“Most people want a landscape they feel like they own and not a landscape that owns them,” says Charles Hodges of Charles Hodges, Ltd. Gardens, www.hodgesltdgardens.com. “They want a beautiful, enjoyable space without the hours of tedious maintenance.” While turning your yard into a showpiece won’t happen without some effort, low-maintenance results are possible. The key is to plan before planting, including smart features from the beginning.
Laying the groundwork
If low or little maintenance is your goal, start with soil testing to check the pH level of where you hope to plant. “Investing in soil preparation is well worth it, and you’ll start out three steps ahead if you’ll do that,” says John Kenna, president of Water, Color & Stone Inc., www.watercolorstone.com. “Soil testing is really one of the best values. That way, you have absolute concrete knowledge about the pH of the soil, what the nutrient levels are. If your pH is not correct, more than 50 percent of the nutrients that are in that soil cannot be available to the plant because the plant can’t take it up if the soil pH is not right.”
“Designing a plan with plants, trees and lawns that require less water is key to low maintenance,” says Rick Kaldrovics, president of Outside Landscape Group, LLC, www.outsidelandscapegroup.com, in Alpharetta, adding that one particular technique—that of grouping plantings by water needs—could help you save on water bills. “We will place higher water-use plants in one section of the garden and lower water-use plants in another. Therefore, you can minimize the time-consuming tasks of running all over the yard to try to cover everything. You can concentrate your efforts of watering to specific sections of the landscape.”
Before selecting grass or plantings, Hodges suggests that you “consider drainage and potential erosion problems. Drainage problems can be a potential nightmare and can lead to a lot of expense for both your home and landscape,” he says. “Think about how and where your water is to leave your property. It is sometimes hard to believe how enormous the rainstorms can get in Georgia. Plan for the worst, and you will never have any problems.”
Another consideration: Properly installed irrigation systems, which Hodges says “can significantly reduce time and costs of maintenance. Rather than hand-watering your landscape with a cumbersome, inefficient hose, consider installing drip irrigation or other forms of irrigation that can save time, effort, money and natural resources. Recent advances in irrigation technology have significantly reduced the price and increased the availability of systems that work well for small landscapes.”
In cases where you do choose to water on your own, Ron Kastings of Lowe’s Atlanta-Edgewood, at 1280 Caroline Street NE in Atlanta, www.lowes.com, suggests that you water newly installed plants every day for the first 30 days and two to three times a week after that.
Proper plant selection and placement can help decrease maintenance. For example, plants that require little pruning will be easier to maintain over time. “By selecting the right plant for the size of the space, you won’t have to prune to keep size in check later,” says Julie Thaxton of the online design service Get More Curb Appeal, LLC, www.getmorecurbappeal.com.
Catherine Buckley, co-owner of Pandora’s Phlox, www.pandorasphlox.com, a horticultural services company, agrees, adding: “Many times you will see a loropetalum or holly planted right in front of a window. These two plants in particular are fast growers, especially in the sun. Ultimately, they will grow up in front of the window and will need constant maintenance to keep them down below it. With constant maintenance, the shrub will, over time, lose its natural appearance.”
Light level and plant size also should be considered when seeking to create a low-maintenance landscape. “Probably the first thing is understanding the light requirements of the area you’re beginning to landscape,” says Todd Guilmette, of Unique Environmental Concepts, www.unique-environmental.com. Guilmette says a typical new installation should last between five and seven years—with seasonal maintenance—before you’ll need to look at a possible renovation or enhancements. “The right plant in the right location is important to creating a low-maintenance landscape,” says Guilmette. “Your plant palette needs to relate to the area in which you are landscaping.”
As for design, consider grouping annuals by color for a big impact minus the heavy upkeep. “The mailbox, the front door and the back door are smart locales,” says Thaxton. “Start by improving the area around the front door, and then work out toward the street. Next, hit the backyard. If you use all of the same color and same plant, you’ll get even more bang for your buck.”
“Choosing perennials is also a good low-maintenance idea, as they come back year after year,” says Barbra Fite, co-owner of Pandora’s Phlox.
Though decks, porches, hardscapes and other outdoor structures may require more of a financial investment, Hodges says they can help offset landscape maintenance as well as provide additional living space. “The lowest maintenance landscapes consist of living areas of stone or pavers that can act as an extension of the home. These multipurpose areas with fireplaces, fire pits, cooking areas, simple water features and seasonal color in planters can be enjoyed as an outdoors extension of the home and are very simple to maintain.”
A poorly maintained landscape actually can create more work, so minimizing problem areas can help decrease maintenance. “If lawn sections have withered away or thinned out, fill them in,” says Kaldrovics. “Bare areas in the lawn invite weeds and erosion, both of which require time to clean up or tend to. If you can fill it in with sod or seed with success, start there. If shade has prevented the lawn from growing, perhaps make the area into a planting bed and add some plants or groundcover.
“Bare planting beds benefit from filling in as well. If your planting beds are down to dirt, top dress with a fresh layer of mulch or pine straw to again minimize weeds or erosion. Even better, fill in with a grouping of plants or groundcover and, as it fills in, there will not be any need to mulch again, and therefore you have installed a permanent solution to no mulching, no weeds and no erosion.”
When using mulch, which can help regulate moisture, Kenna suggests going with pine or hardwood. Kenna also adds that compost may be available in your area at little or no charge and to contact your county extension service for more local landscaping tips and advice.
By taking a few steps to plan your landscape, you will be able to enjoy an outdoor space that looks great and is easy to maintain, leaving you proud and others taking another look.
Here are some low-maintenance plants that are suitable to Atlanta’s climate:
Shrubs, flowering shrubs
❍ Encore Azalea
❍ Witch Hazel
❍ Mondo grass (monkey grass)
❍ Cast Iron Plant
❍ Liriope Big Blue
❍ Japanese Maple
❍ Crape Myrtle
❍ Yaupon Holly
❍ Red Maple
❍ Bald Cypress
❍ Lacebark Elm
❍ Carolina Jasmine/Carolina Jessamine
❍ Lady Banks Rose
—Sources: Lowe’s; Charles Hodges, Ltd. Gardens; King Landscaping, www.erickinglandscaping.com Pandora’s Phlox; Arcoiris Design Gardening, www.arcoirisdesign.com
Tools of the Trade
Ready to play in the dirt? Here are some items you might want to pick up first.
❍ Latex palm-coated garden gloves
❍ Round-tip shovel
❍ Hand pruners
❍ Leaf rake
❍ Garden hose with hand wand
❍ Small tarp for carting off debris and moving plants from one spot to another
❍ Pre-emergent weed control
❍ Soil3, www.soil3.com, organic humus compost
—Sources: Get More Curb Appeal, LLC; Charles Hodges, Ltd. Gardens; Super-Sod, www.supersod.com