Published on 08/19/96

Ten Easy Steps to a More Low-Maintenance Landscape

You probably have better things to do with your spare time than mow, spray, prune, fertilize and mulch. If you're starting to feel like a slave to your landscape, it's time to make changes.

You need not sacrifice your landscape's beauty. Here are 10 steps to get you started.

Identify your landscape's high-maintenance features. What's requiring a lot of time? For most people, mowing may be the biggest chore. Do you spend too much time shearing plants, pulling weeds or spraying for pests? If so, consider alternatives.

Plan Ahead. Landscape changes require planning and may need to be done in stages. You may have to order new plants. Fall is best for planting.

Use the garden hose to outline new beds. Lay the hose in the sun until it's flexible. Then use it to outline new beds. A sweeping bed with flowing curves from the foundation to the drive is appealing. Incorporate existing trees into a large island. But avoid having too many small islands to mow around and edge. Once the hose shows the right shape, use garden lime or flour to mark it.

Kill unwanted vegetation in the new bed. Use a nonselective weed killer, like Roundup. Don't cultivate the bed, except to plant annual flowers. Rototilling encourages weed seeds to sprout. You can plant directly through killed turf. Wait a day or more for the herbicide to dry on the foliage and to be absorbed before planting.

Keep the new planting simple. Three to five different plants is all you need to fill a large bed. You may choose to mulch a large area and not plant it at all. Spreading ground-cover plants cover large spaces economically. Low-growing junipers, like Blue Rug, Shore and Prince of Wales, are great for full sun. Variegated Liriope, Siberian iris, day lilies and the new dianthus, 'Bath's Pink'(a Georgia Gold Medal Winner), are full-sun choices that practically thrive on neglect. Periwinkle and harbour dwarf nandina are great for shade. To save money, ask your nurseryman about "liner" plants, rooted cuttings that may cost 50 cents to $1 each.

Divide and multiply what you may already have. Fall is ideal for dividing day lilies, iris, Liriope and most herbaceous perennials. You may already have these. If not, ask a neighbor. Your low-maintenance goal is to cover every square inch with large groupings of plants of different textures, colors, etc., that require little routine maintenance.

Fill in voids with mulch. Use pine straw, pine bark mininuggets, hardwood chips or other organic mulch. Three to five inches will help prevent weeds and conserve moisture.

Keep weeds at bay. Changing any landscape area will encourage weed growth. Keep a spray bottle of Roundup handy to spot-treat weeds. And consider using a granular preemergence herbicide to keep weeds from sprouting. Many are on the market. Two applications per year will prevent a lot of hand-weeding.

Consolidate or eliminate high-maintenance plants. Some plants are more trouble than they're worth. If insect or disease control seems a losing battle, consider replacing infested plants with more tolerant options. Consolidate annual flowers in two or three areas where you can easily care for them.

Monitor your progress and expand your efforts. If you're spending more time managing the new landscape than the old, something went wrong. Carefully chosen ground covers and herbaceous plantings should require little routine care once established. Once-a-year pruning and fertilizing should be all you need.

Each 1,000 square feet converted from high- to low- maintenance will provide at least five more leisure hours each year. That's a great return on your investment.

Gary Wade is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.