time to buy more detergent.....
Our landscape is finally taking shape, and I'm slowly adding plants. Japanese holly have gone in front. They went in July 4th, and I see considerable new growth already.
I'll probably plant some wintergreen in the same bed, this fall, along with some in the windowboxes to hopefully spill over by Christmas. Anyone ever done that, and will it work? I'd love to hear from someone who grows wintergreen; I have no experience with it. No one seems willing to ship right now, even in pots. [probably for good reason; it's been between 90-100 degrees, and probably will be for the next 6-8 wks.]
I have picked up some "orphan" plants at the local big box store. They are taking some TLC, but are responding nicely. I'm thinking they'll be low maintainance, once they are established.
They are: Liriope [muscari, pretty bloom]
Blue Star Juniper
Blue Rug Juniper
I've benefited from the tips and advice; thanks, and keep it coming!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 8:42AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Many people think I spend hours in my garden. I do...but it's not hours spent "WORKING"--I sit most of the time. And read. It takes some maintenance in the spring--and a little clean-up in the fall...and the occasional bout of weeding...but nothing truly onerous. I work in a garden center...I don't have TIME for hours of maintenance in the spring and fall.

I DO have to spend time twice a week spraying deer repellent. (Takes about 15 minutes.)So if deer are an might want to avoid hydrangeas and other things the deer find ever-so-tasty.

Here are some pics of MY garden:
Pretty much full-shade beds (less than 3 hours direct sun/day):

Partial sun beds (some spots get as much as 5+ hours of sun):

Notice the green ground cover in the picture below--that's a creeping thyme that makes life MUCH easier--living mulch!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 8:57AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

You bet it can! One critical thing to know is that if you're not enjoying your property, you can change that. You just need to start at the beginning of the thought process.

After digging out 40+ stumps, cleaning out patch after patch of brambles... This kind of thing is not normal maintenance, btw. An ounce of prevention (so that this situation doesn't recur) is worth a pound of cure (all that work!)

To fully wrap your mind around this issue, hopefully you can find a book called Redesigning the American Lawn; A Search for Environmental Harmony by Bormann, Balmori and Geballe at your library. You are on the right track and this book should fill-in-the-blanks, and bolster your confidence. Individual plants are much easier to choose once you have more general info, and have developed a general concept and goals for your property.

Another book, The Lawn; A History of an American Obsession by Virginia Scott Jenkins, I found very interesting.

I think the 2 books make a good set. This 2nd one answers three important questions, "Why do American yards all kind of look the same, and how did that happen? Where did all this grass come from? And why do I have to spend every weekend slaving over a mower and trimming boring shrubs just because I own a house?"

The first is all about what can be done instead. It discusses the environmental, personal, financial, sustainability, and social impacts of both types of landscaping.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 10:40AM
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Wow mjsee, what lovely photos, thanks! It was over 100 degrees here today, with high humidity, and your garden looks so cool and tranquil. No wonder you enjoy it so much! Your approach is definitely what I'm after. I don't want a landscape that I'm a constant slave to, but I like to look forward to being outside! Love your ferns....Incidentally, I planted some Christmas ferns this week in a shady corner.
Purpleinopp, thanks for the suggestions; those sound like books I'd love to read! The idea of a lawn being an American obsession sounds hilarious, but so true. I never could relate to these people who spend sooo much time fussing over grass. If I "fuss" over anything, it better be something that gives me more than that. By the time some folks are finished creating their "perfect" lawn, it will be so chemical-laden that many things we enjoy as a natural part of nature are not even present. Fireflies, crickets, tree frogs,etc. [Not to mention, who wants to be contaminated, anyway? Hmmm, maybe that's how we Americans came to be so "distant" from our landscapes; sort of like, "look, don't touch"....]
On another note, I'm making some surprising discoveries along the way.....I never thought of roses as being low maintainance, but am finding that some of the old garden roses are in fact exactly that. I have one growing in a large pot that has amazed me. One of those "orphan" plants I picked up last year and decided to try in a pot, while I figure out where it's happy and what it likes. Dutchess de Brabant was the name that came with it. I expected it to require a lot of care, because it's not exactly a "modern, low maintainance rose" but was I ever in for a pleasant surprise. It has bloomed almost continuously this summer, [fragrant!] in spite of extreme heat, seems immune to blackspot, I spray only occasionally with a neem solution and water fairly regularly. [It is in a pot, after all.] Other than that, it got healthy compost, and is treated pretty much like any other shrub, I don't coddle it. I believe I'll try to find some more for the few sunny spots we have here. The stems are not as strong as the newer varieties, but the rose makes up for it in character! Beats the newer roses by far, because at least this one has a lovely, fruity fragrance! This has been an adventure..... thanks, y'all; keep it up!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 11:28PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

It was 100F here today...those pictures were taken in June. Add me to the "if it's green I'll mow it" crowd. We've got some amazing insect stuff going on in our lower front lawn--Cicada Killer Wasps have set up multiple dens and are raising multiple broods. I need to get a picture of the piles of dirt they has gone walkabout.

I'm not worried about them because they aren't aggressive. It's amazing to watch them bomb around the yard...I'll link a wikipedia article below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Eastern Cicada Killer

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 3:59PM
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Hello again!
With the holiday rush past and gone, I'm turning my attention to gardening again.......
So far, the Japanese Hollies have thrived, [soaker hoses help!] the liriope and Christmas ferns out front seem happy, [still green!] I'm so glad for the suggestion to consider evergreen plants in front, I haven't regretted planting them.
The Camellia beside the front porch is loaded with buds, and the Christmas ferns planted beneath it will be a nice compliment.
Rose of Sharons appear to be taking the winter ok; am anxious to see how they do in the spring.
I did purchase one winter honeysuckle which I planted in a pot until I have a more permanent home for it, and it actually had a few blooms already! Not a shrub spectacular in form, however anything that smells that sweet in the dead of winter is worth growing. [and cutting huge bouquets! I can't wait until it grows really large; I dream of armloads of fragrant blooms.]
I took a chance and planted some common jasmine in a hollowed out cedar stump, even though supposedly it's not hardy to zone 7. So far, so good. In spite of heavy frosts and cold temps, it's actually still slightly green. I couldn't resist the thought of hummingbirds and butterflies flocking to the fragrant blooms next summer![And fragrant they are! Had a few blooms late in the summer, enough to know.] Everything I've researched indicated that it is not bug or disease prone. It got planted in July with hot humid conditions [and watering] but it did fine, with no bugs or disease the rest of the summer. Now, that's what I consider a truly enjoyable, low maintainence, plant! Hope it does ok.....
Some hardscaping is being [slowly!] worked on this winter, as weather and time permit, which is also helping things to take shape. [Sidewalk, patio area, a few beds surrounded by a knee wall, ect.]
Hope the rest of y'all and your gardens are all taking the winter ok, and that everyone is happy and blessed.
Any more ideas/suggestions?
mjsee, I'd love to see a few pics of your garden in winter!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 12:49AM
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