Low-Maintenance Gardening

A potted begonia in a perennial bed edged with pavers for low maintenance. Photo (c) Hilda M. Morrill
A potted begonia in a perennial bed edged with pavers for low maintenance. Photo (c) Hilda M. Morrill

If you’re like many gardeners, you get overly zealous in the spring, creating larger flower beds, carefully edging existing beds, meticulously spreading mulch where needed, trimming the grasses, tending to newly sprouted perennials, etc.

Then by mid to late summer, you realize your energy isn’t quite the same and there are certain areas of your garden that, well, just don’t look so tidy as you’d like.

We thank Diane Blazek, the Executive Director of the National Garden Bureau, for sharing some tips with us for creating low-maintenance gardens.

First off, let’s make certain you have selected the right plants for your area. The more you try to test the boundaries of garden zones and climates, the more difficult of a time you’ll have in getting your plants to thrive. We’ve heard of zone 5 gardeners who can successfully overwinter perennials meant for zone 7 but be forewarned, they probably have to take extra precautions (read: extra work!) to help them survive.

If using perennials, choose plants that are slower growing so there is less of a need for dividing or thinning them. Your local garden center can help you make those choices.

When planting annuals, choose varieties that don’t require a lot of dead-heading to stay tidy and clean. True of both annuals and perennials, the closer you space them, the more they’ll starve out the weeds from growing and will require you to use less mulch.

You might want to consider natives, which by their very name defines that they are hardy in your area and have already adapted to your climatic conditions.

Make good choices for companion plantings. For example, Ms. Blazek interplants her hostas with spring bulbs so she get tulips and daffodils blooming before the hostas get very tall. Then, as the foliage of the bulbs begins to die back, the hosta leaves will grow up and over the yellowing foliage. No need to trim!

Try containers. A well-planted mixed container is not only attractive and easy to plant, but can require less maintenance since fewer weeds grow in fresh potting mix, especially if the plants are packed tightly. Container gardens can certainly reward you with season-long color and about the only maintenance is watering.

Creating raised beds can reduce maintenance for a number of reasons but Blazek’s favorite is because the soil won’t get so compacted, so there is less need for tilling or digging when you’re ready to plant.

Define your [relaxed] style. Maybe you prefer more formal, French-style gardens. And that’s great but is certainly more labor-intensive to keep prim and proper. A cottage style garden of wildflowers or sweeping mixed borders with casual shapes and flowing lines tolerates a lot less pruning and fussing. If you have a lot of shade, try to mimic a naturalized woodland and let nature takes its course.

Use the tight tools. Just like in the kitchen, where a dull knife is not only dangerous, but it makes your work much more difficult than it should be, in the garden, a sharp spade cuts deeper and cleaner. Also, the right watering wand is easier to use and can reach where you need it to with little effort. So use the right tool for the job.

And last but not least, although watering is an enjoyable task for some, if the budget allows, the installation of sprinklers or drip irrigation will alleviate the “Number One” time-consumer for many gardeners.

Happy Gardening!


Founded in 1920, the National Garden Bureau is a non-profit organization whose mission is to disseminate basic instructions for backyard gardeners that will inspire them to spend more time gardening. We thank them and credit them as our source. For more information, be sure to visit their website at www.ngb.org.