Want to have a beautiful landscape without overwhelming maintenance?
It's possible, but you have to do your homework before you buy any plants and put them in the ground. Here are some tips:
Start by selecting plants to fit the shape of the space where they will be used. If you need to fill a tight space in a corner, use a narrow, upright-growing plant.
Be sure to find out the eventual size and shape of the plant before using it in the landscape. It is almost impossible to look at a 15-inch-tall plant and determine what it will look like when mature.
Avoid using rapid-growing shrubbery. Slower-growing plants require less maintenance to keep them shaped or clipped. Many dwarf varieties are available. Because they grow proportionally smaller than the full-size standard plant, dwarf shrubs require less, if any, pruning even at mature height.
It is difficult for some people to look at a young plant and imagine that in just a few years it will increase in size many times. So plants are frequently crowded together or planted too close to buildings, sidewalks and driveways. Install plants with enough space for them to grow and mature without crowding into one another or outgrowing their location.
Avoid tight angles where mowing time is wasted in small, awkward spaces. Lay out bed lines in curves, making sure that they are large enough to accommodate the turning radius of the lawn mower. Use bold sweeping curves, where space permits.
In places where a long, narrow strip of lawn is required, design the width of the strip in multiples of the cutting swath of the mower. For example, if the mower cuts a 20-inch swath, make the strip of lawn 20 inches, 40 inches, or 60 inches wide. This eliminates that extra trip with the mower just to cut a few inches of lawn.
Extra mowing time is required to cut around objects in the lawn such as trees, lampposts or mailboxes. When possible, locate yard objects inside plant beds. This eliminates the need for tedious hand clipping and protects trees from mower injuries.
Providing an edging or mowing apron around specimen plants or plant beds helps reduce mowing time and mower damage to plants.
Eliminating all or part of the lawn as you develop your plan will reduce landscape maintenance. Grass can be replaced with ground cover; plant beds can be expanded; patios or decks can be built; and some areas can be naturalized.
Patios and other paved areas not only require less maintenance than grass but also provide more space for entertaining. Trying to maintain a vegetative ground cover in heavily traveled areas can be a losing battle.
Clipped hedges are a high-maintenance landscape feature. Substituting a fence or wall for a formal hedge eliminates a lot of maintenance, such as periodic pruning or shaping, as well as routine fertilizing and spraying. A wall or fence is also preferable to a hedge in a narrow space.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The offices that serve Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edugacolumbia.