Low Maintenance Landscaping

Low Maintenance Landscaping

You can design a landscape that conserves water as well as energy. Here is a brief overview of some water-conserving landscaping strategies.

If you can determine how much water your plants actually need, then you won’t overwater them and waste water. It is important to not only understand a plant’s particular watering requirements, but also evapotranspiration.

Evapotranspiration (Et) is the amount of water that is evaporated from the soil and transpired through the plant’s leaves. This amount of water needs to be replaced through watering. If you know your area’s Et rate, you can plan the amount of water to be replaced through irrigation. Call your local water district or cooperative extension service and ask about your Et rate. Your particular microclimate will also affect evapotranspiration in different areas of your yard.

It’s best to water or irrigate your plants in the early morning when evaporation rates are low. This also provides plants with water before mid-day when the evaporation rate is the highest.

Xeriscaping is a systematic method of promoting water conservation in landscaped areas. Although xeriscaping is mostly used in arid regions, its principles can be used in any region to help conserve water. Here are seven basic xeriscaping principles:

1. Planning and design. Provides direction and guidance, mapping your water and energy conservation strategies, both of which will be dependent upon your regional climate and microclimate.

2. Selecting and zoning plants appropriately. Bases your plant selections and locations on those that will flourish in your regional climate and microclimate. Always group plants with similar water needs together.

3. Limiting turf areas. Reduces the use of bluegrass turf, which usually requires a lot of supplemental watering. Consider substituting a turf grass that uses less water than bluegrass.

4. Improving the soil. Enables soil to better absorb water and to encourage deeper roots.

5. Irrigating efficiently. Encourages using the irrigation method that waters plants in each area most efficiently.

6. Using mulches. Keeps plant roots cool, minimizes evaporation, prevents soil from crusting, and reduces weed growth.

7. Maintaining the landscape. Keeps plants healthy through weeding, pruning, fertilizing, and controlling pests.

Landscape Windbreaks and Efficiency

Trees, Shrubs, Hedges

Properly selected, placed, and maintained landscaping can provide excellent wind protection, or windbreaks, which will reduce heating costs considerably. Furthermore, the benefits from these windbreaks will increase as the trees and shrubs mature. To use a windbreak effectively, you need to know what landscape strategies will work best in your regional climate and your microclimate

A windbreak reduces heating costs by lowering the wind chill near your home. Wind chill is the temperature it “feels like” outside and is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold. As the wind increases, the body is cooled at a faster rate and the skin temperature drops. For example, if the outside temperature is 10°F (-12°C) and the wind speed is 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour), the wind chill is -24°F (-31°C). A windbreak will reduce wind speed for a distance of as much as 30 times the windbreak’s height. But for maximum protection, plant your windbreak at a distance from your home of two to five times the mature height of the trees. The best windbreaks block wind close to the ground by using trees and shrubs that have low crowns. Dense evergreen trees and shrubs planted to the north and northwest of the home are the most common type of windbreak. Trees, bushes, and shrubs are often planted together to block or impede wind from ground level to the treetops. Evergreen trees combined with a wall, fence, or earth berm (natural or man-made walls or raised areas of soil) can deflect or lift the wind over the home. Be careful not to plant evergreens too close to your home’s south side if you want to collect passive solar heat from the winter sun.

If snow tends to drift in your area, plant low shrubs on the windward side of your windbreak. The shrubs will trap snow before it blows next to your home. Snow fences can also help trap snow.

In addition to more distant windbreaks, planting shrubs, bushes, and vines next to your house creates dead air spaces that insulate your home in both winter and summer. Plant so there will be at least 1 foot (30 centimeters) of space between full-grown plants and your home’s wall.

Summer winds, especially at night, can have a cooling effect if used for home ventilation. However, if winds are hot and your home is air conditioned all summer, you may want to keep summer winds from circulating near your home.

Windbreaks also provide:
• A barrier from sounds, sights, and smells
• Protection for livestock
• An aesthetically pleasing landscape element
• Wildlife habitat.

Landscaping for Shade

Landscaping Ideas That Work

Solar heat absorbed through windows and roofs can increase cooling costs, and incorporating shade from landscaping elements can help reduce this solar heat gain. Shading and evapotranspiration (the process by which a plant actively moves and releases water vapor) from trees can reduce surrounding air temperatures as much as 9° F (5°C). Because cool air settles near the ground, air temperatures directly under trees can be as much as 25°F (14°C) cooler than air temperatures above nearby blacktop.

