By Chris Cohan

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could enjoy an attractive, colorful garden without spending all your free time working at it? It can be done. All it takes is some know-how about the right plants and techniques. Find out about easy-care trees, shrubs, and perennials before you plant, and you’ll save time and money well into the future.

Five Lazy Principles

  1. Choose plants that are known to be reliable and problem-free for your garden and ones that won’t outgrow the space you are working with.
  2. Reduce the size of your lawn or eliminate it entirely.
  3. Prepare the soil well before planting, so plants get a strong start.
  4. Mulch to reduce weeds and conserve soil moisture.
  5. If watering is a necessity, install an automatic system or drip line.

Right Plant, Right Place

Considering the dizzying array of choices available at nurseries, choosing the best will require a little research. Start by making a list of plants you like. Consult gardening books, magazines and, go back and read The Rye Record gardening columns for answers (a bit of self-promotion).

A common mistake is to choose plants that look right on planting day, and then rapidly outgrow their space, creating a continual maintenance headache. Unlike static architecture that looks best the day it is finished; a landscape design should look best about five years later.

Look for compact varieties of well-known plants. Many favorites, such as spirea, spruce and holly are now available in compact forms that will suit the scale of smaller gardens. It costs more for growers to raise dwarf varieties because they usually grow more slowly than their full-size cousins, but the extra initial cost pays off over time because such plants need minimal if any pruning.

Named varieties resist pests and diseases that plague the common species. ‘Prairie fire’ Crabapple is resistant to both apple scab and fire blight, and ‘Carefree Delight’ Rose is rarely troubled by black spot, a common rose disease and Miss Lingard Phlox for early season white and Glamour Girl for late season strong pink, both native, attract butterflies and powdery mildew resistant. Choosing disease-resistant varieties will result in fewer pests, and ultimately this translates into lower maintenance.

Some Practicalities

There’s no real trick to proper plant spacing. If a plant’s mature width is 3 feet, it needs about half that distance all the way around. But if your plants are slow-growing or if you want them to grow together and look as one eventually, space them closer. This will also minimize weeds in ground cover.

Mulch is a very effective weed deterrent. If a weed sprouts through the mulch, it is easy to pull with roots intact. Spread a 3-inch layer of shredded bark mulch between the plants. Shredded bark, as opposed to nuggets or chips, provides the best coverage. Mulch adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. It also shades the soil in summer and insulates it in winter. Add a light topdressing of mulch at the beginning of each season to provide coverage and freshen up your beds.

Even if plants require minimal maintenance, water and fertilizer are still essential. A drip irrigation system on a timer eliminates the need to stand with a hose or to move sprinklers around. Watering for a long time occasionally is healthier for plants than a lot of water over a short period. Invest in a drip or soaker hose, drip irrigation or more elaborate system. Since most of the water goes underground, drip irrigation cuts down on weed growth, particularly in dry summer. Water early before sunrise to ensure most water goes to plants and doesn’t evaporate.

Enriching the planting hole will ensure a healthier plant. Start by saving topsoil, then mix with homemade compost, peat moss if your soil is heavy, or scavenged topsoil from a corner of yard. My favorite additive is the cleanings from gutters, packed downspouts and drain traps. This source is usually full of worms and their casings which plants like. Use the remaining soil to create a moat to retain water around trunk. To make fertilizing a snap, use an organic slow-release fertilizer where one application can last an entire season.

For fencing and garden benches, use cedar or other rot-resistant wood. No paint, stain, or fuss when you let it weather naturally.

There you have it. Now back to the hammock.