Lush, colorful flower beds increase curb appeal while attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. However, these same colorful flower beds also increase the amount of time you will spend transplanting, weeding, deadheading, watering, and mulching.
Some gardeners enjoy spending time each day maintaining a vibrant flower bed, but what about the rest of us who want the benefits of a flower garden without the effort?
The key to creating a low-maintenance flower bed is working with your climate by planting flowers that thrive in your native soil and growing conditions. You can also reduce time spent on maintenance by:
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- Amending with compost each spring
- Mulching flower beds with a high-quality mulch
- Installing automatic drip irrigation
- Planting perennial flowers
Even low-maintenance flower beds require some annual upkeep. If you don’t perform basic maintenance tasks each year, the soil in your flower bed will degrade and the plants will become overgrown.
So, where do we start?
Use Native Plants to Create Low-Maintenance Flower Beds
Start your new, low-maintenance flower bed by visiting your local native plant nursery. Check with the local extension office to find nurseries in your area.
Why native plants?
Native plants are perfectly adapted to grow in your climate and soil.
This means you won’t have to pamper your flowers to get them to thrive in your new landscape bed. Besides some basic soil preparation, native plants shouldn’t need any special treatment to put down roots.
Plus, native plants have the added benefits of:
- Attracting and providing a food source for native beneficial insects and animals.
- Requiring very little supplemental irrigation.
- Being easy to find and cheap to purchase (in most cases).
- Tolerating the extremes of your climate
- Tolerating the pests in your climate
However, native plants do have one major drawback:
Now, not all native plants are boring. In fact, many native plants can be bold, striking landscape features. However, the variety of native plants depends on the nursery, and the nursery depends on financing to have a diverse variety.
The goal of a native plant nursery is to restore native landscapes and ecosystems, while the goal of landscape plant growers is to create new, colorful, vibrant, ornamental plants.
Commercial growers focus on breeding for unique flower colors, variegated leaf patterns, larger and more prolific blooms, and weeping or creeping variations of popular varieties.
Native growers focus on restoring habitats, reducing irrigation, and promoting biodiversity in the landscape. The whole point is to replicate nature, not force large, showy leaves and flowers.
The easiest way to create a low-maintenance flower bed is to plant 100% native perennial flower plants.
However, if native plants don’t give the pop of color you want for your landscape, consider using native plants as a low-maintenance backdrop for a small annual flower bed. This way, you can reduce the amount of space you have to maintain.
Annual native plants can be more colorful and require less maintenance than their perennial counterparts, but you can mix natives with traditional annual flowers, like zinnias or petunias, for a seasonal splash of color.
While native plants create flower beds that are extremely low maintenance, you can still use the following tips with traditional landscape plants to reduce maintenance in any flower bed.
Use Compost to Conserve Moisture
Compost is an all-purpose miracle amendment. Whether your soil is too dry, too wet, too loose, or too compacted, compost will fix it.
Native plants thrive in native soil, so nobody is out spreading compost on native soils.
However, native soils are exposed to different animal manures, piles of leaf litter, and annual weeds and grasses that provide organic material to the topsoil.
Landscape beds are weeded and cleaned up each season (ideally) which removes necessary organic material. And, hopefully, deer, skunks, and rabbits aren’t meandering through your flower beds leaving piles of droppings.
In order to make up for the lack of natural fertilizer and organic material in a landscape bed, you should amend the soil each year with a thin layer of compost. Compost helps to regulate moisture, improve biological activity, and provide nutrients to the plants.
A steady supply of organic matter helps landscape beds store and use water more efficiently, reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, and improve immunity against pests and diseases by creating strong root systems.
Use Mulch to Prevent Weeds
Bare soil breeds weeds. Mulch blocks sunlight and smothers germinating weed seeds.
Cut down on weeding by spreading a 3” – 4” thick layer of cedar wood chips, pine bark, pine straw, leaf litter, or grass clippings, depending on the desired aesthetic.
Mulch will break down over the growing season and turn into organic matter for the topsoil. Each spring, add a thin layer of compost to the soil followed by a new layer of mulch.
Mulch also conserves water and helps prevent drought stress, which can cut down on supplemental irrigation.
Use Automatic Drip Irrigation to Reduce Water Consumption
Drip irrigation is the most efficient method of watering a landscape.
Drip irrigation is a series of small black hoses with emitters placed directly at the base of each plant. The hoses can be covered by the mulch so they are not visible.
Emitters deliver targeted water to each plant, which ensures the landscape plants get consistent moisture. They also prevent the entire landscape bed from being saturated, which helps cut down on the amount of weed seeds that germinate.
Use a timer to automate irrigation (link to Amazon). If you’re not sure how much to water your flower bed, err on the side of too dry, and add time if the plants look too dry.
Set the system to run once or twice per week for a few hours. This puts water deep into the soil and encourages roots to grow down to reach it, which helps them endure drought conditions in the future.
Plant Perennials to Save Time
Perennials come back year after year, so the more perennials you use, the less time you have to spend planting in the spring.
The downside to perennials is that they aren’t as showy as annuals, so you may want to compromise and plant a perennial backdrop to a small annual bed. This lets you add a small pop of color each year without the hassle of replanting an entire flower bed.
Perennials are also less sensitive than annuals, so they are less likely to have pest problems. Plus, each year they grow a larger root system, which results in more topgrowth the following year. So, perennials will gradually fill in and create more full, colorful landscapes.
Native landscape plants are the key to truly low-maintenance flower beds, but healthy garden practices will reduce maintenance in any landscape bed.
For more information on creating new, thriving landscape beds, read Thriving Yard’s articles on how to make an active compost pile, how to improve clay soil, and how to start a small garden.
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