Using shade effectively requires you to know the size, shape, and location of the moving shadow that your shading device casts. Also, homes in cool regions may never overheat and may not require shading. Therefore, you need to know what landscape shade strategies will work best in your regional climate and your microclimate.

Trees are available in the appropriate sizes, densities, and shapes for almost any shade application. To block solar heat in the summer but let much of it in during the winter, use deciduous trees. To provide continuous shade or to block heavy winds, use dense evergreen trees or shrubs.

Deciduous trees with high, spreading crowns (i.e., leaves and branches) can be planted to the south of your home to provide maximum summertime roof shading. Trees with crowns lower to the ground are more appropriate to the west, where shade is needed from lower afternoon sun angles. Trees should not be planted on the southern sides of solar-heated homes in cold climates, because the branches of these deciduous trees will block some winter sun.

Although a slow-growing tree may require many years of growth before it shades your roof, it will generally live longer than a fast-growing tree. Also, because slow-growing trees often have deeper roots and stronger branches, they are less prone to breakage by windstorms or heavy snow loads. Slow-growing trees can also be more drought resistant than fast-growing trees.

Plant trees far enough away from the home so that when they mature, their root systems do not dam¬age the foundation and branches do not damage the roof.

A 6-foot to 8-foot (1.8-meter to 2.4-meter) deciduous tree planted near your home will begin shading windows the first year. Depending on the species and the home, the tree will shade the roof in 5 to 10 years.

Trees, shrubs, and ground cover plants can also shade the ground and pavement around the home. This reduces heat radiation and cools the air before it reaches your home’s walls and windows. Use a large bush or row of shrubs to shade a patio or driveway. Plant a hedge to shade a sidewalk. Build a trellis for climbing vines to shade a patio area.

Vines can also shade walls during their first growing season. A lattice or trellis with climbing vines, or a planter box with trailing vines, shades the home’s perimeter while admitting cooling breezes to the shaded area.

Shrubs planted close to the house will fill in rapidly and begin shading walls and windows within a few years. However, avoid allowing dense foliage to grow immediately next to a home where wetness and continual humidity could cause problems. Well-landscaped homes in wet areas allow winds to flow around the home, keeping the home and its surrounding soil reasonably dry.

To ensure lasting performance of energy-saving landscaping, use plant species that are adapted to the local climate. Native species are best, as they require little maintenance once established and avoid the dangers of invasive species. To find the best choices for your area, visit your local nurseries.

Landscaping for Energy Efficient Homes

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to keep your home cool in summer and reduce your energy bills. A well-placed tree, shrub, or vine can deliver effective shade, act as a windbreak, and reduce your energy bills. Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of the energy a typical household uses. Research shows that summer day-time air temperatures can be 3°–6° cooler in tree-shaded neighborhoods than in treeless areas.

A lattice or trellis with climbing vines or a planter box with trailing vines shades the home while admitting cooling breezes to the shaded area.

Climate Map

This map shows the four broadest categories of climate zones for the lower 49 United States. Understanding your climate zone can help you determine the best energy-saving landscaping strategies for your home.

A well-designed landscape not only can add beauty to your home but also can reduce your heating and cooling costs. Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of the energy a typical household uses.

The energy-conserving landscape strategies you use will depend on where you live. The United States can be divided roughly into four climate regions — temperate, hot-arid, hot-humid, and cool. See the map to find your climatic region. Below you’ll find landscaping strategies listed by region and in order of importance.

Temperate Region (Green Area)
• Maximize warming effects of the sun in the winter.
• Maximize shade during the summer.
• Deflect winter winds away from buildings with windbreaks of trees and shrubs on the north and northwest side of the house.
• Tunnel summer breezes toward the home.

Hot-Arid Region (Red Area)
• Provide shade to cool roofs, walls, and windows.
• Allow summer winds to access naturally cooled homes.
• Block or deflect winds away from air-conditioned homes.

Hot-Humid Region (Orange Area)
• Channel summer breezes toward the home.
• Maximize summer shade with trees that still allow penetration of low-angle winter sun.
• Avoid locating planting beds close to the home if they require frequent watering.

Cool Region (Blue Area)
• Use dense windbreaks to protect the home from cold winter winds.
• Allow the winter sun to reach south-facing windows.
• Shade south and west windows and walls from the direct summer sun, if summer overheating is a problem.

The climate immediately surrounding your home is called its microclimate. When landscaping for energy efficiency, it’s important to consider your microclimate as well as your regional climate.

