Landscape Maintenance and Care

Easy Does It: The Low-maintenance Landscape

By David Sonka, Landscape Designer

There will always be a few hardy homeowners who actually enjoy spending their precious weekends doing lawn chores. But almost everyone else wants a low-maintenance landscape.

All landscapes require some maintenance in order to look and perform their best. Even native prairie species need encouragement to get established. So, realistically speaking, how low can you go? A low-maintenance landscape starts with thoughtful planning — and continues with a consistent approach to the fundamentals of lawn and plant care.

Planning. Plant selection and mulch type are important factors in the low-maintenance landscape. Plants should be selected for their hardiness, culture, and growth habits. Consult with a trusted expert to design your garden with plants that are best suited to your site. 

Lawn Care

Mulching. These attractive groundcovers prevent erosion, maintain moisture, and suppress weed growth. A three-inch layer of decorative rock over a layer of professional-grade polypropylene fabric is the best low-maintenance solution. However rock and fabric can limit the fullness and variety of your garden. Shredded bark mulch requires more maintenance but this approach lets you use a wider array of shrubs and perennials.

Watering. An irrigation system with a rain sensor is the ideal low-maintenance way to water. Make sure it is set up to water the lawn and the planting beds separately — turf areas need longer cycles of watering compared to planting beds.

Drought spells occur regularly during Minnesota summers; water conservation bans can threaten plants when they need water most. Capturing the water from the eaves and gutters of your house and storing it in cisterns can provide you with an emergency backup.
Feeding. Fertilizer can maintain plant health and vigor, like vitamins for your landscape. For trees, shrubs, and perennials, wait until the second year after they are planted before fertilizing. All plants can be fertilized as they are actively growing. Be sure to stop after August 15 so plants can harden and prepare for winter. Generally, a basic 10-10-10 fertilizer works well for most trees and shrubs. Flowering shrubs and perennials will benefit from extra phosphorous, so a 10-20-10 works better for them. Specialty fertilizers contain additional supplements that alter the pH of the soil for hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and some evergreens.

Lawn and Landscape Maintenance

Weed Prevention. Pre-emergent herbicides can keep weed seeds from germinating in lawns and bedding areas. A very effective organic pre-emergent is Corn Gluten Meal, which was developed at Iowa State University ten years ago and is now marketed by about a dozen companies. Pre-emergents should be applied to lawns in early spring when the bulbs are in bloom. Apply again between mid-August and mid-September for dandelions and fall-germinating weeds.

Mowing. Lawns should be mowed at two to three inches, with no more than one-third of the height being mowed at one time. Mowing as needed, instead of every weekend, might allow you to skip a few days.

Pruning. Because techniques and timing vary for different types of trees and shrubs, many homeowners leave pruning to the professionals. Species that bloom early in the season — such as azaleas, rhododendrons, or lilacs — should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming. If they flower in late spring or summer, like shrub roses, they should be pruned in early spring before the new growth starts. Species grown primarily for their foliage or fruit — such as viburnum or dogwood — should be pruned in the spring before new growth starts Check with a local professional on the specific plants you intend to prune.

Landscape Protection

Pests. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, voles, mice, and other critters are common nuisances. The ways to discourage or remedy wildlife invaders are: plant selection, odor, taste, noise, barriers, and traps. Lawn care suppliers offer a variety of products formulated to repel specific pests. Other remedies can be found around the house. For example, Pine Tree Apple Orchard in White Bear Lake uses Irish Spring deodorant soap to keep deer away!

Winter. Every Minnesotan knows the value of a good, warm coat. Many landscape plants need a little insulation as well. After the first killing frost, clean up your perennials and insulate the crowns of the plants with a layer of mulched leaves. Burlap or plastic can also be used to create an insulated blanket around the base of marginally hardy plants. Evergreens prone to winter burn can be wrapped in burlap to protect them from winter winds. To prevent sunscald, especially in thin-barked maples, use a tree wrap around the trunk.

Maintaining your landscape preserves its value and enhances your enjoyment. Remember to take time in every season to enjoy your very own great outdoors.

David Sonka is a Landscape Designer with Bever Landscaping in Forest Lake.

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