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12 low-maintenance landscaping ideas for any climate

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | April 13, 2016

A sunny field of green grassYard work. You either love it, hate it, or don't have the time it typically takes each week to keep up with it. If you enjoy tending your garden, you may not need advice for low-maintenance landscaping. If, on the other hand, you want to enjoy your outdoor space without spending tons of time keeping it presentable, you're looking for the best low-maintenance landscaping ideas -- especially if your monthly home maintenance budget doesn't include a landscaper.

Best low-maintenance landscaping ideas: what to consider

Easy maintenance landscaping involves more than choosing which plants grow best in your part of the country or climate zone. Even in the same city, neighborhood, or yard, environmental conditions and plant characteristics further dictate what can flourish with less work on your part. In addition to aesthetics and design, you want to consider the following factors when you decide what to plant around your home:

  • Micro-climates. How much sun, shade, and water can each area of your property expect? The position of the sun changes throughout the growing season affecting the amount of sun and shade your plants receive daily.
  • Native plants. Do you know which plants are indigenous to your area? Native plants are typically hardy because they've had centuries to develop properties that make them adaptable to rigorous local conditions such as prolonged cold, tropical heat, drought, or certain kinds of pests. Conversely, some robust plants more recently introduced to the area may be too successful -- so-called invasive species. They grow out of control and, like weeds, require constant attention to prevent them from taking over the yard.
  • Urbanization. Native plants, regardless of how long they've grown in your region, don't always do well growing in urban or suburban environments. Does heavy traffic around your home expose plants to excessive car exhaust? Tall buildings can block sun; concrete and asphalt intensify summer heat.
  • Pests. What types of wildlife do certain plants attract -- the ones that you want or the ones you don't? Choose those plants that naturally discourage deer, rabbits and insects if you prefer they don't dine on your landscape.
  • Water. Are your plants drought-resistant or will they fail if there's not enough rainfall? Many homeowners have an irrigation system installed but if you don't, how much time can you devote to watering in early morning or evening?
  • Annuals and perennials. How many of your plants grow back year after year? How many do you have to replace every spring after the danger of frost passes? Fewer annuals and more perennials means less planting every year.
  • Trees and shrubs. Will your trees drop leaves in fall or fruit in summer that will rot and attract ants and wasps if not picked up? If you're composting, this may be a benefit, but if you want less work…not so much. Small shrubs need trimming, but some trees grow so tall that you may need professionals to prune them.
  • Soil. If your home is new construction, the soil might not be optimal for growing anything. Both heavy clay and very sandy soil may need a couple of years of improvement with organic materials before you can plant. Instead, consider adding hardscape and other architectural elements to display potted plants for instant garden gratification.

4 natural alternatives to lawns

Not everyone's idea of a fun way to spend the next six months involves watering, cutting, fertilizing, aerating, weeding, and seeding. If that's going to take up all your leisure time, you may be looking for ways to reduce the size of your lawn. Here are a few alternatives to turf:

  1. Xeriscaping. Originally developed to reduce water usage in areas affected by drought, xeriscaping is catching on elsewhere because compared to traditional lawns, it's one of the best low-maintenance landscaping ideas. Choose native plants and shrubs that require minimal weeding, pruning, and water, which is best delivered by soaker hoses or a simple, slow-drip irrigation system.
  2. Naturescaping. Especially if you have a large piece of property, naturescaping can eliminate expansive lawns and one of the most popular elements of this type of landscaping is native ornamental grasses. They grow to maturity quickly, require few nutrients and resist both deer and insects. Grasses that clump can be arranged in clusters, while running grasses spread out like ground cover.
  3. Ground cover. Instead of turf, select plants that grow low to the ground. They require no trimming, and those that grow densely naturally choke out weeds, which make some types perfect to grow between large pavers.
  4. Clover. A natural soil conditioner and weed inhibitor, clover requires no fertilizer and stays green all summer.

When adding hardscaping elements such as fences or decking to your landscape design, choose low-maintenance materials like bamboo and composite. If you are working with a certified landscaper, make sure to discuss your most important maintenance concerns up front. When planning a garden on your own, consult with and buy from a local nursery that's familiar with growing conditions in your area.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.