Low Maintenance Garden: Design Ideas To Reduce Landscaping Maintenance

Question: We need a more low maintenance garden! Currently we maintain and care for our yard. However, it continues to present a maintenance challenge… we seem to waste a lot of time mowing the yard or operating the weed eater.

Do you have any suggestions or ideas, to make the landscaping more low maintenance, easier and less time consuming? Kelly, Douglasville, Georgia


Answer: Kelly, homeowners face many challenges maintaining a lawn and landscape. But, much of the yard work can be reduced or avoided by simply taking the time to put the proper design in place.

When looking at garden design ideas, low maintenance of the landscape is important to take into account, since there is “work” involved in maintaining the landscape after everything is installed.

There is no such thing as maintenance free or no maintenance landscaping.

The Devil is in The Details

We all have heard the phrase the “devil is in the details”… a landscape design is no different. Little details can slip by during the design phase and later on create maintenance problems.

I wish more designers and landscape architects would take the time to work on a landscape maintenance crew for a few weeks to understand the challenges landscape personnel face on a daily basis.

Drainage and Slopes – Difficulties Headaches and Erosion Problems

Many people look at their yard as a canvas waiting to be painted with plants, trees, different types of landscaping rocks, flowers, a patio or deck and maybe a pool.

It’s important to look beyond the flat canvas and look down. Find out if the landscape drains. Drainage problems in parts of the landscape can cause lots of maintenance issues.

For example, poor plant health can be one-result, runoff and erosion issues another. Drainage can prevent the possibility of even a birdbath being installed.

Paved areas can push the flow of water into areas which will experience excessive moisture. This can cause mowing issues or make mowing impossible, creating more work. This can also affect plant health as plant roots sit in unnatural moisture conditions. Don’t we all want a low-maintenance plants and lawn?

Grading and drainage need to be addressed and a part of any low maintenance garden design plan from the beginning to eliminate future problems.

Slopes if they are too steep can make mowing dangerous and unsafe. Landscaping a slope with groundcover using ornamental grasses or massing shrubs making it look more attractive and reduce maintenance.

Using mulch on steep slopes may be a difficult task resulting in weeds sprouting and soil erosion to occur.

In commercial landscapes retention ponds are sometimes the method used to address drainage problems and excessive runoff. Retention ponds also cause maintenance issues when the ponds are not holding water.

The slopes may be too steep or too mushy to run a mower over. This can increase maintenance time as weed eaters or string trimmers will be required. String trimmers used in any application often increases job cost.

Irrigation Design Issues

Irrigation is a very important part of the design of any landscape project.

A poor or inadequate sprinkler irrigation system design can cause major landscape headaches.

  • Poor spacing of sprinkler heads creates dry spots
  • Overspray – waste water
  • Systems with inadequate water pressure can stop sprinkler heads from applying enough water in the proper area
  • Incorrect head selection
  • Improper water zones and other system design shortcomings put too much water in one area and not enough is another. Example, beds of seasonal color should be put on separate zones.

Commercial irrigation may require irrigation controllers inside of buildings, which makes access difficult and could also create a nice trail of mud track into building.

If frequent system monitoring and adjustments will be needed, put weatherproof controllers on the outside of buildings.

garden beds low maintenancePin

Smooth Bed Edges – Easier Maintenance

One of fundamental principle to follow in a landscape design should be to create smooth flowing bed lines.

This will allow mowers and operators to maneuver easier through grass. Beds that snake around, uneven edges, flower garden bed borders incorrectly installed or beds with tight turns for mowers can result in a mini obstacle course.

Sharp turns can present challenges in mowing and waste time. Smooth flowing lines of beds soften the look and make turf management and maintenance easier.

Bed Maintenance

The edge of beds should be sharply cut using a shovel or edged with a string trimmer, bed edger or other types of mechanical equipment. During warm summer months maintaining the edge of the bed may require more time as the grass stolens aggressively grow.

Stay away from the use of chemicals to control or slow the growth of bed edges. Chemicals will create a burn or brown edge and in general looks bad. Grass as it grows to the edge of a bed gives a clean, crisp, sharp look.

Chemical edging cannot offer that manicured appearance. This is highly recommended for areas where traffic can see everything like in a front yard landscaping.

However, for areas such as the backyard or in the back of a property where the public will not see the landscape beds, chemical control can save lots of time.

Watch Tree Placement

When placing trees keep in mind not the size of the tree when mature, but also the ring around the tree. Don’t put a tree so close to a fence that a mower deck will not have enough room to get by.

More and more people today use zero-turn mowers. Even though these mowers can turn in tight corners they still require room to navigate between plants, beds and structures.

The secret to a low-maintenance landscaping and lowering cost in time and effort comes down to planning.

The overall design of the landscape contributes to the consumable resources of maintenance – time and equipment.

Even if your landscape is already installed reducing the landscape workload can still be implemented.

Step back and look at what areas eat your time. Then start looking for new design elements, which will reduce those time wasters.

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