As landscape contractors, we meet prospective clients from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, from Petaluma to Sonoma. One of the recurring requests we hear from homeowners is low maintenance gardens. We tell homeowners about three important elements that can influence the amount of maintenance required when a new garden is installed:
1. By far the highest maintenance plant we can install is grass. It must be watered, mowed, edged and fertilized on a regular basis. Reducing the size of lawns designed in a garden, or designing no lawn at all, is the quickest way to minimize garden maintenance. And we design some of the most stunning displays of trees and foliage without the use of grass. We like to say…’Less grass means less water means less maintenance means less money – less is MORE !
2. Flowering annuals and perennials also require considerable maintenance. Annuals must be replaced seasonally. Perennials, although they return each year from dormancy, require deadheading after the blooms are spent, sometimes several times a year. For the homeowner who must have ‘color’, yet doesn’t want high maintenance, we have the solution. For years, Details Landscape art has been designing and installing gardens with color in the foliage. Burgundy plants such as Japanese barberry and Lorapetalum ‘Purple Majesty, gold foliaged plants like Coleonema ‘Gold Sunset’, bright green Euonymus macrophylla, pale green Tulbaghia ‘Silver Lace’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, both red and green Japanese maples, are but a few plants we use in combinations that can contrast with each other. These plants generally require a small amount of care – low maintenance-, usually a once yearly pruning or shaping.
3. Selecting the right size trees and plants is critical to a successful landscape, and to keep maintenance to a minimum. If plant material is installed and subsequently needs frequent pruning to control either its height or width, then it’s not the right plant for the space. A competent landscape contractor should know the ultimate size of plant material at maturity, and select accordingly, advising the client of the time period required to reach its full growth.
Beyond these elements there is always the issue of weeds. Everybody gets weeds, including landscape contractors. For many many years we have seen contractors and homeowners use landscape fabric or ‘weed cloth’ to prevent weeds. This is the worst solution possible. Weeds grow right on top of these products. And the weed cloth deteriorates over time, tears, ends up sticking up above ground. And is almost impossible to tuck back under the bark. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube…
Instead we use a product called pre-emergent herbicide and there are several on the market. One is called Ronstar, another is named Dimension. These are powders that are broadcast over the area with a spreader after the plants are in and the drip emitters are run to each plant. These pre emergent herbicides , combined with a layer of bark, are sixty to seventy percent effective controlling weeds for several months. Most of the weed seeds come from the topsoil we bring in to amend the soil. After a few months the weed seeds die off, but by then the nutrients have done their job giving the new plants a good start. So the pre emergent is most effective for the first few months when it is needed most.
Remember…low maintenance does not mean NO maintenance !