Low-maintenance gardens save water as well as work

Flickr CC Jordan Meeter
March 9, 2016
  |   Leave your comments

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.”


Image of purple flowers known as dwarf crested irises

The small Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata) will carpet a shady woodland garden with violet flowers in mid-spring.


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.


An image of the white flower petals of the plant known as "Miss Obedient." Photo courtesy of John Brandauer, via Flickr

The Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’) is a good filler plant for your perennial bed, blooms mid to late summer, and makes great cut flowers. Image credit: John Brandauer, via Flickr CC.

Quick and Easy Tips

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.


Image of foamflowers, leafy green plants with cone shaped series of small white flowers

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) fits into a shady border or woodland garden and looks great with early spring bulbs. Image credit: sirpale79, via Flickr CC.

Less is More

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.”


A tiger swallowtail butterfly perches atop purple flowers of the dwarf Joe Pye weed

Joe Pye Weed ‘Baby Joe’ (Eupatorium dubium) is very colorful and looks great with Rudbeckia, taller grasses and other late summer bloomers. And pollinators like this tiger swallowtail love them! Image credit: USDA, via Flickr CC.


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 pressurebirds and climate changeeco-friendly ice rinksresidential solar, and congregational rain gardens.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *