Designing for a Low Maintenance Garden, Part 2

Low water, low maintenance garden in West Los Angeles

Last month I talked about the importance of knowing your yard or landscape site really well and making choices to get the best use out of the space you have. In landscape design, we hear the term Right Plant, Right Place a lot. You can spend an awful lot of time, money and water on a design that will never look the way you envision if the plants you pick are not the right choice for your climate, or even that particular spot in your yard.

The following checklist should help you to focus in on things you can do while planning that will make your landscape easy to care for. And if you’d like to consult with a professional, contact me or someone in your neighborhood. The Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) has a great search function on their website for this. Good luck!

Right Plant, Right Place Action Checklist:

  • Determine how much open lawn area is ideal for children, pets, and recreation. Where possible, use low-maintenance groundcovers, shrubs, mulch, or other porous surfaces that allow water to infiltrate. By letting rain sink into the ground, you’re cutting down on the amount of water your plants need from irrigation. And porous surfaces are substantially cooler than concrete or artificial turf.
  • Be flexible in your plant choices. There is usually a way to have what you want. For instance, if you have shade but love roses, perhaps you can have some in pots on a sunny patio. A successful planting design will suit the environment your home and landscape offer.
  • Design and maintain a yard that thrives predominantly on rainfall once plants are established. Use the stormwater approach to landscaping so that you can keep more rainfall on your property instead of sending it to the storm drains.
  • Reduce the need for water, fertilizer, and pesticides by choosing plants suited to the site conditions in your yard.
  • Group plants according to their water needs, or hydrozones.
  • Reduce later work by choosing plants that will not require frequent pruning when they reach maturity.
  • Decrease soil erosion by planting groundcovers where lawn will not grow well, such as under trees or on steep slopes.
  • Save energy by using trees and shrubs to shade the eastern and western walls of your home. Use deciduous trees or shrubs on southern exposures to allow sun to passively heat your home in winter.

Many of the maintenance needs of a garden are determined by the design. A good design will flourish over many years and require cleanup and pruning only once or twice a year. After the first two years, you will rarely need to water your yard while still having flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Designing For a Low Maintenance Garden, Part 1

Lantana and calandrinia in a low-maintenance yard

Right Plant, Right Place

Good landscape design hinges on one basic concept—the right plant in the right place. It is tempting to run to the garden center the moment the gardening bug hits in the spring, but taking the time for planning and site evaluation will save time, money and frustration later.

Plan for your yard use

Take the time to map out your yard based on who uses it and how you use it. Do you have pets and/or children? Do you entertain in your backyard? Grow vegetables? Play soccer? Make a list of all of the things you use your yard for, or want to use your yard for. Think about how areas could serve more than one purpose.

Get to know your site

Soil types, temperature ranges and rainfall patterns differ dramatically from region to region in California. It’s important to remember that a plant that thrives in a friend’s yard on the coast may freeze in your yard just a few miles inland. Different conditions often exist even in the same yard. The front yard may be high and dry, while the backyard may be poorly drained and soggy.

How much sun does your yard get? Are there shady spots? Where does the sun rise and set? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself when doing a site analysis. A landscape professional spends a great deal of time on a site plan before beginning a design to make sure the design is suited to the space it is in.

Many of the maintenance needs of a garden are determined by the design. A good design will flourish over many years and require cleanup and pruning only once or twice a year. After the first two years, you will rarely need to water your yard while still having flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Part 2 will include a checklist to help you attain a beautiful, low-maintenance garden!