Design a Low-Maintenance Small Garden with These 11 Ideas

Get practical plant and design tips from these low maintenance small garden design ideas.

butterfly garden daisies next to porch with adirondack chair
Photo: Kritsada Panichgul

A low maintenance small garden design can give you a rewarding and relaxing outdoor retreat with less hassle and expense. Regardless of whether you’re working with an urban backyard or a rural slice of heaven, there are several strategies for creating a beautiful garden in a small space that won't require a ton of work to maintain. Use the following ideas for choosing the best plants and techniques to design a low maintenance small garden that's perfect for your space.

01 of 11

Keep It Simple

Garden patio with pea gravel and greenery
David Tsay

It may be tempting to pack in lots of plants, outdoor furniture, and garden art into a small space. However, a more simplistic approach to garden accessories, hardscaping, and plant choices often ends up being far less time-consuming to maintain.

02 of 11

Plant Perennials and Shrubs

Aerial view of outdoor seating area
William Wright

Garden centers are filled with beautiful annual flowers in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. But before you buy, consider that most annuals need to be replanted each spring, which adds expense and time planning, purchasing, and planting annuals. Instead, opt for compact perennials and long-lived shrubs to design a more low-maintenance small garden. These types of plants cost a bit more upfront, but save hundreds over the long run.

03 of 11

Nix the Lawn

vegetable garden brick patio cedar planter
Caitlin Atkinson

Even a small lawn requires weekly mowing, fertilizing, and frequent watering. Consider replacing any lawn in your low maintenance small garden design with easy-care small trees, shrubs, and perennials for a livelier aesthetic. If you prefer the open space a lawn provides, choose lower maintenance alternatives like planting a clover lawn.

04 of 11

Try a Gravel Garden

above view back yard patio garden landscaping
Kritsada Panichgul

Unlike rock gardens that can look somewhat barren while still being energy-intensive to maintain, gravel gardens can be lush and full of life. By design, gravel gardens are constructed by amending the native soil and adding 5-6 inches of gravel above. Perennials, bulbs, and seeds are embedded in the soil below and grow up through the gravel, providing a barrier for weeds while still allowing water to reach the soil below.

05 of 11

Limit Containers

lush garden walk with patio and trellis and string lights
Peter Krumhardt

Containers can be a handy solution if you lack planting space in your small garden. However, growing plants in pots often requires additional effort to keep them watered and fed enough to thrive throughout the growing season. Instead of loading up your small garden with pots, stick to just one or two large accent planters. And make sure your containers are not clay, which can dry out soil faster so you need to water more often.

06 of 11

Go Native

butterfly garden coneflowers pink

Better Homes and Gardens

Native species have evolved in their local region for thousands of years, which means these tough plants can take whatever the climate throws at them throughout the year. In contrast, non-native plants usually need extra help to survive, whether it be additional watering or protection from wind, cold, and heat. Native plants will also benefit local wildlife such as pollinators.

07 of 11

Embrace a Naturalistic Look

butterfly garden daisies next to porch with adirondack chair
Kritsada Panichgul

Manicured English and French gardens are appealing with their clean cut lines and elegant look, but these garden styles can be a maintenance nightmare. For a low maintenance small garden design, go for a naturalistic effect instead, such as creating a mini meadow around a seating area. Just let your plants fill their spaces as they would in the wild.

08 of 11

Fill the Border Garden

native plants garden with bird bath
Carson Downing

Border gardens help to encircle, outline, and define spaces in landscapes large and small, while adding tons of color and texture. Fill your borders with low maintenance perennials and small shrubs to create a comfortable and easy-care small garden. Full garden beds have the added benefit of blocking out weeds so you can spend less time weeding.

09 of 11

Be Water-Wise

close up of native deergrass

Jacob Fox

Being conscious of water use is important in much of the country and essential in more arid regions such as the Southwest. To minimize water use and related maintenance, select drought-tolerant plants that do well in your local climate. Use water features like ponds and fountains sparingly as they can be expensive, require maintenance throughout the year, and need to be filled regularly.

10 of 11

Create an Outdoor Seating Area

Outdoor seating area with couch and rug
David A. Land

Make the most of your small garden by adding a sitting area. Repurposed bricks, second-hand or DIY outdoor furniture, and a small table will enhance the space and can easily be expanded upon if more room is needed later on. Creating a brick surface for your seating area will cut down on weeds, reduce water use, and last for many years with very little upkeep.

11 of 11

Mulch Open Spaces

gardener placing mulch on ground of perennial flower garden
Blaine Moats

To reduce weeding and watering, cover any bare ground in your small garden space with a thick layer of mulch. Depending on the type of mulch you choose, it can last for several years while helping to create an intentional and clean look in your low maintenance small garden design.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles