Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 4/19/2005 10:28:53 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Gardening is the most popular hobby or leisure activity in America, but many people still don’t want to spend all their energy on it. For those, there are lots of ways to reduce the time and effort required for landscape maintenance.
Gardeners love to focus on the details of growing plants and tend to grow a wide variety of plants – even those that are a challenge. They often attend gardening classes, talk to other gardeners or read gardening books to learn more about gardening. They really enjoy spending time taking care of their yards.
Then there are the average homeowners who want an attractive landscape but really are not interested turning their yard into a hobby. They want to know what works, what is critical to success (leave out the fluff) and how to create a landscape that doesn’t demand more maintenance time than absolutely necessary. Come to think of it, I imagine most gardeners share some of those same desires.
Reduce The Work
Flower beds generally are the parts of the landscape that require the highest amount of maintenance. Gardens full of colorful annuals and perennials look smashing, and everybody craves color, but these beds must be replanted as needed, weeded, watered, groomed and protected from insect and disease problems. If you are trying to decrease the amount of maintenance your landscape requires, it is a good idea to minimize the number and size of flower beds (or even eliminate them).
In this effort, plant flowers only in the most important places. Flower beds would be appropriate close to the entrance to your home to brighten the front landscape, focus attention on the front door and welcome visitors.
Reduce maintenance even more by planting colorful bedding plants in large containers instead of in the ground. Beds and/or containers of flowering annuals also are appropriate around outdoor living areas, such as decks or patios, to brighten and enrich the area where your family spends time outside.
Lawns are another high-maintenance part of the landscape. At least once a week from April until November, you are forced to drag out the lawnmower and mow the lawn – whether you want to or not. Lawn areas are attractive in the landscape and are necessary for outdoor activities, such as a kids’ play area, but do you really need that much lawn? A smaller lawn means less work. Reduce maintenance by replacing some or all of the lawn with lower maintenance ground covers.
Since fertilizer stimulates growth, which increases mowing frequency, fertilize your lawn moderately if at all. Fertilization is critical only if your lawn shows signs of low vigor or if you need to stimulate growth to fill in damaged areas.
Make The Right Choices
If you choose plants that will grow and mature at the proper size, you will reduce your yard work substantially. Pruning can add a tremendous amount of work to landscape maintenance, and the most common reason for pruning is to control the size of plants in the landscape.
Why plant a shrub that will grow to be 8 feet tall in a location where a 4-foot shrub is needed? You will have to prune the plant constantly to keep it half as big as it wants to be. Never purchase any plant – particularly a tree or shrub – without knowing or asking what its mature size will be.
You also should choose trees and shrubs that are well adapted to our climate and are not prone to constant pest problems. Just because you see a plant available at the nursery does not necessarily mean it will thrive here. Even more, some of people’s most favorite plants, such as the hybrid tea roses, are very high maintenance. By selecting plants that are not as likely to have major insect or disease problems, you will reduce the considerable amount of work involved in pest control.
If you have had more failures with plants than you care to remember, get into the habit of asking and learning about plants before you use them in your landscape. Your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office is a great source for information – or visit www.lsuagcenter.com. Make sure you choose plants that are well adapted, reliable, less prone to pest problems and able to thrive in the growing conditions where you intend to plant them, and you will have a much easier time taking care of them.
Do What’s Important
Mulching is very important for an attractive landscape and healthy plants – and it’s especially critical in reducing weeds. A 2-inch to 3-inch layer of mulch should be placed over the soil in every bed in your landscape. It’s well worth the cost and effort.
Not only is mulching your best defense against weeds, but mulches also conserve soil moisture by slowing evaporation from the soil surface. Weeding and watering are major gardening jobs, and the more we reduce the effort needed to do them, the better.
Speaking of watering, professionally installed irrigation systems with automatic timers are an excellent way to save time and effort in watering. Even soaker hoses hooked up to automatic timers are an easy-to-use, inexpensive way to water beds. Timers are available at most hardware and building supply stores. Of course, you still need to pay some attention to them – so, for example, you don’t leave the timer set to turn the irrigation system on during rainy periods.
Although your landscape always will require a certain amount of regular maintenance, it should not be a burden to you. If you find that you have to spend far more time taking care of it than you like, remember there are many things you can do to make it easier.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.