University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science


Low Maintenance Landscapes          OH 48

Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Low- maintenance landscaping may sound attractive, but the landscape maintenance with little or no effort often looks
neglected and uncared for. There will always be a certain amount of work required for any garden or outdoor area,
even for a house surrounded by green concrete. Thus, you must begin your landscape planning by evaluating the kinds
of maintenance required for the various plant materials and structural elements selected or already existing in the
landscape design.

Successful landscape planning starts with a study of the problems, assets, and conditions of the land, buildings, and the
people who will use the land. The owner's attitude towards gardening, outdoor living, and desire for beautiful
surroundings will determine how the landscape should be developed. This is the kind of information needed to develop
a plan of how the land can best be used within the owner's requirements for maintenance of plants, lawns, and
structures.

An example would be in planting a hedge or screen of Privet or Tallhedge Buckthorn. Privet is inexpensive and grows
fast. But it may require pruning twice a year. Tallhedge is more costly, but may never need to be pruned. The initial
expense is greater for the Tallhedge, but Privet would require at least 2 hours per plant in maintenance over a 10-year
period making it more work and more expensive in the long run.

Knowledge of functional and maintenance requirements of plants and structures is the starting point for a landscape
design. The arrangement of plants and their selection would be based on their design function. For example, if a plant
is needed to fit a space 3 feet high and 4 feet wide for a low border, selection of a plant that would grow to an
eventual height of 6 feet and 8 feet wide would be a mistake.

Analyze the landscape design to be sure the finished plan or existing planting will not require more maintenance than
desired. Landscape elements that require increasing levels of maintenance are (from least to most): pavements,
structures, trees, shrubs, ground covers, lawns, annual and perennial flowers, and plants requiring special care.

Walks, patios, steps, walls, fences, or shelters must be monitored for periodic maintenance. For example, a concrete
patio would not need maintenance for 20 to 30 years, whereas a brick or sand patio needs to be re-set every 3 to 5
years.

Painted wooden structures and fences need repainting every 3 to 4 years. However, woods such as redwood,
bleached or stained with a preservative, usually last for the 20-year expected life span of the structure.

After evaluation for maintenance requirements has been completed, trees and shrubs should be selected first for their
functional use or purpose in the landscape. Other criteria for plant selection are type of plants (evergreen or
deciduous) needed; rate of growth, size at maturity, effects of flowers, fruit, and foliage; form and habit of growth;
bark, twig, and branching characteristics; and cultural requirements. Try to select slower growing plants to eliminate or
reduce the need for pruning of most trees and shrubs. Fewer varieties, but more plants of the same variety, create
continuity in the design and are easier to maintain.

With ground cover plants, more maintenance is usually needed the first year until the ground area is covered. Selection
of varieties is similar to trees and shrubs. Fertilizer and closer spacing of plants speeds ground cover establishment.

Lawns require continuous maintenance. The variety of grass, its vigor, and rate of growth will influence mowing,
fertilization, irrigation, pest control, thatch development, and resistance to traffic. Unfortunately, the highly promoted
quality turf grasses which make the best lawns need the most care. The alternative for adequate turf of medium to low
maintenance is to use the adapted "common" Kentucky bluegrasses or mixtures of fine fescues and bluegrasses.

Flowers require more maintenance on a square foot basis than any other plant in the landscape. However, flowers are
usually the most desired plants for color. Examples of flowers with low-maintenance requirements are daffodils, iris,
peonies, daylilies, summer phlox, and hardy chrysanthemums. Most flowers and bulbs need to be planted, cultivated,
irrigated, divided, dug, stored, replanted, and protected from pests each year. With careful selection of flowering
ground covers, shrubs, and trees, you can have spring and summer blooms without the high maintenance required by
annual or perennial flowers.

Special plants, such as hybrid tea roses, rhododendrons, birch trees, and flowers in tubs and planters, require even
more attention and maintenance.

A garden work center for storage of tools and equipment should not be overlooked in the maintenance analysis of the
landscape design or existing garden. The integration of a work center and equipment storage shelter can be built into
an existing privacy fence or screen. This will save space and, when constructed of the same building materials,
becomes a subtle sculptural extension of the fence. Extra exterior electrical outlets and hose bibs can save time and
labor. Even an underground water sprinkler system will save effort and time in irrigating lawn and plants. If you can
afford the luxury, this may be worth the investment.

But remember: Maintenance is part labor and part love. The landscape that receives a balance of both will have a
quality unattainable by any other means.

(Adapted from "Landscape Facts" by Fred Buscher)


Return to Perry's Perennial Consumer Page

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. Lawrence Forcier, Director, UVM Extension System, Burlington, Vermont. University of Vermont Extension System and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone, without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status.

Last reviewed 2003