If you want to minimize maintenance in your garden—and save water in the process—the fundamental tenet is simple: location, location, location. Any garden can be low-maintenance. All it takes is a little extra investment of time and planning on the front end to reap big returns over the long term.
“It’s right plant, right place,” said Lisa Stadler, a certified horticulturist and manager of Stadler Nurseries, which has a location in Laytonsville, as well as Frederick and Northern Virginia. “A general design premise is that 80 percent of plants take care of themselves.”
Low-maintenance plantings don’t require a great deal of expertise and can save water and effort for homeowners. They can also feature native plants and lower the use of products like pesticides and fertilizers by selecting plants known for their hardiness and vigor.
Planning and installing a low maintenance native plant focused garden is just one way gardeners can help to stem pollution and runoff in their local watersheds, in keeping with the goals and techniques of the Montgomery County RainScapes program.
Half the battle is knowing which plants prefer full sun and which prefer shadier conditions, and installing the plants accordingly. That’s the essence of finding a plant’s ideal location.
“Look at the light,” Stadler says. “Full sun equals all day or afternoon sun. Shade is all morning or filtered all day. All plans can acclimate, but sun-loving plants will have a hard time in the shade.”
Speaking to your friendly neighborhood nursery professional or doing some basic research on your own can go a long way toward selecting the species that are going to thrive in your area, and under what conditions. Montgomery County is fortunate to have high-quality nurseries available to buy from, in addition to the seasonal native plant sales run by a wide variety of groups.
The space between plants also is important. A good rule of thumb for spacing, according to RainScapes Planner Donna Evans, is three to four feet apart for shrubs and two feet apart for most perennials.
Lower-maintenance gardening also is a matter of mentality. Plenty of home gardeners routinely take steps that are, quite simply, extraneous.
A little bit of prevention goes a long way in the weeding department. Staying on top of weeds keeps big outbursts to a minimum.
“The continual wish of any gardener is not to have to weed,” Evans said. “Keep on top of weeds that get blown in or washed in from rain by pulling them as soon as you see them, especially before they set seed. After planting and weeding, put down mulch to keep new weeds from germinating. Mulch reduces weeding but also keeps moisture in the soil which means less watering is required.”
The same idea applies, to a point, to watering. While some watering will always be needed, if gardeners select plant species that are appropriate for a region’s climate—most notably native plants—watering does not have to be a constant activity. Group your plants by similar moisture requirements. This will reduce the time needed to water a garden.
Also, take the time make sure you’re planting in healthy soil. Our typical clay soils can be improved by mixing in organic matter as deep as you can. Putting the time in the beginning will get you healthy plants, more vigorous growth, fewer pest and health problems, and better root establishment, which means less watering during dry spells.
All in all, low-maintenance plantings aren’t rocket science, but carry a raft of benefits, such as getting people outside where they can relax, sharing the joy of a beautiful garden with your neighbors, and giving food and shelter to pollinators.
“You just need to do your homework,” Stadler said. “Plant the plant where it wants to be planted.”
By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer. Read Scott’s other posts on the benefits of environmental peer pressure, birds and climate change, eco-friendly ice rinks, residential solar, and congregational rain gardens.