Steele: Reduce landscape maintenance

Certain principles provide the easiest guide to creating a successful xeriscaped garden/landscape.

Mass planting of ornamental grasses and sturdy

Mass planting of ornamental grasses and sturdy

Although the word xeriscape is synonymous with water-wise, the principles of xeriscape go well beyond water conservation.

To me, these principles are the easiest guide to creating a successful garden/landscape.

A successful landscape is one that gives pleasure, is in harmony with natural systems, does no harm, and is easy to maintain.

In my classes and workshops, I’m increasingly emphasizing planning ahead to minimize long-term maintenance costs and yard tasks.

As winter is a good time for garden planning, here are some suggestions for reducing maintenance.


Minimize the amount of lawn. A traditionally-tended lawn gets mowed and edged 20 to 30 times a year, making it a labour intensive task.

Hard to maintain turf areas include slopes, very hot dry places, hard to water areas, hard to mow areas, on sandy soil, under trees (dense shade and tree roots).

When planting a tree or shrub in a lawn, create a wide mulched circle around it to remove growth competition from grass and to permanently protect the trunk from damage by mowing equipment.

If planting more than one tree or shrub in a lawn, link them all in a flowing, easy-to-mow-around, mulched bed.

Use a hose to lay out the shape of garden beds bordered by lawn. Then check the ease of mowing.

Use an edging such as bricks to create a barrier between garden and lawn and to run the mower wheel on, eliminating the need for edge trimming.


To minimize pruning tasks, choose trees and shrubs carefully to ensure they can grow to mature size without blocking a view, conflicting with overhead wires, or crowding out adjacent vegetation or a walkway.

Choose trees and shrubs that naturally grow to a shape you like.

Research their appearance in all seasons.

Deciduous ones will have bare branches for four to five months.

Never prune a shrub into a ball. It will produce ugly, ‘porcupine-like’ pokey twigs within a few weeks and need constant pruning—the epitome of a make-work project.


To drastically reduce weed growth and water needs, keep all bare ground covered with mulch.

Remove all weeds and make sure the ground is moist before mulching.

Avoid rock mulch.

Weed seeds and soil will inevitably blow in.

Except for screened crusher chips or pea gravel, rock mulch is very hard to weed out of.

Avoid landscape fabric, especially anywhere that you may want to dig in future to add or remove plants.

Plant maintenance

Minimize plant replacement by choosing the right plants for your conditions of light water and soil.

Group plants by water needs. Remove invasive plants.

Pest control

Remove plants that attract pests and diseases.

Plant a wide diversity of plants to attract birds and beneficial insects. They will eat any pests.

Do not use pesticidesas they also kill the beneficial insects.

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