Using Your Brain, Not Your Back to Reduce Maintenance


Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is a tough, drought-tolerant perennial that blooms only in the fall with a beautiful display, but looks great throughout the year with its attractive foliage.

If you want to grab the attention of any gardener, just say “low maintenance”. Although gardening is one of America’s favorite pastimes, we always are looking for ways to save time and reduce landscape maintenance chores so we can have more time to relax and enjoy the fruit of our gardening labors.

Of course, the term “low maintenance” may mean something entirely different to you than to your neighbor. You may view lawn care as a relaxing and enjoyable activity, while your neighbor thinks mowing the grass is one step short of torture.

You may have little interest in maintaining a vegetable garden while your neighbor’s greatest joy may come from keeping a vegetable patch picture perfect and producing a bountiful, year-round crop.

Every landscape requires some degree of regular maintenance to keep it attractive and healthy. But unless you just really enjoy yard work, there’s no reason to plant and maintain a yard that requires attention 24/7.

A key factor to lower maintenance is planning. It’s also doing things at the proper time, and not being afraid to change situations that become awkward or require high maintenance. Regardless of the age of your landscape, there are many labor-saving shortcuts. Here are a few to consider.

*  Never plant more of anything – trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, grass – than you can properly maintain. Know the limitations of your time and energy.

*  Learn about the cultural requirements of the plants you are thinking about selecting for your landscape. This would include their light, water and soil requirements, and whether or not they will need extra care or protection during the summer or winter months.

*  Constantly pruning shrubs (or crape myrtles) to fit into a certain location can easily be avoided by replacing with varieties that will grow to the appropriate size and no larger. There is a good selection high quality dwarf shrubs on the market today that fit nicely into smaller landscapes.

*  Choose easy-to-care for plants that are tried and true performers in our East Texas climate and soils. Avoid exotic plants that demand special cultural requirements, such as frequent applications of special fertilizers or pesticides. Many native plants require less maintenance than introduced species, especially once they are established. Get rid of and replace chronically unhealthy or pest-infested shrubs or trees. Earth-Kind Roses, Texas Superstar selections and North Texas Winners Circle plants are some that have been identified as proven performers for our climate.

The Urban Landscape Guide is an online database that lets you search for plants adapted for our area. The Guide ranks plants for their resource efficiency, listing first those with the best heat and pest tolerance, lowest water and fertilizer requirements, etc. You can find it at: and go to “Plant Selector”.

*  Prepare the soil well before planting. Mix in generous quantities of high quality organic matter such as compost. Proper soil preparation before planting will reduce future maintenance problems such as soil compaction or poor drainage.

*  Keep plants healthy and thriving with periodic applications of fertilizer and lime, if needed, based on a soil test report. Healthy, vigorous growth reduces plants’ susceptibility to insect and disease problems, thus minimizing the time you must spend trying to eradicate pests.

*  Mulch your entire landscape with a loose material such as pine bark or needles, cypress mulch, composted leaves or dried grass clippings to eliminate weeding and conserve moisture. No one should have to spend valuable time pulling weeds when proper mulching will nearly eliminate that problem altogether.

*  Install a permanent edging around flowerbeds, gardens and other landscape areas to prevent the encroachment of grass into these areas. Edging materials range from steel to molded plastic, to brick or poured concrete.

*  Avoid small patches of flowerbeds or other plantings floating in the middle of the lawn. These will require constant edging and make mowing the lawn more difficult.  Unify isolated beds around trees in the lawn area by making one large bed.  Not only will maintenance be reduced, but also the effect will be more attractive.

*  Consider using structural materials (called hardscape) where maintenance can be difficult, or where it seems impossible to grow grass or plants. Brick, treated wood, stone, gravel or decking look natural and blend with almost any landscape. Decks, patios and walkways enhance the home and yard and are easy-to-maintain alternatives to plantings and struggling lawns. Pine needles can also be used to mulch areas under groups of trees where it can be challenging to grow turf or ground covers.

*  Select and maintain good gardening equipment. Investing in dependable tools can save much time, money, energy and frustration.

*  Use sound gardening advice of local authorities. Gardening and lawn care advice geared for New England or other areas of the country is often not appropriate for the southern environment. When you have questions or concerns, consulting local gardening experts, Extension agents, Master Gardeners, and nurserymen, especially members of Texas Nursery and Landscape Association (TNLA) with Texas Certified Nursery Professionals (TCNP) on staff, can take much of the guess-work out of gardening and leave more time to enjoy other activities.

An excellent way to get more landscaping ideas for your own yard is to visit public gardens. The IDEA Garden, Heritage Rose Garden, Sunshine Garden and Shade/Camellia Garden, all located on the southern end of the Tyler Rose Garden, are demonstration gardens created by Smith County Master Gardeners. Besides having 12 months of beauty, they are places where you can learn about new plants and ways of landscaping you might not have thought about.

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