Put in the Prep Time
Experts agree: Extra hours on the front end pay dividends later when it comes to creating a low-maintenance backyard. "By far, bed prep makes a difference for years to come," says Will Stribling, who owns Sutter Landscapes, LLC, a Design/Build & Maintenance firm in North Carolina.
That includes getting your soil tested and making notes of sun/shade patterns as well as moisture and microclimates -- a patch of yard that dips and is cooler than elsewhere, for example.
Learn more about soil testing.
Get tips for evaluating your yard.
Analyze Your Gardening Habits and Constraints
Time, vision, and reality: These key elements make a low-maintenance backyard. When Madeline Ann Sutter, with Sutter Landscape Architects & Gallery in North Carolina, meets a new client, she asks three questions: What do you have, what do you want, and what do you want to change? "It's a way of helping the client collaborate in the design of her outdoor space," Sutter says.
For example, a garden can be designed to take as little maintenance as possible, but only if you're honest about your lifestyle. You may love roses, but they may not be the best plant if you don't want to fuss with their upkeep. Instead, a carefully chosen tree or two, or well-sited drift of one type of perennial is a good beginning to test your ability to care for a garden. In addition, if there's room in your budget, hire some of the more labor-intensive tasks to reduce your time commitment, too.
See even more maintenance tips to save you time and work.
Buy Healthy Plants from a Reputable Grower
Both Sutter and Stribling recommend purchasing plants from a nursery that knows plants and their habits and can answer questions about performance. "This is your assurance that the plants are disease-free and have been well tended since the start of their lives," Sutter says.
Video: Watch tips for picking healthy plants.
Research Plant's Mature Size, Care, and Growth Patterns
A newly planted tree may seem small in the existing landscape, but that changes. If you pick an ill-suited spot or stuff too many plants in one space, you'll pay the price in unhealthy results. Tend your plants well and place them in a site they're suited for, and in time you'll be rewarded with healthy, beautiful flowers, shrubs, vines, or roses.
Use our Plant Encyclopedia to research your plants.
Periodically Reevaluate Your Garden
As trees grow, they provide increasing amounts of shade. A fence changes the flower border needs of your landscape. A new structure might require a trellis and a vine. Every few years, step back from your landscape and figure out what long-term adjustments you might need to make. If you're thinking of adding a plant or a built element, research its maintenance requirements -- dividing plants, staining wood -- to make low-maintenance backyard. If you can't -- or don't want to -- handle the work requirements, your landscape may get the best of you.
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