When most people dream of a low-maintenance landscape, they imagine doing away with the tasks that take up most of their time and money—weeding, edging, mowing, watering, raking and painting. These are all tasks you likely want to replace with more fun activities: golfing, hiking, swimming, lounging and reading. That said, how do you go about lessening or even eliminating these seemingly necessary chores? The following 10 design tips and considerations can help make maintenance of any new or existing landscape less of a chore.
Tip 1: Tend to the ‘Hidden’ Landscape
The hidden landscape refers to the grading of the lot, the base beneath the patio, drainage systems and loam used under the turf and in planting beds. How does this influence whether your property is low-maintenance? Good loam in sufficient depth will result in plants that are healthier, stronger and more pest- and disease-resistant, with better colouration, more flowers and deeper roots, which will make them more drought-resistant.
A patio that settles or shifts due to a poorly constructed base will surely cause trouble over time, as will a poorly drained property. Poor drainage can cause water to pool, which can weaken or kill plants or encourage moss to grow. Soil that is saturated with water will heave when winter comes and the ground freezes, resulting in shifted landscape elements or even damage to your home’s foundation. Even in an established landscape, it is well worth your time to correct some flaws in the hidden landscape before moving on to the next steps.
Tip 2: Highlight with Hardscaping
Hardscaping comprises any patios, walks, decks, railings and fences in your landscape. These items are actually relatively easy to find and are typically constructed to be durable and long lasting, with a limited amount of maintenance, painting or staining required. Manufacturers want their products to look good for a long time, to ensure the long-term happiness of their customers.
For decking and fencing, there are some natural woods on the market that weather well and are naturally resistant to decay. Western red cedar, for example, weathers to a silvery grey colour. If that doesn’t suit you, there are also many man-made alternatives to wood on the market (e.g. polyvinyl chloride [PVC] materials, composite decking, vinyl sheet products, etc.).
For patios and walks, concrete or pavers require little care after the initial install and typically provide years of worry-free service. Historically, one potential drawback of pavers has been their joints, which required regular sanding (depending on exposure to rain, washing or traffic) to keep the spaces between the pavers filled. If this maintenance were ignored, weeds or insects would begin to exploit the spaces. Thankfully, this problem can be remedied through the use of polymeric sand, which serves as a solid but flexible joint filler. It resembles normal sand, but resists exposure and lasts for years, making it very popular among modern homeowners.
In addition, many hardscape items that were traditionally painted (e.g. metal railings, fences or light fixtures) can now be powder-coated. This process gives the item an attractive, maintenance-free finish.
Of course, no matter what hardscaping option you choose, always be sure to invest in the best quality materials you can afford and enlist the services of a professional installer. This will ensure lasting results over the long term.
Tip 3: Choose Trees Carefully
Most homeowners have had tree-related troubles from time to time. Perhaps it was a fruit tree that dropped a messy layer of fruit all over your patio every fall at your previous home, or a variety that shed countless bits of organic material into your carefully chosen water feature. No matter the specific issue, poorly selected or sited trees can require quite a bit of maintenance.
Trees are a big investment and take time to become established. Tree choices come down to establishing what function you want from said tree (e.g. shade, screening,
flowering, etc.) and then picking a variety that will fill that role without adding too many negative side effects. Then, it must be sited where it has enough room to mature and benefit from the proper soil and lighting conditions. A stressed tree will be a sick tree, so take the time to make these selections carefully.
The ideal low-maintenance tree is hardy, fairly clean (i.e. doesn’t produce too much trash, such as messy fruit) and free of significant pest or disease problems. Ideal specimens also have good natural structure and tidy growth habits, reducing the need for excessive pruning. Consider some of the newer cultivars of old standby tree varieties, as they have been bred with superior characteristics to make them better suited to a low-maintenance landscape (e.g. Malus ‘Spring Snow,’ a white flowering ornamental crabapple that produces no fruit).
Again, consider enlisting the help of a professional for selection and installation to ensure optimum success; once planted, you may even want to hire a professional arborist to maintain your trees for you. They have the equipment and knowledge to do the job safely and properly.