Skip Richter column: Low maintenance landscaping tips


There is no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape. While some wildscape designs can come close to it, the fact that it is a designed landscape will necessitate some maintenance to maintain its form and beauty.

With a little advanced planning we can create a beautiful landscape that is functional, meets the needs of the entire family and yet requires a minimum of time and money to maintain.

The more of a plant person you are, the more likely it is that you are a collector of plants. Those of us with this malady must focus on planning with the end result in mind or our landscape can end up looking like a bomb went off in a garden center and the plants pretty much grew where they landed. With so many plants and so little time, who has time to plan or design?

I’ll leave discussion on the principles of landscape design for another day and focus on aspects of landscaping that help reduce maintenance needs down the line.

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Keep it simple

The more elaborate you make a landscape, the more features you add, the more maintenance you will likely have. Great designs are often quite simple. Every extra foot of bed edge, rockwork and fence line can mean more weedeating or edging.

Elaborate plantings with an extensive variety of plants need more attention to keep them tidy and attractive.

Design with maintenance in mind

Keep maintenance at the forefront as you plan your landscape. Group plants with similar care needs and place higher maintenance plantings near the home where the added beauty may justify the added work.

As you move outward from the home, design areas that need less maintenance. Invest most of your landscape time and money where you spend time outdoors.

Make beds large and sweeping. Combine several small beds into a large one to reduce mowing time. Avoid sharp angles. Gradual curves are easier to mow and more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

If you have several trees close together in the lawn, consider creating a large bed around them. This will save time mowing and edging around each trunk and provide a place to toss the leaves as a natural mulch. Install edging to delineate between turf and bed areas to minimize St. Augustine turfgrass invading the bed.

Let nature maintain it for you

When the setting allows, place some natural areas around the periphery of your landscape, especially if your property adjoins a natural area. These natural areas will receive little if any care but can contribute nicely to the overall effect.

Select native trees and shrubs for these areas, or perhaps some tall native clumping grasses for sunny areas. Include some that bloom for seasonal interest. These natural areas are another place to toss extra leaves for another maintenance advantage.

It all comes down to what is aesthetically acceptable to you, but extensive design comes at a maintenance cost.

How much is enough?

Lawns are nice, but do you really need a football field? Just because you own the property is no reason to cover it all with grass. Lawns need mowing, watering and fertilizing, or they can become thin and weedy… which in turn brings the need for hand pulling or spraying.

Place turf in areas where it thrives and where we will enjoy its benefits most. Ground covers and mulched beds are a good alternative for other areas.

This same principle applies to other types of plant material. Flower beds are gorgeous but require a lot of maintenance. Place them where you get the most aesthetic benefits for your time and money.

Choose easy care plants

Let’s face it. Some plants, like some people, are just plain high maintenance. Others need just a little help getting established and then do quite well on their own. Most trees and shrubs require less maintenance, especially if kept in a more natural shape or form. Hedges and topiaries demand frequent shearing to maintain their shape.

Dwarf and compact shrubs require less pruning to prevent them from getting too large for their space.

Choose plants that are adapted to our area and not prone to disease or insect attack. For example, Indian hawthorn, while beautiful can be prone to a defoliating leaf spot in shady areas especially when sprinkler irrigation wets the foliage.

Don’t crowd plants into a small space. Crowding makes it more difficult to work around plants and costs more initially as you are purchasing more plants than you need. Tightly spaced plants prevent good air circulation which can sometimes increase the incidence of diseases. Roses are an example of a plant that is more prone to foliar diseases when crowded.

Mulch to minimize maintenance

Mulching gives a great return on your time. When you lay down a thick layer of mulch, annual weed seeds will be held at bay for the season. Watering will be reduced and over a few seasons as the mulch breaks down there will even be a release of nutrients to the plants.

These are a few tips to keep your maintenance chores to a minimum. Whether you are installing a new landscape or revamping an established one, by following a few simple suggestions you can end up with a wonderful low-maintenance landscape that leaves you plenty of time for other activities … such as shopping for more plants!

Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Brazos County. For local gardening information and events, visit Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email

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