A goal of sustainable landscaping is to reduce the amount of maintenance our landscapes require. But reduce does not mean eliminate. You can make choices, however, that will reduce the amount of work it takes to maintain your landscape.
If your landscape has become a burden and requires more time than your busy schedule permits, you should definitely look into ways to reduce the maintenance.
Generally, the highest-maintenance parts of a landscape are the flower beds. Gardens full of colorful annuals and perennials look smashing, and everybody craves color. But these beds must be replanted, weeded, watered, groomed and protected from insect and disease problems. If you’re trying to decrease maintenance, it’s a good idea to minimize the number and size of flower beds – or even eliminate them.
To do this, only plant flowers in the most important places. Flower beds would be appropriate close to the front entrance of your home to brighten the front landscape, focus attention on the front door and welcome visitors. You can reduce maintenance even more by planting colorful bedding plants in large containers instead of in the ground. Beds and containers of annual flowers 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’re forced to drag out the lawn mower and cut the grass. Lawns 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. You can reduce maintenance by replacing some or all of the lawn with lower-maintenance ground covers.
Because fertilizer stimulates growth, which increases mowing frequency, fertilize your lawn moderately, if at all. Fertilizer is critical only if your lawn shows signs of low vigor or you need to stimulate growth to fill in damaged areas.
If you choose plants that will grow and mature at an appropriate size, you’ll 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 almost constantly to keep it half as big as it wants to be. Never purchase any plant – and trees and shrubs, in particular – without knowing or asking what its mature size will be.
You also should choose trees and shrubs well-adapted to our climate and not prone to constant pest problems. By selecting plants that aren’t as likely to have major insect or disease problems you 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 office is a source for information. Make sure you choose plants that will thrive in the growing conditions where you intend to plant them. When you do, you’ll have a much easier time taking care of them.
A 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch should be placed over the soil in every bed in your landscape. Mulching is well worth the cost and effort. Not only is mulch your best defense against weeds, but it also conserves soil moisture by slowing evaporation from the soil surface. Weeding and watering are major gardening jobs, and the more we reduce the effort to do them, the better.
As far as watering goes, professionally installed irrigation systems with automatic timers are an excellent way to save time and effort. 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. You still need to pay some attention and not leave the timer set to turn the irrigation system on during rainy periods.
Although your landscape will always require a certain amount of regular maintenance, it shouldn’t be a burden. If you find you have to spend more time taking care of it than you like, remember you can do things to make it easier.
Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. LaHouse is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.louisianahouse.org and www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.Rick Bogren