Early spring is a good time to evaluate what landscape maintenance chores you dislike doing and plan now to eliminate or cut back on those tasks. By choosing the right plants for the right spot, homeowners can eliminate a lot of pruning, feeding, weeding and pleading to keep their plants looking great .
The first step to a more carefree landscape is to make a list of the problem areas and then figure out how to eliminate the task you no longer want to do.
Q: What if you don’t want to prune back rhodies, hydrangeas or laurels from your windows or walkways?
A: Replace these big leaf monsters with naturally dwarf plants that won’t outgrow their space. Dwarf conifers, compact Hino Crimson azaleas or dwarf forms of Nandina Heavenly Bamboo such as “Bar Harbor” are all better behaved and easy to maintain in compact spaces.
So what do you do with the healthy large shrubs that you need to get rid of?
You can transplant them this month to a bed along your property line to make a living privacy screen or offer them up for free on a neighborhood site. One homeowner photographed his overgrown rhododendrons, took the photos to a new neighborhood lacking in landscape, and, in a few days, new homeowners had arrived to dig up his shrubs to use in their empty backyard. Shallow-rooted rhododendrons and azaleas and tough shrubs like hydrangeas are easy to move and successfully transplant especially if you do the dirty deed and dig them up in early spring.
Q: What if you don’t want to weed around your trees and shrubs or keep spreading a mulch?
A: Use a living mulch around your shrubs and trees that will block out weeds, shade roots and even hide the damage from moles and voles.
Local nurseries have tables of ground-cover plants that do well in sun, shade, poor soil, damp soil or dry soil. There also are slow-growing ground covers for small spaces. You just need to match the growing conditions of the area with the ground-hugging plants that would do best in that situation. For large, shaded areas, especially on a hillside, Vinca minor works great. In a small garden, this same enthusiastic creeper would be a poor choice. Instead try the slower growing ajuga, “Chocolate Chip,” or the white or golden foliage of a compact lamium variety.
Tip: If you are not sure what ground cover would work best, do a trial program. Buy just one plant of several types of ground cover and plant them all in the same area. In a year, see what looks the happiest. Then invest in more plants to fill out the area — or plant a mix of ground covers for a crazy-quilt display of weed-blocking, low growing, drought-resistant carpeting around your shrubs.
Q: What if you do not want to mow, blow, or feed your lawn?
A: There are plenty of lawn substitutes that look tidy and acceptable even in formal front yards. All lawn substitute plants require some research and soil preparation to be successful.
Sunny sites can support low-growing creeping thymes and flat stones. Shaded lawns full of moss can be turned into a moss lawn or a sea of ground covers. Another idea that eliminates the lawn is a good design that incorporates gravel pathways, raised beds full of shrubs or a front courtyard screened from the street with shrubbery or a fence. Call in a professional if you need help with a planting plan that eliminates the lawn.
Q: What if you do not want to spray pesticides on roses, fruit trees or shrubs?
A: The easy answer here is to get rid of any plant that is constantly attacked by pests or disease.
There are no plant police, plants are not your family members and life is too short to live with ugly plants. Spring is the season when local nurseries offer plenty of potential adoptees that would love to go home to your landscape.