Your home’s microclimate may receive more sun, shade, wind, rain, snow, moisture, and/or dryness than average local conditions. If your home is located on a sunny southern slope, for example, it may have a warm microclimate, even if you live in a cool region. Or, even though you live in a hot-humid region, your home may be situated in a comfortable microclimate because of abundant shade and dry breezes. Nearby bodies of water may increase your site’s humidity or decrease its air temperature. Microclimatic factors also help determine what plants may or may not grow in your landscape.

Gardening and Landscaping Safety

Call Before You Dig:  In most areas, an organization or public official needs to give approval to excavate even the smallest areas.  This is because of the damage and destruction that can result if an unaware homeowner compromises a natural gas or electrical line.

Major utility providers will almost always send a representative to the proposed dig site to evaluate the safety of the proposed location.  Utility lines and pipelines are often located deep underground, often with a marker indicating their depth.  If the proposed excavation is extremely dangerous, a building inspector or code enforcement office may become involved and deny the necessary permit.

Never dig without notifying the utility providers.  Otherwise, you could experience tremendous loss and put other people in danger.

Keep an Eye out for Dangers:  Gardening is a favorite spring pastime, but beware of potential dangers lurking in your lawn and gardens.  Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are dangerous plants that can cause life-threatening reactions in many people.  Know how to spot them and safely remove them from your property.

Also, keep an eye out for pests.  Moles, chipmunks and other small animals present little threat to your family, but if you find a nest of field mice, a litter of baby raccoons, or any other potentially dangerous animals, call the local authorities to request traps or removal services.

Insect threats are also common in the spring.  If you notice a beehive, wasp hole, or termite nest, call the exterminator or carefully remove the hazard on your own.  Wear protective gear and a mask if you are working with dangerous chemicals.  Spring is a good time for this extermination, because in many areas of the country the fledgling insects have not yet hatched or are still docile and harmless.

Don’t Overdo It:  Most people have limited physical activity during the winter.  Therefore, be extremely cautious when starting outdoor projects in the spring.  Just because you could easily lift your mower over a walkway in September does not mean that you won’t hurt yourself in April if your muscles are out of practice.

Take your projects slowly.  You do not want to spend the rest of the spring recovering from a muscle injury that could have been easily avoided.

April Showers:  The old adage is true – April showers do bring May flowers, but they can also bring dangerous conditions in some areas.  Spring storms may cause flooding or power outages.  If you live in a flood-prone area, be prepared.  Keep your basement clear and keep your belongings off of the floor as much as possible.  Most items damaged by flood waters become unsafe and need to be replaced.

Power outages are almost always uneventful, but it is best to be prepared.  Candles are an excellent source of light, but they should never be left burning unattended.  Avoid accidental fires by being vigilant when burning candles during a power outage.

Unplug your electrical equipment.  A single power surge can destroy computers and stereo equipment.  Once the power is on again, plug in only one item at a time.

Spring is a wonderful and beautiful season.  It is the perfect time to pay attention to your home and garden and ensure that the rest of your year will be free of danger.  Protect your assets against the damage caused by springtime storms and heavy rainfall that are common in many areas during April and May.  If you take preventative measures now, you can relax knowing that you have taken the necessary steps to increase the beauty and safety of your home and garden.

Planning a Garden

Garden Design

Whether you’re going to make a full scale drawing or just jot down a few notes, planning a garden should start with a few basic elements.

1. How plants will grow in the conditions of your garden.
2. How will the plant’s shape your gardens structure.
3. Qualities that add interest and excitement to the garden.

Whether you’re starting with a bare yard or improving an existing landscape, do a quick analysis of the area.

  • Determine the sunny and shady locations, including the north, south, east and west sides of your house.  Do you need more or less shade?
  • Check natural slope and drainage patterns and find out where water will collect.
  • Examine the soil and check its ability to retain or drain water.
  • Think about pathways you will need.
  • Study existing plants you might be able to utilize in a new or revitalized landscaping, either i their present location or by transplanting.

Consider the following when making your plan:

Plant Function – Where do you need windbreaks or privacy?  If you need space for outdoor activities, will you need hedges for privacy or to define spaces?

Sun and Shade – Plan for solar penetration or protection.  Deciduous trees provide summer shade and allow sun penetration during the winter.  Evergreens provide consistent, year round shade.

Visual Impact – Plan for visual points of view – what will the garden look like through favorite windows or from an outdoor seating area.

