Tending Your Garden, Creating a Low-Maintenance Garden

Every season seems to bring more and more requests for "low maintenance" gardens. This typically translates to a garden that looks great year-round, with little or no time and effort needed once installed.

And – oh yes – it should also be deer-proof.

As we all lead busy and hectic lives, our leisure time has become more precious than ever. Most of my clients want to stroll outside on a summer evening, drink in hand, and simply enjoy their gardens. But the truth is, a garden is a living, changing entity that needs some degree of care and attention to thrive and look beautiful.

That said, it is possible to have a lovely, "low maintenance" garden with some advance planning and a reality check on your expectations. That heirloom rose bed or formal English knot garden may not be in your future, but you can certainly achieve a great-looking landscape by keeping in mind the following:

• light conditions – knowing how much light you get in your garden will help narrow down your plant choices and point you toward varieties that will thrive.

• keep plant size in check – look for plants labeled "dwarf" or "slow-growing." As these plants only reach a mature height of 2-3 feet (for perennials) or 3-5 feet (for shrubs) you’ll reduce time spent staking and pruning. These plants will be full and sturdy without obscuring windows or flopping over after a heavy rain.

• soil prep – amending the soil in spring and fall with organic matter (manure, compost, etc.) will provide an ideal home for both new and existing plants, allowing them to root deeply and easily access water and nutrients. A top dressing of mulch at that time will reduce weeds and regulate soil temperature. As mulch helps the beds retain moisture it will also cut down on watering.

• learn to appreciate a "relaxed" look – formal, tightly clipped and pruned beds can be lovely – but low-maintenance they are not. By cultivating a more naturalized effect – sprawling plants, seed heads left up to offer winter interest (and food for the birds), an errant plant popping up in an unexpected spot – your garden will be warm and inviting yet require far less upkeep.

• eliminate trouble-makers – be ruthless in ridding your garden of plants that attract bugs, mildew, or other diseases – this will minimize maintenance and eliminate the need for nasty chemicals.

At the same time:

• add native plantings – they attract beneficial wildlife such as birds and butterflies, are highly disease- and pest-resistant and require little, if any, maintenance.

• think beyond pretty flowers – plants with vibrant fall foliage, bright berries or unusual bark will extend your garden’s interest well beyond spring and summer.

Following these guidelines will result in a garden that looks good year-round, with little time and effort needed once installed. n

Enjoy your garden!

Sheri Silver owns fiori garden design in Irvington and she can be reached at sherifiori@aol.com or at www.fiorigarden.com.

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About the Author: Sheri Silver