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Low Maintenance Landscaping
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator

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Do you ever feel as if your landscape owns you? If the hours you spend nurturing growing plants and maintaining your home grounds are your idea of heaven on earth, you don't need to read any further. But if you'd like to cut back on the work and increase the enjoyment, it may be time to analyze the maintenance needs of your landscape and figure out how to reduce them.

Ideally, low maintenance is designed into the landscape. Areas are laid out and plants and other materials are chosen to perform well without a continuing major investment of time, money or sweat. So, if you're starting from scratch, you have an advantage. But even in an established landscape, you can make choices that reduce maintenance needs.

Let's say you have a privet hedge that needs to be pruned twice a year, a bed of rhododendrons flanking a stand of multistemmed European white birch trees, and a selection of exotic trees and shrubs planted singly about the yard. In addition to the hedge pruning, you must continually test and adjust the acidity of the soil for the rhododendrons, spray the birch trees for bronze birch borer, and mow and trim around each of those isolated trees and shrubs, some of which appear not to have survived last winter's cold temperatures. What can you do?

That hedge, for instance, could be replaced by a fence of pressure-treated lumber. Put it up, stain it or let it weather naturally, and forget about it. Or, if you prefer plants, select shrubs that will grow no taller than the height to which you have been pruning the hedge.

Decide what are the features of the exotic but struggling trees and shrubs that you like and look for native plants that are similar. Plants native to this part of North America or areas with similar climates will be better adapted to local soils and climate and more likely to not only survive but thrive. A common plant that's thriving is likely to add more to the landscape and require less maintenance than an exotic plant that's just hanging on.

Grouping plants that require similar conditions and maintenance makes mowing easier by reducing the number of individual plants to be mowed and trimmed around and makes care simpler because you don't have to worry about overwatering one plant to provide enough moisture for the one next to it.

The rhododendrons and white birch trees could be considered problem plants because of the care involved. You could decide to replace the European birches with river birch, a native white-barked birch that isn't so likely to be killed by birch borers after a few years, and the rhododendrons by some other spring-flowering shrub that has less demanding soil pH requirements. The result is the same sort of spring focal point with less maintenance.

The bottom line is that there are choices you can make to reduce maintenance needs if you want to. When it's time to select a plant or a material for a structure or a patio, driveway or walkway, chances are there are both low- and high-maintenance choices available. If you're thinking about maintenance when you make those choices, you can make an informed choice that works for you.

(This resource was added April 2003 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office