Multipurpose Plants – To get the most from your garden, use plants that serve more than one purpose.  For example, use a fruit or nut tree for a shade tree.  Many perennial herbs can double as attractive borders or ground covers.

Low Maintenance – Plan the garden for the amount of time and effort you’ll have to maintain it.  Lawns usually require the most maintenance unless you choose a type that is designed for low maintenance landscaping.  To reduce pruning chores, select slow growing plants for clipped formal hedges or plant an informal hedge.  Use narrow, upright shrubs or trees where space is limited.  Use flowering ground covers, shrubs or perennials for color.  Use annual flowers as colorful accent plants, not as the foundation of the garden.  To reduce watering chores, select drought tolerate plants.

Plant Size – Fit plants to the space you have available.  Consider the mature size of the plants when you are selecting them.  Choose plants that complement the architectural style of your house.  Use tall hedges to block unsightly views from the yard.

It’s easy to buy plants on impulse, but if you rely on impulse alone, you may end up with no more than a collection of interesting plants that neither grow well or look good in your garden.

Concentrate on the major elements first and keep the plan simple.  Some of the most beautiful gardens are a simple combination of a few trees, one or two ground covers or a lawn and a hedge of a single type of evergreen shrub to make a private spot.  After you’ve addressed the essentials, you can begin to elaborate with the special plants you enjoy – a fragrant jasmine, a border of flowers or herbs.

Basic Herbs

Miracle Grow AeroGarden

General guidelines and advice for a few basic herbs.

Rosemary doesn’t like to be moved so plant it where you plan on leaving it. Try to buy the rosemary from an herb specialist. Large, general garden centers often do not label specific varieties which come in several foliage forms and bloom in various colors such as white, pink, deep blue or light blue flowers. Plant rosemary in a 12 inch by 12 inch pot with plenty of drainage. Use a light but coarse potting soil such as a cactus soil. Then keep the soil moist but never wet by misting the plant twice a week with warm water. Feed the plants monthly with compost tea. Place the pot in a sunny south or west window.

Chives adapt well to indoor living. They need to be 9 inches to a foot from anything else. The green stems can be cut close to the ground three to four times in a season.

Thyme comes in a variety of flavors, fragrances, growth habits, hardiness ranges, and flower colors of pink, white or lilac. If you plant thyme seeds, do not be scared if you don’t see anything happen quickly because they germinate slowly. Thyme needs 6 to 12 inches from other plants and likes a sandy soil mix. Make sure you cut the plants back after they flower to promote the plant to get bushy.

Be careful because mint will take over any soil you give it. Mint likes partial shade and moisture. Mint doesn’t grow well from seed, so simply buy your mint plants at any nursery. Mint loves a 10 inch deep and 6 to 8 inch across clay pot with drainage tiles. At the end of each spring, pinch stem ends off to keep plants bushy and at the end of the season, prune the plants back to near ground level and top-dress with compost.

Basil grows easily in the ground or containers. Basil needs a soil that drains well and retains enough moisture so that it won’t wilt. Work organic material into the soil to give you the right combination. Water the herbs regularly with air-temperature water to encourage growth. Put the seedlings about 6 inches apart and then when the plants are six inches high, pinch off the tips to encourage bushier growth. Pinch off the bud of flowers as soon as they appear in order to encourage leave growth.

Cilantro produces the dried seeds called coriander. It thrives in damp, cool springs and hot, dry summers. Like most herbs, cilantro needs sunlight, well-drained soil, and plenty of compost. Cilantro does not like to be transplanted, as it has a taproot that develops quickly. Plant cilantro 4 inches apart from other plants, and give it 12 inches in depth to establish its taproot. Harvest the entire plant when they are 6 inches high if you only want the leaves. For the seeds, wait until the seeds start to ripen and then cut the plants off at the base and hang them upside down in paper bags to finish drying.

Try other herbs such as bay, garlic chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, and sage. Try a few different herbs each year to sample new fresh flavors. Enjoy the smell, look and taste of your homegrown herbs.

Grow Your Own Herbs


Growing your favorite herbs at home can be simple, fun, and year-round, providing you with seasonings, teas and even potpourri fixings all year.

First, select a spot that gets at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. Keep the herbs from direct drafts or areas where the temperature is constantly changing. Select containers by style, color, height and width that will fit in the area that you’ve chosen.

