Low-maintenance Gardens

By Tom Roebuck

July 9, 2010 5 min read

Few things can improve a yard quite like a well-tended garden. What home wouldn't look and feel better with a vibrant outdoor oasis teeming with life and color? A beautiful garden is indeed a sight to behold, yet many people can't help but think that such a display requires too much work for them to fit into their busy schedules.

Even though gardens are a labor of love, not everyone has the spare time to spend hours planting, watering, picking weeds and doing the numerous other chores that come with them. However, with some careful planning, it is possible to build a garden that needs very little maintenance.

"It's really about planning ahead to create order," says Kathy LaLiberte, director of gardening for Gardener's Supply Co. "Plants, by their nature, grow all over the place, so it's up to the gardener to create the boundaries for the plants."

For a garden in an urban setting, LaLiberte recommends growing plants in pots. That way, the plant has a tight boundary -- the pot itself -- that will keep it from overgrowing while denying weeds a place to take root. For those with a little more time, a raised bed also can create an effective boundary. For rural areas, permanent edging is a more casual method of controlling a garden.

"I think people get into trouble when they don't define their boundaries and they just kind of start planting everywhere," LaLiberte says. "It just gets out of control, and people become frustrated."

The region's climate and soil are key factors to consider when planning a garden, as well as shade and drainage conditions. Choosing plants that are incompatible with a garden's setting can challenge even the greenest thumbs.

"If you try to garden against nature, to put in plants where they aren't going to naturally thrive, it's a continual fight that you're not going to win," says Valeria Easton, author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." "It's being realistic about the soil and sun and temperature of where you live and planting accordingly. There are plenty of great plants for just about any situation."

For those looking for a low-maintenance garden, planting vegetables is an option that is best avoided. With their high moisture content, they are not drought-resistant and require watering during dry spells. But that doesn't mean the garden can't provide anything to put on the table. Herbs -- such as parsley, oregano and thyme -- don't need much attention, look good and take up very little space. On the sweeter side, blueberries and strawberries can offer color and taste to the garden and dinner table.

"There's a new kind of blueberry called Sunshine Blue that's an evergreen blueberry, so you can make a little evergreen hedge out of them, which is very beautiful," Easton says. "For a couple of months out of the year, you can pick berries off them."

For gardeners looking for an easy plant that can help feed the family, BJ Ryan, a live goods merchant for The Home Depot, recommends an ornamental sweet potato vine. "They come in a lime green or a violet color, and they run along the top of the ground and work in full or partial sun," Ryan says. "They're very low-maintenance. Once they're in the ground, it's like a drop of water is all they need. And they're beautiful plants."

Everybody loves roses, but watering and pruning can make them a bit of a chore for gardeners. However, that all changed in the 1990s, when Knock Out roses were introduced. Available in seven varieties, they are the hardiest of roses and don't need pruning.

"They have tremendous amounts of blooms on them," Ryan says. "Landscapers use it. They can be a centerpiece or an edge. It's a tremendous product."

Ryan says plumbago, or leadwort, is another flowering plant that can take care of itself. The flowers bloom in a variety of colors and are highly drought-tolerant. It's when the temperatures drop that the plumbago becomes vulnerable.

"The heat is not what will get to the plumbago. Eventually, the cold will," Ryan says.

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