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Ideas for a low-maintenance yard?
Old 08-20-2014, 08:22 AM   #1
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Ideas for a low-maintenance yard?

When we built our home 11 years ago, we worked with a landscape company who proposed a design that would not be a ton of work for us to maintain. We were thinking that if we landscaped a good portion of the yard, there was be less grass to mow. We quickly discovered it was exactly what we were hoping to avoidů lots of weeding, watering, trimming, moving plants around, etc. Maybe we should have left more grass. In a hot and dry area like Arizona, it seems that solving the issue would be pretty easy, simply using stones and cactus, etc. for the design. In a Midwestern state like Wisconsin, I'm not sure that there is such a thing as a low-maintenance landscape.

Does anyone have a strategy or any ideas for plants and materials that wouldn't result in so much work? We really enjoy being outside and puttering around in the yard, but my concern is that once we retire, we won't want to do nearly as much of this kind of yard work. We'll likely be downsizing at retirement and maybe even building, which would give us a clean slate to work with. Of course, moving into a condo would eliminate the work altogether, but I think we'd miss the easy, puttering around kind of work. There must be something between no yard work and way too much yard work.

Any thoughts or ideas are greatly appreciated!
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Old 08-20-2014, 08:31 AM   #2
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In our Chicago area home, I have found that ornamental grasses require the least maintenance of landscape plants. We also have a lot of roses that are a little more work, but require deadheading, fertilizing, spraying. And of course annual flowers that need watered every other day, fertilizing, deadheading etc. I'm trying to maximize lawn/ minimize planting beds to reduce maintenance. Lawn is the least maintenance of all if one has a riding mower.

In Arizona, it seems like landscape maintenance is minimal, but if there's a lot of shrubs, trimming can be a lot of work
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Old 08-20-2014, 08:50 AM   #3
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Weeding, I get, it is necessary, but you can develop some personal tolerance for less than perfect. Assuming you've put down some kind of weed barrier? Or maybe some kind of spreading grown cover like phlox or periwinkle. And really, there's nothing to say you can't put down some decorative rock in problem areas and do a bit of a hybrid like in Arizona. They do that there out of necessity, not because that's the only place you can do something like that.

As for watering, maybe it's worth investing in a drip irrigation system, which should be easier and better for the plants.

Trimming, why not just let the plants take their natural size and place? Did the landscaper not plan for this? Maybe you need to get a different landscaper in there to make suggestions on how to correct your issues. Hopefully you don't have to tear it up and start over.

Even more so with the moving around of plants. Why? Put them where they belong and leave them be. A garden that has a bit of a wild look can be every bit as nice as a meticulously manicured one.

This reminds me some of my dad, who also had the same goals. My sister would help him with some stuff, but he was constantly moving stuff around and replanting stuff, and complaining about how much work it was to maintain a yard. Totally unnecessary and drove her crazy. Drove us all a bit crazy because he kept saying how he wanted to move into a condo because of all the work, and we'd try to tell him to just hire a lawn service or just keep the lawn mowed and not worry so much about the rest.

I'm not a real gardener, so I can't really offer great ideas, but don't let yourself become a prisoner to your garden.
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Old 08-20-2014, 09:16 AM   #4
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Weeding can be reduced. Do you have weed barriers and mulch? Natural mulch must be applied thick, needs a new layer every year(IMHO). I have seen, but never tried, a mulch made from shreaded tires. It was not cheap, but it shouldn't decay. Have you tried Preen as a weed preventive? Worked well, but you are applying chemicals.
Not sure I understand why you need to move plants, we did very little of that.

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Old 08-20-2014, 09:17 AM   #5
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.....I'm trying to maximize lawn/ minimize planting beds to reduce maintenance. Lawn is the least maintenance of all if one has a riding mower.....
+1 Lawn is pretty easy if one adds edging et al to minimize the need for weed whacking.
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Old 08-20-2014, 09:30 AM   #6
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+1 Lawn is pretty easy if one adds edging et al to minimize the need for weed whacking.
+2 Someone I know has nothing but lawn; not even bushes or foundation plantings. All he does is pay the lawn guy, period.

I'd love to have the back yard and front yard completely paved over, but fear that it might drastically lower resale. Also, in order to do something like that I'd have to have some work done on drainage. Otherwise water couldn't be absorbed as it presently is, so it would just run off into my neighbors' yards. That wouldn't be a nice thing to do.
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Old 08-20-2014, 09:44 AM   #7
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After 15 years of experimenting, my system has evolved to this: Pine needles, roundup, Christmas trees, and heather. The goal is a forest-floor motif.



