Eight simple tips to create an easy-care yard

Although there is no such thing as a no-maintenance land­scape, here are a few suggestions to minimize excessive land­scape care.

1. Reduce the total amount of unused lawn area.

Beautiful lawns are expensive and high-maintenance. In addition to the mowing, rolling, watering, fertilizing, liming, thatching, and pesticide, fungicide, and herbicide applying that are used to maintain a healthy lawn, lawn edging and raking can consume an extraordinary amount of time and expense. Maintaining proper play and open lawn space are important for many homeowners, yet reducing unused lawn portions can save time. Easy-to-care-for trees, shrubs, and groundcovers are excellent alternatives to excessive open lawn space. This may be achieved by applying herbicide to the unwanted existing lawn area, planting low-care woody plant species, and planting a thick groundcover or layer of mulch. The first few years may require extra weeding and care, but as the trees and shrubs establish themselves, an annual cleanup will be all that is required.

2. Use quality, long-lasting landscape materials.

As you select or replace structural features for your land­scape, choose materials that do not require frequent replace­ment. Sidewalks, patios, decks, fences, steps, driveways, seat­ing structures, trellises and gazebos, and furniture items should be durable. A concrete or brick patio will last 20 to 30 years, whereas a wooden deck or brick-on-sand patio may need replacing every 5 to 8 years. Recycled plastic lumber has a much longer life span and reduced painting or staining needs than traditional treated wood for fences, decks, and steps. Bed edgings made of concrete, brick, or stone edging blocks will last much longer than landscape timbers or rail­road ties. Also, mowing strips (concrete or brick pavers placed at the ground level) can be used for bed edges next to turf areas to reduce the need for edging treatments. Consider the initial cost, maintenance costs, long-term costs, and durability when selecting landscape materials.

3. Select perennial plants over annuals for landscape color.

To reduce replacement costs for annual plants (plants that last one season), consider using perennial plants (plants that come back every year). Depending upon your plant hardiness zone, impatiens, begonias, petunias, and marigolds may require replanting every year. Choose daylilies, stokes aster, lantana, black-eyed susan, coneflowers, evening primrose, or perennial phlox for long-lasting color.

4. Avoid problem or high-maintenance plants.

Hybrid tea roses, gardenias, and fruit trees are examples of high-maintenance plants. These require regular applications of pesticides, water, or fungicides in order to grow well in Mississippi. Select plants that are resistant to insect, disease, and fungal problems; tolerant of wet or dry periods and extreme temperatures; and adaptable to poor soil conditions.

5. Use geotextiles for weed control.

Geotextiles, commonly known as landscape or weed fabrics, can reduce weeds in sunny planting beds. Placing the fabric on the ground around existing shrubs and covering it with a thick layer of mulch will reduce the growth of many weed species. Pre-existing problem weeds should be controlled with an herbicide before covering. Geotextiles allow water and fer­tilizers through the cloth and allow plant roots to breathe. Do not use plastic sheeting, which is not permeable. Ground – covers may also be planted in open bed space to compete against weeds.

6. Put the right size plant in the right place.

Avoid constant pruning by selecting plants that will not exceed the desired height or width for their area. Problem places occur under windows, utility lines, roof eaves, view sheds, and near doorways. These problems can be avoided by asking the nursery owner to recommend plants that do not grow larger than the maximum height or width for the area required. Fast-growing plants require little or no pruning if they are located where they have room to grow to their mature size, such as in site perimeters or the rear of beds.

7. Place plants in masses, not individually.

Plant combinations are often more effective when planted in masses rather than as individuals. A dense shrub border in large island beds allows room for a mower around the outside edge, reducing the need for edging and weeding in scattered plantings.

8. Keep the landscape simple.

A complicated design with a wealth of landscape plants and garden areas often requires specialized care. Don’t overdo focal points, accents, color, texture, or types of plants. Aim for balance. Landscaping should frame your home, not dominate it. A simple, effective design and palette of easy-to-manage plants can create a beautiful, carefree landscape.