Many homeowners desire a beautiful landscape but are often discouraged by the lack of time and money needed to create and care for the garden of their dreams. A pleasing, low-care, low-cost landscape is possible, however, with careful planning, appropriate plant choices, and thoughtful design.
Use simple geometric shapes in the hardscape to provide structure and repetition for organization. Don't waste time trying to control every weed or errant twig on a shrub.
Check the hardiness zone for cold tolerance, select long-lived plants that thrive in your soil conditions, note insect problems and susceptibility to disease, and consider sturdiness and wind resistance. Additional information about plant selection is available from your local county Extension office or at the Florida-Friendly website, https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/homeowners/publications.htm.
Substitute small shrubs for perennials; once they grow to their mature height and width, they need little maintenance other than an annual pruning. Low-growing, sprawling groundcovers cover larger areas and reduce the need for many small bedding plants (Figure 4).
Choose evergreen plants to provide color and foliage all year (Figure 5). Many evergreens, including junipers and small shrubs, have a neat growth habit that requires little trimming. The needlelike foliage of some evergreens typically sheds very little, and the small needle litter can be left for mulch. An attractive natural form (Figure 6) reduces the need to trim for appearance.
For a neat and tidy look, choose plants that naturally maintain a tight and clean form. The best strategy is to use plants that naturally thrive in your soil type, particularly if you have a large garden.
For low maintenance, install plants so that they touch a little sooner but don't overlap too much (Figure 8). Most plants will not reach the high end of the height and spread growth range unless they are growing in optimal conditions.
The shade of the foliage also prevents moisture evaporation from the soil, requiring less irrigation. Plants may need to be thinned at maturity if they do grow to the high end of their spread potential.
The more compatible the shape, the less time will be needed to trim the plant to fit the space. Small trees shed fewer leaves, and large shrubs can be limbed up to provide shade for plants on the ground.
Tiny leaves that fall off the trees will be hidden in the plant material and mulch below and will not require raking (Figure 10). Trees should also be placed to provide shade to air conditioning units and windows for energy efficiency.
Some sick plants are in the wrong location, and the adverse growing conditions are contributing to the poor performance. Overhead structures are also useful in areas where trees should not be located, such as close to buildings and utility lines.
Pots on patios and decks should have only one or two long-blooming or foliage plants for easy care (Figure 13). Elements other than plants add color and texture to the garden, and maintenance usually requires no more than an annual cleaning. Most ornaments also serve a functional purpose as well, such as providing support for plants or homes for wildlife (Figure 14). Include rugs, curtains, and pillows to make a patio or porch more interesting and inviting (Figure 15). Small, open areas organize the yard into functional spaces, and the surface materials require little care. Ensure permeability by laying the pavers and stone on a sand and gravel bed over filter fabric that allows water to drain (Figure 17).
Low retaining walls allow level changes that prevent erosion problems and separate beds. Planters with short walls of bricks or stacked stones keep plants and mulch contained and off the deck or patio.
Planters make it easier to water and trim the plants from the deck or patio (Figure 19).
Plants are often healthier in raised beds where a good soil mix can be used and weeds and pests are easier to treat.
Planters and raised beds also provide a variety of heights and patterns to separate and organize spaces. With creativity and imagination, many materials can be reused for the same purpose in a different form, or repurposed for a different function.
Unattractive dog runs, blank walls, and work areas can be screened with a fence, lattice, or vines on a trellis. Low garden fences or walls can effectively hide areas where plants are difficult to grow or where utilities are located.
Use large rocks, stone pathways, garden structures, and dry stream beds to cover bare spots. Figure 21 illustrates the layout of a typical yard that incorporates many of the ideas throughout the landscape. The design is unified through the repetition of circles—a simple geometric form that contrasts with the organic plant material. Pathways of gravel, groundcover, and mulch provide access throughout the yard, separate plant beds for a neat look, and organize spaces.
Reused concrete pieces laid in gravel provide a permeable hard surface for gathering off the deck, and the adjacent dining area includes a colorful umbrella and chairs to add variety and interest against the green foliage plants surrounding the circle of gravel. Another circular form holds an arbor structure that provides shade over a swing and vertical height for more emphasis in the corner. These hardscape areas and structures help to maintain the spatial organization of the garden during times of the year when plant material may be thin. Containers on the deck and a few select garden ornaments add a punch of easy-care, colorful focal points to the yard.
Raised, built-in planters help define the edge of the deck and make it easy to care for plants from all sides. Colorful foliage, interesting shapes, and coarse texture add to the aesthetic quality of the plants.
The overall effect is a well-organized and functional garden with a variety of low-care, aesthetically pleasing plants.