I use roundup in the spring to kill anything that tries to grow in the pine needles.

I plant Christmas-type trees, or allow the volunteers to grow.

I plant some heather plants.



The heather does really well here, even with little sun. It grows very slowly, doesn't need any maintenance, and blocks out other plants.

I've had rosemary in the past, but that required some maintenance.
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Old 08-20-2014, 10:49 AM   #8
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In our Chicago area home, I have found that ornamental grasses require the least maintenance of landscape plants. We also have a lot of roses that are a little more work, but require deadheading, fertilizing, spraying. And of course annual flowers that need watered every other day, fertilizing, deadheading etc. I'm trying to maximize lawn/ minimize planting beds to reduce maintenance. Lawn is the least maintenance of all if one has a riding mower.
As an ex-Midwesterner, I agree! There were people that had been convinced that they could "reduce their lawn mowing time" by replacing part of their lawn with bushes, flower plantings, etc. But over the years, the stuff was cut down or yanked out bit by bit, and lawn extended back. And if they didn't do it, the new owners did it. The upkeep of living matter other than lawn in most cases exceeded lawn.

As a Southerner, I have seen many fancy plantings in front of houses... and either a hired service takes care of it, or the homeowner has that and seemingly only that, as a hobby. (That ain't me!) But here again I see the simplifying effects over time. I too have ripped out many bushes that needed trimming multiple times a year to look nice. I have a few to go. Around here, Cypress mulch and Roundup are my friend. Except for the stupid squirrels, that are forever hiding or digging up acorns, leaving divots and new trees to be Roundupped.
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Old 08-20-2014, 11:22 AM   #9
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I would think if you can get as close as possible to a native environment that would b as low maintenance as it gets for your area.
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Old 08-20-2014, 12:13 PM   #10
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Our area has free classes on how to replace your lawn with native plants. We went on a tour of homes with native plant yards. Many had cut their water bills in half, which in sunny states really saves a lot of money over the decades. Plus the yards all looked lovely.

We will do the same if we decide not to downsize to a condo.
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Old 08-20-2014, 02:02 PM   #11
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We use free wood chips for landscaping beds. Find a local tree cutting business and they'll probably drop you off a free load since they have more wood chips than they can use.

I edge the beds using the generic brand of Roundup ($20-30 for a huge container of concentrate that will probably last 5-10 years). One application lasts 6-8 weeks, or all summer if I do a little spot treatment. Keep the borders rounded up and you won't have to weed eat. I can get my whole yard edged with the roundup in about 30 minutes whereas weedeating takes longer and must be done every 2 weeks with my normal mowing cycle.
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Old 08-20-2014, 02:08 PM   #12
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Visit your local botanic garden and ask them.

Here in Denver, xeriscaping is encouraged since it reduces water needs. It also leads to a very low maintenance yard. The local botanic garden provides a lot of information and guidance.

Your climate is very different from our semi-arid one.
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Live Next To/In a Forest That is a Public Park
Old 08-20-2014, 02:31 PM   #13
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Live Next To/In a Forest That is a Public Park

Our lot is about 3/4 an acre; about 1/3 of it is forest. Our property line is invisible......somewhere back there in the woods that is a 400 acre city forest. (ie., "Protected," so no one will ever build there.)

After winter or a big storm, I go out and pick up big branches and sticks, just so it looks a little "cleaner." The deer keep all the trees trimmed at about 5 feet above the ground. The official "lawn" in our back yard is a narrow strip that is quickly mown.

The shaded fire pit (surrounded by lawn chairs) provides our own spring/summer/autumn camp.

The view from our porch changes with the seasons, is beautiful, and no maintenance.

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Old 08-20-2014, 02:54 PM   #14
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I am not sure where you are from, but I have 2 acres in MN. I own a lawn service company, so I have plenty of equipment. Here is how I do low maintenance work.

Move away from high maintenance neighbors, or create a barrier between you and them so that there is not a direct comparison.

Don’t mow the lawn. I let a significant portion be ‘wild’ and only mow it once or twice a year.

Don’t trim. No one will ever put on your headstone, “He had the nicest lawn in the neighborhood.

Use weed killer around fence lines and trees if you have to.

Do not fertilize, only use weed killer. Fertilizer only makes the grass grow.

Minimize watering. If you have to use fertilizer, remember, “Use fertilizer to make the grass green, control growth with the water”.

