Simplify Your Landscape

During the busy summer season, our best spring intentions can fall by the wayside.  Weeds creep into carefully planted flower beds, trees and shrubs go un-pruned, and fruit trees don’t get sprayed- all for lack of time.  Does a beautiful landscape always require hours of intensive care to achieve and maintain?  Of course, some maintenance is a must, but a low maintenance landscape is possible with good planning.

5388315-SMPT
Black spot, a common fungal disease of roses. William Fountain, University of Kentucky, Bugwood.org

Eliminate Problem and High Maintenance Plants
Do you have a rose constantly defoliated by black spot? Lilacs with severe powdery mildew? Your best long-term solution is to replace them using plants with greater disease resistance or better adaptation to the site, so opportunistic diseases like powdery mildew aren’t a problem.

Also consider the types of plants in your landscape. On a scale of high maintenance to low maintenance, annuals are highest, perennials mid-range, trees and shrubs lowest. Take an inventory of your current landscape, and gradually transition to lower maintenance plants where possible. Masses of annual flowers are beautiful, but expensive to purchase each year and time consuming to plant and maintain. Consider reducing the amount of annuals in your landscape, using them sparingly in high visibility locations for pops of color.

Additional problematic plants to consider replacing include any fitting the following descriptions

  • Grow too quickly for their location or have a formal shape and need to be pruned several times during the season.
  • Reseed themselves everywhere and are a constant source of irritation. Sometimes called garden thugs, common culprits include garlic chives, borage, rudbeckia, phlox and yarrow to name a few. But whatever the plant, if it spreads itself throughout your gardens to the point it increases your garden workload it may be time to remove it completely.
  • Plants with “lazy” stems that flop down in the garden, thus requiring pinching or staking. Some ornamental grasses, Russian sage, tall sedum, and many others fall into this category. If the extra work is not worth it to you, consider other choices.
  • Require frequent deadheading to look their best, such as balloon flower.
landscapes beds
Using a natural edge on landscape beds makes mowing easier and eliminates the need to trim.

Rethink Your “Edges”
Trimming is one of my least favorite landscape activities, so I don’t do it. My landscape is designed to completely eliminate the need for trimming. Landscape beds create a transition from any vertical surface, like a fence or wall, to a mow-able edge that eliminates trimming.

Many gardeners use a physical edging, like black plastic, metal or bricks. I prefer to use a natural edge cut along the bed-line creating a shallow trench, which contains the mulch and allows me to mow along the bed-line with no trimming needed.For pictures and instructions on how to create a natural edge on your landscape beds, check out Fine Gardening’s – Perfect Edges for Your Beds and Borders, http://www.finegardening.com/perfect-edges-your-beds-and-borders.

All my trees and shrubs are included in landscape beds, so I don’t have to mow around them or go anywhere near them with a string trimmer. Aside from making my work easier, this also keeps them healthier by 1) providing a better growing environment for roots and 2) eliminating the potential for damage from mower-blight or string trimmer abuse.

More Tips for Simplifying Your Landscape
Mulch is your best friend! Apply a 2-3 inch layer throughout your garden beds to drastically reduce weed seed germination. Mulch improves soil as it degrades, creating a better soil environment for your plants.

Preemergent herbicides are a huge time saver. Paired with a good mulch layer, these two products provide the highest level of preventive weed control. The most commonly available traditional preemergent herbicide for landscapes is trifluralin, found in Preen and many other products.

Corn gluten meal is an organic option for those gardeners wanting to use natural products or steer clear of traditional garden chemicals. Look for it in products such as Preen Organic, Concern or Wow. I use corn gluten meal to reduce seed germination under my bird feeders; it stops spilled sunflower seed from germinating, but is not harmful to birds that eat it.

Your Suggestions are Welcome!
Is there a lawn and gardening topic you would like to learn more about? Sarah Browning is an Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension and can be contacted by phone 402 441-7180, by mail at 444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528: or by e-mail sarah.browning@unl.edu.

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