The more low-maintenance the garden is designed, the more time there is to dream and enjoy. Here is what to consider when you want to create a garden that is little work.
Is it really possible to create a garden that – once planted – keeps itself in good shape? And how much effort is really involved in the little word “easy-care,” even if seed packets or garden literature promise heavenly flower paradises without effort? Those who garden passionately do not shy away from pruning roses or plucking weeds. But there are tricks that reduce the amount of care required. Garden connoisseurs, for example, put extravagant plant wishes on hold. Those who know the light and soil conditions in their garden can select low-maintenance garden plants that are naturally made for these conditions.
Whether ground cover or weed fleece, many measures have the same goal, namely to contain weed growth. Path edgings towards the lawn save the annual edge cutting. If the bed and path are separated by charming natural stones, the latter prevent seed weeds from germinating at the edge of the bed. Low-maintenance beds are characterized by slow-growing woody plants and a few perennial species that, planted in larger groups, create peaceful garden scenes. The fact that perennials are not planted fresh each year, but take root in the soil over the long term and therefore cope better with dry periods than annual summer flowers, can make plant selection much easier.
How can you design your garden to be low-maintenance?
Pay attention to the quality of the plants
Strong, vital plants are the be-all and end-all and a basic prerequisite for healthy growth and that you can enjoy them for many years. That’s why it’s important to look for healthy shoots and strong leaf color as well as evenly rooted pot balls without root felt. Keep your hands off damaged plants such as woody plants with kinked main shoots. In addition to plant quality, site-specific selection is also relevant, because only plants that are adapted to local conditions will also prove themselves in the long term.
Prepare soil properly
Thorough soil preparation before planting makes it easier for plants to grow. First, roughly loosen the soil with a cultivator. Thoroughly remove deep-rooted weeds, then level the bed with a rake. Depending on the soil type, soil amendment is advisable. Sandy soils can be improved with clay powder. In loamy soils, work in leaf compost and sand. Provide normal garden soils with organic fertilizer such as horn shavings.
Pay attention to planting distance
To prevent perennials from crowding or suppressing each other in the bed over the years, make sure there is sufficient spacing even at the planting stage. Therefore, first place plants on the prepared area, positioning tall species in the background and bringing low ones to the front. At this stage, it is also possible to reposition the plants. When spacing, use the final plant size as a guide, not the young plant in the pot, additional spacing marking with fine sand can be helpful.
Choosing the right planting depth
For trees and shrubs, the following applies: the planting hole should be about one and a half to twice as wide as the root ball. The root ball of containerized plants should be deep enough so that the top edge of the root ball is flush with the surrounding soil. The same applies to perennials. Roses, however, are set deep enough so that the grafting point is at least five cm (2 in) below the soil level. The best time for planting are autumn and spring on cloudy, not too warm days and humid weather.
Planting on the right location
Neatly edged beds, for example with clinker, do not get out of shape. As a design element, they can also be a low-maintenance substitute for topiary. Potted herbs near the house also accept watering breaks, minimizing the need for maintenance. You can achieve a pretty, low-maintenance floral display with groundcovers such as cranesbill or carpet woodland stonewort. This is a great alternative to grass or bare soil, especially for root-covered areas under trees or shrubs. After all, low-maintenance gardening means taking advantage of nature’s bounty.
Lay out weed fleece
No more weeds? If you want to save yourself the hassle of weeding, you can lay out breathable, water-permeable weed fleece on the prepared bed area and cut it to size. Now distribute the plants, cut a cross in the fleece with a knife at the desired planting spots and then insert them one after the other. Once all the plants are in the ground, cover the bed with a layer of mulch 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inch) thick. This can be gravel or ornamental chippings. It protects the film from direct sunlight and also looks decorative.
Everyone talks about mulching, but what exactly does it mean? Suitable mulches for ornamental plants include organic materials such as compost, bark chips and coconut fiber, applied five to ten cm (2 to 4 in) thick on the soil. The mulch suppresses germinating weed seeds, keeps the roots cool in summer and warm in winter. It also reduces evaporation and keeps the soil moist. Over time, it decomposes and is renewed every two years; the best time is fall or spring. Because mulch removes valuable nitrogen from the soil, nitrogen fertilizer should be applied beforehand.
Keeping tools in good condition
High-quality tools are a guarantee for lasting durability, because cheap ones are often bought more than once. And who wants to replace their tools every season? No matter how often spades, rakes and the like are used, they should be thoroughly brushed and freed of dirt after each use. Rusty spots on metal are treated with steel wool until it shines again. Then rub with oil. Wooden handles and grips also thank a regular oil treatment. As a general rule, always store tools in a dry place.
Promote water quality in the pond
Every water surface needs some care. The amount of effort depends on the size as well as the content. Aquatic plants such as cattails and water lilies promote good water quality in the garden pond, and algae is a natural byproduct that occurs to some extent over time. However, inhabitants such as fish and their excretions increase the nutrient content in the water and algae growth is more stimulated. Therefore, if you want a lot of clear water, it is better to do without them.
Terrace and furniture
If you are planning paths or terraces, you can rely on helpful products. Coverings with special surfaces, such as those made of Teflon, are less likely to require high-pressure cleaning, as dirt hardly ever settles on them and they can be laid without joints. The rule here is: little care afterwards has its price beforehand. There are also tricks when it comes to garden furnishings. Garden furniture or arbors made of hard woods such as robinia last a particularly long time outdoors without care, while fences made of powder-coated aluminum or hot-dip galvanized steel are durable and protected against corrosion even without any care at all.
The best plants for the low maintenance garden
Some shrubs are best left alone, such as witch hazel (Hamamelis), Japanese snowball bush (Viburnum plicatum), Corylopsis or Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa var. chinensis). You also prune evergreen rhododendron for visual reasons only.
There are roses that prune themselves, such as the pure white variety ‘Escimo’. The double-flowering pink small shrub rose ‘Larissa’ sheds the flower stalk with the entire flower: Summer pruning is not necessary.
Ornamental trees that do not require pruning include, Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), Downy Japanese-Maple (Acer japonicum), Chinese apple (Malus prunifolia) or bull bay (Magnolia grandiflora). Spherical Robinia (Robinia ‘Umbraculifera’) or spherical catalpa (Catalpa ‘Nana’) keep their round crown even without regular pruning.
Perennials that bloom for an especially long time, such as yellow coneflower, whorled tickseed, blanket flowers, lady’s mantle, scabiosa, coneflower, or cranesbill varieties look decorative for several months without needing care. Long-lived perennials such as daylily, peony, funkie, or goat’s beard remain reliable garden ornaments for many years.