Turning a landscape into a low-maintenance one isn’t hard at all. It can be done all at once, or over many years — it’s your call! It could cut maintenance bills in half. Plus, any landscape is a candidate.
Reduce your lawn’s size
By far the biggest reductions can be made by significantly reducing the size of the yard. As Native Plant Society members know, a traditional lawn demands a huge amount of maintenance time — shrink it down to what is actually needed. Start by eliminating the lawn in unused, unseen or troublesome places like under the trees, where people walk a lot or in narrow side yards.
Any spot that calls for an edger requires extra mainteance. This could be where lawngrass creeps into manicured flower beds, or where a tree abuts a building. Another common edge is that tricky circular one where a tree grows from a lawn (a ground-cover would be better for your tree anyway).
Plant native plants
Native plants don’t demand a lot of expensive maintenance. Over the ages they’ve actually evolved to prefer our harsh summers, meager rainfall and our miserable excuse for soil. In most cities, elected officials (who control what goes into public landscapes) aren’t aware of this. Prod them!
Basically the more native Texas plants you have the more your water needs will be cut, and the fewer replacement plants will need to be bought (incidentally most lawn grass is not native).
A lot of time and expense goes into keeping hedges trimmed into an orderly and perfectly straight line. Often after a few years of growth the plants in the hedge block windows and begin to look half-dead from all the trimming. The low-maintenance solution? Cut most of them down and throw them away. A few of the plants can be left to grow into small trees if they are in the right place.
Also since constant hedge trimming disrupts bird nests, having no hedges translates into more birds.
Mulch a lot
Mulch tends to slow evaporation and keeps the soil cool. Water goes farther and your plants will be healthier. An organic mulch simulates natural leaf-drop, decomposition and release of nutrients into the soil — just like in a forest where nobody ever rakes or fertilizes. A mulched area has far fewer weeds growing in it too. The few that come up are simple to pull by hand. A thick layer of mulch should go onto every planting area and around every tree on your lot.
Mulch dramatically cuts landscape maintenance and water use, and there is never a wrong time to put it down. Typical mulches are shredded tree trimmings or dead leaves, obtainable at no cost almost anywhere.
Avoid annual flowers
Use perennials whenever possible. This is a fancy word meaning that it re-grows every year, as opposed to an annual flower, which has to be bought and planted every single year. Almost all native plants are perennials, and have been coming back faithfully year after year for ages.
Clearly if you don’t need to buy and plant new plants every year, you’ll cut down on landscape maintenance quite a bit.
Plant in masses
If you plant a large mass of one kind of plant, the whole mass can be maintained in one fell swoop. The expensive option is to have just one or two specimens of certain plants so that each plant requires a different manner of maintenance. Much more time-consuming.
A large mass of one kind of flower is also much more inviting to butterflies and birds. In my north Texas yard I have large masses (over 40 plants) of Mistflower, Texas Lantana and Turk’s Cap. They are incredibly easy to maintain and flying things love to hang around them!
One hint, take some “before” photographs to keep memories of maintenance headaches fresh in your mind. Also keep reminding yourself that a true low-maintenance landscape is never really done, it’s always evolving.