Low Maintenance Landscaping
Picking the best plants for your site gives you low maintenance landscaping. Yet, how do we go about making these decisions?
There are several steps to consider before heading to your local nursery.
You should have a good understanding of your landscape.
How much direct sunlight falls there on an average day?
If there is more than six hours of direct sun, you need plants adapted to "Full Sun". Less than two hours of direct sun are "Woodland" or shade plants.
In between these two extremes is woodland edge or "Savanna" habitat.
What is your soil texture?
This can be investigated with a shovel and your bare hands. Feel how slippery or gritty the main particles are that hold your soil together. Soil texture (sand, silt or clay) will predict how much moisture your soil can hold.
If your soil is on either extreme, sand or clay, you can modify its texture by tilling in compost that will make it easier for new plants to become established.
How much moisture is available in this area?
Plan For What You Have (Or Change It)
The good news is that we have the ability to plan for the conditions present or make changes to improve the growing conditions. The next step is, how do you want to use that part of your yard?
If you want a screen of plants to create a more private space, we can create a list of plants that grow to the proper height to yield that result. Good choices require little pruning to maintain the shape and size desired.
Guiding water runoff from roofs and pavement is an important step to collect rain, get it soaking into the ground and away from foundations and storm sewers.
Rain gardens can be either a showy garden of flowers and grasses or a gently sloping lawn with deeper rooted perennials at the lowest point. Rain gardens are planned to have no standing water two days after a rainfall event.
Pathways to Perfection
A key consideration for how you will use your landscape is how you will move through it. Paths, whether paved, grass or mulch surface, need to be resolved early in your planning process.
Another question is how much lawn area is required for entertaining, kids play, active sports, or just viewing the more distant landscape.
One way to map these ideas is to create a drawing that shows everything you want to keep:
Using tracing paper over this base, it is possible to draw a number of different versions of your low maintenance landscaping. Questions to keep in mind when you sketch are:
Your base map should include all the details from our first questions on sun, soil and water available.
Only after making all these decisions can we begin to discern the best trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses to create the look and give you low maintenance landscaping.
Selecting the right plants for low maintenance landscaping requires knowing where that plant evolved. Is it adapted to the conditions you have in your yard?
The more you know about what its preferences are for sun, soil, moisture, lowest winter temperature, etc. the greater chance you have to pick a plant that will thrive.
My preference is to use native plants that evolved with our local soil and climate conditions. Often, though, these flowers and grasses are known for producing large numbers of viable seed. Those seedlings can become a maintenance headache, if your primary goal is minimal care.
Horticultural varieties (they always have a name in quotes at the end of their common or scientific name) have been bred for specific flower color, height, length of bloom, or some other attributes. These named varieties have lower rates of seedling success, though some are vigorous spreaders from their root system.
These can also be an advantage as a low maintenance landscaping ground cover. Native plants make up for this reseeding problem if you are willing to watch your gardens change over the years as the most successful plants crowd out those less well adapted to your site conditions.
Native plants are the best source of food as nectar, fruit and seeds for foraging butterflies, and birds who stay in our harsh climate for the winter months. Introduced plants have been shown to provide little food benefit to the mix of birds and butterflies we would like to attract to our home landscape.
If you have further questions about the design process or would like help getting started, please do not hesitate to contact one of our designers at EnergyScapes or other members of our MN Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
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