Then you will want to decide which herbs you want to grow. Do a little research on the basics of indoor herb gardens so you’ll understand the type of care that each plant will require. Then you’ll need to decide the purpose of the herbs such as are you going to eat them, make potpourri, using them for scent and/or just looking at them. Bushy perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage grow better indoors than those with soft stems such as mint and tarragon. Or if you like scented herbs, choose lemon verbena, basil, coriander and lavender.

Select a container that will hold several plants and provide good drainage. Usually clay, wood or ceramic pots work well. The containers should be at least 8 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches across for each plant. If you are planting multiple plants in a large container, simply allow 6 to 8 inches between each kind of plant. Fill the container with a premium quality, well draining potting soil mixture.

Try to buy your herbs from a nursery that specializes in herbs. Your selection will be much bigger than it will at a general nursery, and the staff will likely be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your indoor herb garden.

To transplant your herbs, gently remove the herb out of the nursery container, making sure not to damage or break the roots. The rule of thumb is transplant plants at the same depth they were growing in the nursery pots. Dig a hole in your new pot and place the herb. Push soil in around the plant.

Once the herbs have been planted and soil is pushed around them, give the herbs some water. Stand each pot in an inch of lukewarm water until the soil is moist but not saturated. After the initial watering, the herbs will probably only need to be watered once or maybe twice a week. Be careful not to over water. When the plants are actively growing, fertilize them once a week.

Make sure to clip outer leaves as you need them but always leave plenty of growth on the plant or you will drastically slow down the plant growth or possibly kill the plant.

Outdoor Entertaining

Rattan Cool Bar

If you enjoy spending time outdoors, design an outdoor entertaining area that combines style and function and brings indoor comfort outside. With added durability, new products from comfy throw pillows to trendy rugs make designing outdoor space easier than ever.

Start by determining how much outdoor space will be used for entertaining and/or lounging around on those summer days and nights. Group your outdoor furniture to maximize the purpose of the outdoor area. For example, if you entertain a lot, you can use sectional furniture that can be moved and configured to fit the size of the party. Layering accessories such as colorful trays, detailed lanterns and floral arrangements will create a cheerful centerpiece that will make your guests feel welcome.

An outdoor entertaining area lends itself to adventure. Don’t be afraid to combine colors and patterns. Be bold and step out of your comfort zone. Mix and match different colors and patterns to create an atmosphere that is both comfortable and makes a statement. Personalize your space with accents such as outdoor artwork, planters, and umbrellas.

Outdoor rugs will tie everything together and really bring life to your outdoor area. Layer a rug with your seating arrangement, colorful cushions and pillows and everyone will enjoy spending time lounging in the area.
Outdoor Dinnerware
Not all of your outdoor entertaining will be done during the day when the sun is shining. Create a delightful, welcoming atmosphere with a variety of outdoor lighting options, such as string lights, paper lanterns or floating LED candles placed around the area.

A self-service food station or bar enhances the casual tone, freeing your guests to grab refreshments whenever they please. This will also allow you, the host or hostess, to enjoy more of the fun. Look for serving and drink carts that also provide storage or have additional shelves to store extra supplies, snacks or lawn games.

Design the area you choose for your outdoor entertaining area to be comfortable and fit your lifestyle. Then everyone will enjoy the experience.

Water Ponds

Water Ponds
With more people spending their vacation time close to home, adding a water pond in your backyard can create a paradise right at home. You can relax listening to the soothing sounds of your water feature. If you wish, you can install a waterfall that ends in a pond, add some fish and plants and you have the perfect area to unwind and enjoy live.

Typically the water in many water ponds is self-contained and is re-circulated by pumps. You will need a skimmer to remove any debris that should fall into the pond to avoid clogging the filters and detracting from the pond. Algae can be the biggest problem you will have with your water ponds. There are treatments available to help you control the algae.

You first step in designing your water pond is to decide if you want a water garden or a fish pond. If you decide you want a fish pond, the most common type of fish is koi. A koi pond is usually larger than a water garden because koi can grow to be quite large and will need more room. A koi pond will also need to be deeper than a water garden. If you decide you want a water garden and fish, goldfish is an excellent selection and do well and won’t eat all your aquatic plants.

Locate your water pond close to your house so that you can enjoy the sight and sounds it will provide. Avoid placing your pond close to trees so that you aren’t consistently cleaning leaves and branches out of the water. You’ll also want to make sure and place your water pond so that run off from rain doesn’t flow into the pond. This run off may carry chemicals, fertilizers and other organic debris that could affect your plant or fish life.

Installing a water pond in your backyard can create the perfect environment for years of enjoying a peaceful and soothing atmosphere.