By Dennis Patton
Let’s face it – we are all getting older. The drive, energy and gusto to accomplish tasks are just not what they used to be. I continue to ask myself how I can keep doing the things I like while decreasing the amount of energy it takes.
I love to garden. I enjoy tending plants and take pride in the beauty created. Occasionally, I catch myself looking around the backyard and muttering, “What have I done!” Has my vigor in my younger days overtaken my sensibility?
Some people don’t consider gardening as a fun outlet. For some, it is a necessary evil in maintaining our property values or fitting in with the neighbors. Whether you love gardening or not, we all look for ways to have a beautiful landscape with less work. Simple ideas can be incorporated to achieve the beauty we desire with less effort. We just need to think smarter and not work harder.
There is no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape. Plants are living organisms and need someone to care for them. The goal is to grow plants we enjoy with lower physical inputs.
The best piece of advice for reducing maintenance and lower back pain is an approach that can be applied to many areas of life – keep it simple. Formal hedges require shearing, so get rid of them. Fences require edging when mowing. Water features require maintenance.
Keeping it simple does not mean it has to be dull. Higher maintenance plants tend to have more color and impact, so place these in high traffic areas. Do you typically utilize the front door or side door? Do you relax on the front porch or the back patio? Being close to the home means we are more likely to see it and care for it routinely and with less effort. How often do many of us go to the back corners of the yard? If it involves watering, that means dragging a hose. These areas are often forgotten, so they get out of hand and then take more energy to rein in.
Design your landscape with less maintenance in mind. The best tip is to group your plantings into beds. Get rid of scattered, randomly placed plants. By grouping into beds with sweeping edges, we decrease work. The plants create the impact and the mowing is reduced. The flowing edges allow for the mower to quickly move around the bed. Scattered plantings increase the mowing and trimming time as you start and stop to mow around objects. Whether islands, borders along the property line or around the foundation, plants placed in beds increase impact and decrease effort.
Flowers make a statement but are higher maintenance. Annuals and perennials require yearly care, planting, dividing, watering and fertilizing. I am not saying get rid of them but use them sparingly and in high-impact areas. Remember the tip above, place higher maintenance plants closer to the home. Use them as spot color at the entry and patio.
In my personal garden, I have been removing any spreading perennials that need constant dividing. Now I only grow “clumpers” that rarely need to be divided. Small shrubs are taking the place of many as they add spot color and require less work.
Weeding is a chore no one likes. Your best friend to fight the battle of weeds is mulch. Mulch provides many benefits being the workhorse in the garden. It controls weed growth, conserves moisture, reduces water and adds a finishing touch. All it takes is a 2- to 3-inch layer evenly covering the bare soil. Mulching is work, but it saves energy in the long run and is worth the effort.
The last tip I have taken to heart is to invest in an irrigation system that works for you. Many homeownersare fortunate to have an inground system making this task easier. Those of us that don’t struggle to drag hoses around and set the sprinklers. Since I don’t have an inground system, I invested in sprinklers and hoses left in the proper position in my beds. Now all I do is connect the hose making watering easier.
As you can see, it only takes a little brainpower to figure out ways to have a beautiful landscape without all the work. Take time to evaluate your landscape and figure out any small changes that would make life easier while still creating a lovely setting.
Look over your landscape and question the status quo and the monster you (or I) created when we were younger. You might be surprised how easy it is to save time and energy.
Dennis Patton is horticulture agent at the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Office.