Landscaping for Low Maintenance

Low-maintenance Gardening Techniques Save You Time

By George and Becky Lohmiller
May 31, 2016
Landscaping for Low Maintenance-Thinkstock

Using mulch helps to reduce weeding time.

Photo by Thinkstock

Using low-maintenance landscaping techniques can reduce much of your yard work. Mowing, weeding, watering, and pruning can be overwhelming, even for those who love to garden. Here are a few tips:

Choose the right plants

  • A shrub that grows to 6 feet tall will require regular pruning if planted under a window that is three feet above the ground. There are many dwarf varieties of trees and shrubs that are ideal for small areas and may never need pruning.
  • Native plants are always a good choice for the landscape because they adapt to surroundings more easily than exotic species. Grouping plants that have the same cultural needs will save time when watering and fertilizing.
  • Keep the planting beds narrow for easy access to interior plants; design them with long, sweeping curves so that the mower can reach the edge, eliminating hand trimming.

Mulch, mulch, mulch

A thick layer of organic mulch around plants will help to control weeds, conserve soil moisture, and add nutrients to the soil. Popular organic mulches are tree bark, shredded leaves, pine needles, and plant wastes such as cocoa shells. (If you have any pets, please note that cocoa mulch contains theobromine, which is lethal for dogs and cats.) If weeds are a serious problem, lay down several layers of newspaper before mulching.

Keep the lawn as small as possible

  • Some lawn alternatives are large areas of ground covers or wildflowers, mulched beds, in addition to decks and patios.
  • Proper lawn care will save you work because a healthy lawn is less likely to be bothered by weeds, insects, and diseases. Keep the grass tall; let it grow to three or four inches and then mow off one-third. High grass shades out weeds and won’t dry out as quickly as closely cropped turf.
  • Water infrequently but deeply to encourage deep rooting.

We hope that these ideas will help make it easier for you to maintain your landscape—as well as your sanity.


This article was originally published in March, 2008 and has been updated.


Reader Comments

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Your web site

I just discovered this site and love it. So much good advice! Thanks!

We have 2 large dogs and our

We have 2 large dogs and our backyard looks like a war zone..... we have pathways made of screenings to reduce the amount of grass we have (or should I say had) and a portion of our yard we converted to strictly mulched area.... however, our yard is muddy most of the time... our dogs paws are constantly tracking in screenings/mud. Please help with some ideas to maintain a nice yard and reduce the mess/stirred up yard from our dogs...

Hi, Barb: Well. Sounds like

The Editors's picture

Hi, Barb: Well. Sounds like you have quite a battle on your hands! This is a little difficult to answer because we don't know where you are, how big your yard is, whether you're near neighbors susceptible to plant invasion, why your yard is muddy (drainage, we assume), what your sun/shade is like, and so forth. If it were us, we would do a test on a part of the lawn to try out clover as a ground cover. Level and amend the soil so that it is 1:1:1 topsoil:sand:clay; doesn't have to be too deep--4 to 5 inches is fine, scratch it into whatever is already there. Then try white clover mixed with a tough grass seed (ask at a nursery), 1:3 clover:grass. Try consulting with your county/state extension service on this, too, as they might have more localized advice. Most of all, don't be afraid to experiment. Fence off a couple of test areas at a time if you can. You can win!

we have two dogs and my

we have two dogs and my concern was the same, how to keep my yard looking great and my dogs' paws clean. We built a dog run on the side of our house and put down artificial grass so that their paws stay nice and clean. Now, our dogs do not go in the rest of the yard without being supervised, my yard stays green and their paws stay clean.

doggy gardens

I have found a few great landscaping ideas for our dogs yard and am happy to send or post photos if you like. Our Great Pyrenees Luna is a digger and she was the inspiration behind us doing more paving stones and natural round gravel beds. We tried cedar mulch but she loved to dig it it so the answer was dog safe plants, perennials and hanging baskets, using landscape fabric, then mulch and a layer of larger river rock on top. Any of our gravel is now pea gravel which is easier for puppy dogs to lay on and safer for the floors of our home if it does make it in. What surprised us was how much both of our dogs (the older dog is a cocker poodle Bootsy ) enjoy the new flat stone areas and we feel comfortable the the plants we chose were non toxic but also for some reason they do not bother them. We are however only half way done and the rest of our yard is still a digging zone so would love to know what we can do for a doggy washroom area. Some told us sand is not good as it is home to fleas?

Hillsides are challenging!

The Editors's picture

Hillsides are challenging! Choose low-care, drought-tolerant perennial ground-covering plants. Select plants that will self-sow or spread by stolons. Some examples are feverfew, penstemons, species bulbs, creeping phlox, creeping sedum, thyme. The first year you can mulch around the new plants. Coarse wood chip mulch holds soil in place and suppresses weeds until the plants fill in.

I am looking for ways to

I am looking for ways to landscape a yard that is on the side of a hill and too steep to grow and cut grass. Any ideas on how I can landscape the hillside?

I have the same issue,

I have the same issue, curving hill. Hope they give you an answer so I can follow it also!!

Hi Keast, Thanks for your

The Editors's picture

Hi Keast,
Thanks for your question. Native ground covers are your best bet. They will spread and don't need much care. See our answer to the "hill" question above for suggestions on varieties to try.