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Gardening - Home Landscape - Herman Auer Image

A low maintenance landscape means different things to different people. The key to low maintenance is good planning. Never plant more of anything—trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials or even turfgrass—than you can properly and comfortably maintain.

Photo credit: Herman Auer

Don't let landscape become a high-maintenance nightmare

By Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture

September 19, 2007


Educational programs

WHAT: Fall Pecan Field Day

DATE: September 27, 2007

TIME: 4:00 - 5:30 p.m.

PLACE: Jim Hall's Pecan Orchard located at 11813 28th St. in Santa Fe

CONTACT: Galveston County Extension Office (218-534-3413, ext. 1-2) or web site below.

WHAT: Rose Propagation Workshop

DATE: September 29, 2007

TIME: 9:00 - 11:30 a.m.

PLACE: Galveston County Extension Office , 5115 Hwy. 3, Dickinson

RSVP: Pre-registration required. Contact Galveston County Extension Office (218-534-3413, ext. 1-2) or visit web site below.

Plant Seminar & Sale

WHAT: Master Gardeners’ Ornamental & Perennial Seminar & Sale

DATE: October 6, 2007

TIME: Seminar at 8:00 a.m., plant sale from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

PLACE: Wayne Johnson Community Center located in Carbide Park at 4102 FM 519 in La Marque CONTACT: Galveston County Extension Office (218-534-3413, ext. 1-2) or web site below.

One sure way to capture the attention of almost any gardener is to say two words: low maintenance. Although gardening may be one of America 's favorite pastimes, we are all looking for ways to save time and reduce our landscape maintenance.

Of course, low maintenance means different things to different people. You may view lawn care as relaxing and enjoyable while your neighbor thinks it is a form of self-inflicted torture.

The same can be said of vegetable gardening. You may have little interest in maintaining a vegetable garden while your neighbor's greatest joy may come from keeping his or her veggie crop in "picture perfect"condition and producing year-round.

The one thing that applies to all is that every landscape and garden will require some degree of regular maintenance to keep it attractive and healthy. But unless you enjoy yard work, there's no reason to plant a "maintenance nightmare."

The key to low maintenance is good planning. It's important to do things at the proper time and to not be afraid to change situations that become awkward or result in excessive maintenance. In that regard, I have concluded from non-scientific observations over time that gardeners can be categorized into two philosophical camps. Some gardeners have no reluctance to yanking out a plant if it does not perform well and if they find it's not suitable for a location. Other gardeners cannot bring themselves to yank out a plant once it's planted even if it's not doing well.

Incidently, I am also intrigued that a gardener which is loyal to one philosophical camp oftentimes ends up marrying a gardener who practices the opposing philosophy! Enough of my over-the-counter, Freudian analysis of horticultural issues. Now back to the real world.

Before doing any landscaping, assess your gardening experience and the time you have. Then tailor your plant selection to that level. Choose standard, easy-to-care-for plants that are known to be good performers in our climate and soil conditions for the major portion of the landscape. Avoid "exotics" or other plants that demand special culture, such as soil acidifiers or frequent applications of iron, unless you know that you are willing to provide for the special conditions needed.

When selecting plants, consider growth rate, mature size, and the plant's growing needs. If you are not prepared to do much pruning, choose plants that retain a desirable size without a lot of attention. Avoid planting large, vigorous-growing shrubs such as photinia or pyracantha in confining locations.

Never plant more of anything—trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials or even turfgrass—than you feel you can maintain properly and easily. Again, know your time and energy limitations. If you want a low-maintenance landscape, you may decide to limit or avoid some demanding plants such as hybrid tea roses or fruit trees such as peaches.

Whether you are developing a landscape or have an established one, many labor and time saving shortcuts can be incorporated.

Here are a few to consider:

• Prepare the soil before any planting. Mix in generous quantities of organic matter. Proper soil preparation now will reduce later problems such as compaction or poor drainage.

• Keep plants healthy and thriving with periodic fertilization. Healthy plant growth reduces susceptibility to insect and disease problems.

• Mulch your landscape with a loose material such as shredded pine bark, cypress mulch or compost to reduce weed problems, conserve moisture and reduce soil temperatures in summer.

• Install permanent edging around flower beds, gardens and other landscape areas to make soil control easier and prevent the encroachment of grass. Edging can range from steel to molded plastic, brick or pored concrete. Many of these can be installed by the do-it-yourselfer.

• Avoid small patches of flower beds or other plantings as it is more efficient time-wise to edge and mow around larger-sized plantings.

• Consider using "hardscape" materials in the areas where maintenance can be difficult, or where it seems impossible to grow plants. Brick, wood, stone, gravel or decking look natural and blend into almost any landscape scheme.

• Select and maintain good gardening equipment. Investing in high-quality, dependable tools can save much time, energy and frustration.

Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County Extension Office of Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University. Visit his web site at

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Gardening: Ornamental Grasses - September 8, 2004 article

Gardening: Don't Let Landscape Become A High-Maintenance Nightmare - September 22, 2004 article

Gardening: Oct. 10 Plant Sale & Seminar To Feature Butterfly Gardening - Butterflies Bring Color, Motion to Garden - October 2, 2004 article

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Gardening: Gardening for Texas Wildlife - January 28, 2005 article

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Gardening: March Gardening Calendar Includes Seminar On Butterfly Gardening - March 2, 2005 article

Gardening: Gardeners' Q&As From The Galveston Home & Garden Show - March 10, 2005 article

Gardening: Extension Offers Program On "Living To Be 100 . . . A Commonsense Approach." - March 16, 2005 article

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