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Ask a Master Gardener: What Is a Low-Maintenance Landscape?

BY: Jack LeCroy, Regional Extension Agent,

I have been working in the horticulture world for about ten years, yet in all those years I have never had a homeowner ask for a high-maintenance landscape. Shocking . . . I know. Whenever a client asks landscape questions, most want a low-maintenance landscape. So, what is a low-maintenance landscape?

Some people might think that it means having no weeds. Others might think of it as less time pruning. We could go so far as no need to get outside and mess with the landscape at all. What is my interpretation of a low-maintenance landscape? It is making the best decisions to save you time and money. I will give you some tips and tricks to ensure that your landscape stays low maintenance and saves you money.

1. Plant selection: The correct choice by size can be crucial to a landscape design. This element will dictate how often you must be out pruning or if a plant eventually takes over and crowds out other plants. Let's take loropetalum, for instance. Pruning it seems to make this plant angry so it grows twice as fast. I know some people who must prune three to four times a year to keep it under control and in its space. Many people need to realize that there are different sizes of loropetalum. You can buy a loropetalum that only gets about 5 feet high. This could be a game changer for how often you must tend to it. Many plants have several size variations that you can purchase. Be sure to read the tags on the plants before you buy.

2. Soil: When you go to the doctor, they don't assess your vitamin needs just by looking at you. They will take a blood test to determine what nutrients you have or may need. There is no difference when you are dealing with plants. Our soils can differ in pH and nutrients from one person's house to the next. One client might need phosphorus and no potassium in a fertilizer mix. In contrast, another client in the same neighborhood might need all three macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and also lime to raise the pH. A soil test is an important first step. Call our office or go to for more information on soil testing.

3. No guessing: The available information can overwhelm a gardener. Sometimes we get frustrated, make a choice, and just hope for the best. Gardening is not a guessing game. The information is out there. How much water and fertilizer to add? What plants or trees grow best in south Alabama? Whatever the local information you are looking for, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System can help at and our local office.

For example: If you are curious about watering your centipede grass, there is research to support how much to apply. Apply 1/2– 3/4 inch of water per application. This applies water to roughly the top 8 inches of soil where most of the roots live.

4. Cultural problems: When we discuss cultural issues, we must think of the homeowner. Often, we are our own worst enemy in our landscapes. Common issues include applying too much fertilizer, incorrectly diagnosing a problem, watering too much, using the wrong chemical, or spacing plants too close. We are often unsure of the exact problem, so we begin by trying different things simultaneously in hopes of fixing the problem. These misdiagnoses can often stress a plant and make the landscape decline even faster.

5. Be patient: Plants are living things that must grow and receive everything they need in the right amounts to function correctly. Sometimes a problem is not correcting itself fast enough, and we water again or spray something else to see if that helps. Being patient is critical as a homeowner to take a step back and make sure that we aren’t about to do something that makes the problem worse. Don't go out and spend more money on something when you THINK it might fix the problem. Have the reasoning and research behind the decision to back it up.

6. Fast Growing vs. Invasive: Throughout the year, many homeowners call me looking for a tree or shrub that grows fast. There is a big difference in a plant that grows fast versus a plant that ends up causing a maintenance problem in our landscape. Make sure you know the growing rate of the plants that you purchase.

7. A master plan: Taking the time to draw up a master plan on paper (it doesn’t have to be expensive or intricate) is a huge help when thinking about our landscape. This master plan does not have to be put in all at once. A homeowner can take 3-4 years to implement each section slowly. A master plan will give you a reference to always go back to once you start each new section. Remember to choose a simple plant palette and remember underground and overhead utilities.

These tips will hopefully help you achieve your gardening goals for 2023. Feel free to call our office at (251) 574-8445 if you need further assistance with planning your low-maintenance landscape.

Having an overall plan is important for any landscape. This will help you stay on track if you have to return later to complete certain projects.

Are you watering too much? Are you watering enough? This is a common problem and we have to make sure our systems are calibrated to ensure we are not making certain problems worse in our landscapes.

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