A Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening – Top Tips

Closeup of moss plants with dew on them.

Moss can be a low-maintenance substitute for grass.

Siripong Kaewla-iad/Getty Images

Less Work, More Play in Your Garden

Take these tips to heart if you’re serious about low-maintenance landscaping. Since watering and mowing the lawn consume a large chunk of garden care time, the biggest step you can take towards minimizing your workload is reducing your watering needs and cutting back on the amount of grass you must mow. Become “water-wise” and introduce plants that serve as alternatives to grass. There are many labour-saving solutions for weeds, pests, and pesky pets, too.

Xeriscaping Can Save Water, Effort, Money

Autumn Joy sedum plant in bloom.

Autumn Joy sedum is a good xeriscaping plant. David Beaulieu

Those who have had to mow lawns all their lives are acutely aware of just how much work lawns are. But lawns can also be costly, as when you have to replace one that has succumbed to drought. Don’t wait for drought to strike to reconsider the wisdom of having extensive, labour-intensive, thirsty lawns. Instead, take pre-emptive action by changing your landscape design. One water-wise alternative to lawns is xeriscaping, using plants such Sedum Autumn Joy.

Automatic Irrigation Systems

Sprinkler discharging water across a lawn.

David Beaulieu

You’ve probably thought about having the convenience of an automatic irrigation system in your front garden. Perhaps you’ve been torn between doing it yourself or having a professional installation. This FAQ could help you make up your mind and begin enjoying this handy aid to low-maintenance landscaping.

Clover as an Alternative to Grass

Red clover plant in bloom.

David Beaulieu

Clover seed used to be included in the typical lawn seed mix, being appreciated as a ground cover with numerous attractive qualities. Clover lawns have many advantages over grass lawns, including:

    • Drought-tolerance
    • Cost-savings
    • Less impact on the environment

Clovers are also insect-resistant, compete well with weeds, and don’t have to be mowed often, making these low-maintenance plants a superb substitute for grass.

Rock Gardens for Low-Maintenance Landscaping

Rock garden scene with rocks and plants.

Don Johnston/Getty Images

Rock gardens typically contain drought-tolerant plants that don’t need much care. Moreover, the rocks, themselves offer a decor that never needs to be watered or tended to in any way whatsoever. Once you learn the basic principles behind building rock gardens  and find out which plants work best in these environments, you can decide on the specimens that fit best into your design vision.

Deer-Resistant Ground Covers

Sweet woodruff growing well under a Kwanzan cherry tree.

Deer-resistant sweet woodruff performs well under trees. David Beaulieu

Using ground covers is a smart landscape solution that can reduce watering needs and mowing time. But when deer pests come to snack on ground cover plants, you need to refine your strategy. Some ground covers are more effective in deer control than others. Discover plants deer tend not to eat, saving you the time, energy, and money required to replace eaten plants. And these deer-resistant ground covers have many other fine qualities that give you plenty of reason to grow them.

Mulch: Unsung Hero

Image of mulch and shrubs along a house foundation.

David Beaulieu

Assuming you’re not some kind of workaholic, sooner or later you’ll come to recognize mulch as one of the unsung heroes of landscaping. It’s highly portable, malleable and, for certain types of mulch, you can even make your own. If you have a problem area for which there seems to be no other solution, mulch is probably your answer, especially if you need a quick and easy solution. An application of mulch can reduce your watering needs significantly. Mulch also suppresses weeds, making garden care much easier.

Drought-Tolerant Perennials

Culvers root plants in bloom, displaying clusters of flower spikes.

Culver’s root is a tough plant. David Beaulieu

The perceptive will detect a subplot in this listing of low-maintenance approaches: water conservation and, more broadly, managing water. Plants that require a lot of water will be one of your biggest challenges if you are trying to reduce the amount of care your landscaping needs. The solution is not to try growing water-guzzlers in areas of the garden in full sun. Instead, opt for drought-tolerant shrubs, perennials, etc.

Control Erosion With Smart Plant Choices

Cotoneaster shrub closeup with red berries.

Cotoneaster is showy and fights erosion.

DigiPub/Getty Images

Erosion control is also a water issue, albeit from a different perspective. Here, it is not saving water that is the challenge but, rather, coping with the destructive potential of water on sloping land. Runoff coming down a hill can have devastating effects, not only on your landscaping, but even on your home.

One way to fight erosion that also makes your garden more beautiful is to grow suitable plants on a slope that is at risk of eroding. Creeping junipers (Juniperus horizontalis) are commonly used for this purpose, but an intriguing option is rock cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) because:

    • It spreads, making it capable of holding back a lot of soil.
    • It gives you more height (3 feet tall) than creeping juniper.
    • With its red berries and nice fall-foliage, it’s prettier.

This low-maintenance landscaping tip falls partly into the category of prevention: By being proactive and taking measures before erosion occurs, you can save yourself a lot of maintenance later. But planting a hillside with such ground covers also saves you the work of having to mow grass there, a job that can be both difficult and potentially hazardous.

Moss as an Alternative to Grass

Patch of sphagnum moss growing in the wild.

David Beaulieu

Mosses are fuss-free plants that can be used as alternatives to lawn grass in shady spots, where most types of grass refuse to grow. Considering how often moss grows in lawn areas problematic for grass, it readily suggests itself as just such an alternative. Growing moss represents the path of least resistance in these problem areas.

Landscaping and Dogs: Not Exactly a Match Made in Heaven

Man seated on lawn with dogs.

Hero Images/Getty Images

Dogs can run your garden ragged. If your dogs are to be allowed to run about outside, you’ll probably have to make adjustments to your landscaping. But the smartest adjustments you’ll make are the ones that cause you the least labour in the long run. Among these are switching to a type of grass that holds up better under “paw traffic.”

Less Work in Your Garden Means More Time for Enjoying It

You lead a full, busy life. Your garden should be a sanctuary where you recharge your batteries after a hard day at the office, not a timesink. But to achieve that goal, you have to make smart choices. Now that you know how you can reduce your landscape-maintenance responsibilities, you can have more time for yourself. With the resulting time savings, more time will be left over for using your garden as it is intended to be used: for your enjoyment.

By David Beaulieu