AgCenter: Tips to reduce summer chores

Flower beds tend to be high maintenance so limit them to reduce your work load. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Flower beds tend to be high maintenance so limit them to reduce your work load. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

By Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter horticulturist

This time of the year, most of us want to spend as little time outside in the heat as possible. Yet, we still want to keep our landscapes looking nice.

We can do things to reduce the amount of time we spend maintaining our landscapes. I think that heat indexes over 100 are definitely enough to focus our attention on reducing maintenance – and that makes this the perfect “teachable moment” on the topic.

Reduce the work

Generally the highest-maintenance parts of a landscape are the flower beds. Gardens full of colorful annuals and perennials look wonderful, and everybody craves color. But these beds must be replanted as needed, weeded, watered, groomed and protected from insect and disease problems. If you are trying to decrease the amount of maintenance your landscape requires, it’s a good idea to minimize the number and size of flower beds.

In this regard, only plant flowers in the most important places, such as close to the front entrance to your home to brighten the front landscape, focus attention on the front door and welcome visitors. Also, place flower beds around outdoor living areas where you and your family spend time outside.

Instead of planting flowers in the ground, reduce maintenance even more by planting colorful bedding plants in large containers flanking the front entrance and strategically placed on porches, decks and patios.

Lawns are another high-maintenance part of the landscape. Almost every week from April until November you are forced to drag out the lawn mower and mow the lawn whether you want to or not. Lawn areas are attractive in the landscape and are necessary for outdoor activities, but how much lawn do you really need? A smaller lawn generally means less work.

Sections of low-maintenance ground covers can reduce lawn work. Fall is a good time of year to plant reliable ground covers such as liriope (Liriope muscari), Asian jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), creeping lily turf (Liriope spicata) or monkey grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) as well as many others.

You can also reduce lawn areas by enlarging your deck or patio area and creating or enlarging beds of lower-maintenance shrubs.

Because fertilizer stimulates grass growth and increases mowing frequency, fertilize your lawn moderately if you want to keep mowing maintenance to a minimum. When you do mow, use a mulching lawn mower and save yourself the trouble of pushing the weight of the bag and having to stop and empty it periodically.

Make the right choices

Pruning can add a tremendous amount of work to landscape maintenance, and the most common reason for pruning is to control the size of plants. If you choose plants that will only grow to be the size you need, you will reduce your work substantially.

Why plant a shrub that will grow to be 8 feet tall in a location where a 4-foot shrub is needed? You will have to constantly prune the plant to keep it half the size it wants to be. Never purchase any plant – trees and shrubs in particular – without knowing or asking what its mature size will be.

Make sure you select plants that will thrive in our climate. If you’re looking for the most reliable and easiest-to-grow plants, choose those that have a long, proven track record of growing well in our state.

Evaluate the light conditions of the area before you select the plants that will be planted there. The amount of light the area receives will largely determine what will grow well there. Put a plant in a location where it is not happy, and it will be nothing but disappointing despite your best efforts at care.

To avoid mistakes in choosing plants, you must make at least some effort to learn about those you want to use. You don’t have to go back to school for this or spend hours studying gardening books. Ask questions of the staff at the nursery before you purchase a plant and check with local LSU AgCenter agents for recommendations And yes, you can even buy and use a garden reference that is appropriate for our climate.

Do what’s important

One of the most labor-saving things we do in our landscapes is use mulches extensively. Mulching is important when creating an attractive landscape and healthy plants, and it’s especially critical in reducing weeds.

A 2-to-3-inch layer of mulch should be placed over the soil in every bed in your landscape. It’s well worth the cost and effort. Not only is it your best defense against weeds, but mulches also conserve soil moisture by slowing evaporation from the soil surface.

Weeding and watering are major gardening jobs, and the more we reduce the effort needed to do them, the better. Mulches definitely help with this. And don’t forget to replenish mulch as it decomposes in existing beds.

Although a landscape will always require a certain amount of regular maintenance, it should not be a burden to you. Remember, you can do many things to make it easier.

 

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