Low Maintenance Gardening

Note: photos taken at HPSO open gardens

With the exception of my food production efforts, I generally consider my garden to be low maintenance. Once the spring chores are taken care of, a little time pulling weeds, watering and snipping the wayward branch during the week is all that’s needed to relax and enjoy my slice of heaven. This year, however, my garden got—and still is—out of control. With the cooler weather and the “life happens” element, I didn’t take my usual few days off work in late spring to get things done.

What does a low maintenance garden mean to you? Horticulture Magazine columnist Meghan Shinn defines low maintenance plants this way:

  1. They let homeowners create a nice looking yard without much time commitment.
  2. They help beginning gardeners grasp the basics of gardening.
  3. They allow advanced gardeners more time to devote to more challenging plants in other areas of the garden.

Low maintenance plants can be summed up as: Right plant, right place. In my estimation, a low maintenance plant is the right size for the space. This aspect of gardening is the most challenging for me. I tend to overplant because I love a lush garden and, even more likely, I have a hard time resisting plants so I end up shoehorning them into whatever space is “available.” I wholeheartedly recommend more restraint, but that means you have to have more self-control than I have when encountering plant material.

A low maintenance garden has plants that return or look good year after year, which means they are hardy and do not require extra protection. Plants are planted in a good spot (i.e., the right drainage, moisture, soil pH levels and sun exposure). I would include multi-season interest as an important characteristic of a low maintenance plant and garden.

Disease resistance is another attribute for a low maintenance plant. Realistically, plants that generally are pest and disease-free may become more susceptible because of a particularly wet year and the introduction of a new pest, but generally, they don’t require much attention.

Meghan Shinn suggests several other attributes of low maintenance plants:

  • They do not need staking, complicated pruning or frequent deadheading.
  • They do not spread aggressively by seed or by stolons (underground stems), meaning they stay where they are put without intervention.
  • They match your soil’s natural fertility, meaning they don’t need supplemental feeding.
  • If they need dividing, it is only every three to five years.
  • They do some sort of job to further reduce garden maintenance; for example, a groundcover that prevents weeds from growing

Trial and error is definitely part of the gardening process. But, I think it’s time for me to call in some reinforcements to help get my garden back in shape, help me reclaim my peace of mind and provide some breathing room for the plants that have generously been so tolerant of my neglect.