Hire a lawn service. I once got a bid many years ago that was $100 each week to mow the grass. I soon found out that I could mow myself and save $100. Or skip mowing and save the same $100 each week.

Grass is easier to maintain than rocks or mulch. Mulch is easier than rocks. Chemicals control weeds best, but plain grass and a good mower is a fast way to clean things up.

Lawn care is over rated. Less is more.
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Old 08-20-2014, 03:25 PM   #15
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If you have a Master Gardener group at your local Ag office call them. They have programs, advice and handouts for native plants. It's free!
The Wisconsin Master Gardener Program | Volunteers in Horticulture

Many "landscapers" are just guys with lawn mowers that don't know anything about landscaping. They don't take into consideration how big the plants will grow. If you have windows near the foundation plantings you shouldn't plant shrubs that will grow 6 feet tall and 8 feet round. You end up trimming constantly because the shrubs cover the windows and extend past the beds into the lawn. You also don't want the shrubs too close to the walls of the house, they can rub siding, hide animals.
There are lots of dwarf or slow growing shrubs. Don't crowd the beds, use the right plant/tree/shrub. Until the plants grow up you can use planters, garden art or rocks to fill in the bare spots between the plants/shrubs. If you've got a sunny spot use sedums, there are tons of varieties and they don't require a lot of water. Use a weed barrier.......but this doesn't guarantee no weeds. The weeds will eventually grow on top of the mulch and weed barrier. Preen works really well. The mulch shouldn't be thick or have those volcano mounds around your trees. Ornamental grasses can be great but some varieties self seed or die out in the center. If you have friends with gardens see what kinds of plants they have and ask if they are a lot of work. You can also steal perennials from your friends to fill in spots.
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Old 08-20-2014, 03:40 PM   #16
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I'd love to have the back yard and front yard completely paved over, but fear that it might drastically lower resale. Also, in order to do something like that I'd have to have some work done on drainage. Otherwise water couldn't be absorbed as it presently is, so it would just run off into my neighbors' yards. That wouldn't be a nice thing to do.
I gather you wouldn't for aesthetics-resale but there are permeable "paving" alternatives that many people choose for driveways (my dream home would have a permeable driveway). Permeable concrete or asphalt, permeable pavers, and (impermeable) pavers with drainage built into the pattern are some examples. Some of them are reasonably attractive IMO, unlike conventional paving, just one example below. FWIW
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Old 08-20-2014, 03:46 PM   #17
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In our Chicago area home, I have found that ornamental grasses require the least maintenance of landscape plants.
Wildflowers are another attractive alternative for part of a yard IMO, maybe you mean the same thing by ornamental grasses. IIRC it was Lady Bird Johnson who started/led an effort to plant wildflowers along Texas highways/medians - draught resistant (native wildflowers) and little or no mowing or maintenance required. I always thought the wildflowers along Texas highways were attractive. YMMV
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Old 08-20-2014, 03:52 PM   #18
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Wildflowers are another attractive alternative for part of a yard...
We rely on wildflowers as our primary landscaping theme in our rural location. If it rains, they grow and I don't have to mow until they mature and go to seed, usually in the early summer. If it doesn't rain, they don't grow and neither does anything else, so I still don't have to mow.
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Old 08-20-2014, 08:18 PM   #19
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I gather you wouldn't for aesthetics-resale but there are permeable "paving" alternatives that many people choose for driveways (my dream home would have a permeable driveway). Permeable concrete or asphalt, permeable pavers, and (impermeable) pavers with drainage built into the pattern are some examples. Some of them are reasonably attractive IMO, unlike conventional paving, just one example below. FWIW
I can't think of what the zoning law is called in our area but you can only cover a certain percentage of your property with a building and concrete. A friend of ours couldn't even add a permeable paver driveway because he was at the limits.
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Old 08-20-2014, 08:27 PM   #20
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Wildflowers are another attractive alternative for part of a yard IMO, maybe you mean the same thing by ornamental grasses. IIRC it was Lady Bird Johnson who started/led an effort to plant wildflowers along Texas highways/medians - draught resistant (native wildflowers) and little or no mowing or maintenance required. I always thought the wildflowers along Texas highways were attractive. YMMV
Mine (so far) are just grasses. But I want to get some wildflowers going too. We coop a garden on a nearby farm, and the farmer planted wildflowers in the garden a few months ago. This is how they looked today. Amazing that the wildflowers could have grown 4' tall in a few months.
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