Sunday
Feb052017

What is Low Maintenance Gardening?

Some people would say a low maintenance plant is one that will grow and prosper with no supervision or care. I would say that is probably a weed. All garden plants, like children, require proper nourishment and training. Otherwise they may grow into thugs or else become sickly or even perish.

So even a "low maintenance" plant requires some maintenance. Shrubs and trees, when planted in the right place, generally require less than perennials and annuals. Groundcovers, when planted where their spreading habits are welcome, are also low maintenance. (Groundcovers planted in a garden bed with flowers can become nightmares.) Hellebores are an early blooming evergreen ground cover whose blooms last for months. I cut back the foliage in late winter as new growth begins. I consider them low maintenance.

If a plant needs little other than pruning once a year or less and some fertilizer in the spring, I consider it a low-maintenance plant. An occasional spray with an organic horticultural oil to kill pests, as well as watering in times of drought, is something that just comes with the territory. Mulching around plants in spring to minimize weeds, to conserve soil moisture, and to promote soil fertility is also standard care for all plants.

My low maintenance list includes shrubs such as camellias, chaenomeles, forsythia, spireas, fothergilla, viburnums, edgeworthia, azaleas, dystillium, and many more. Camellia japonica blooms in my late winter garden.

Camellia bud on an old, low maintenance camellia shrub, which delivers hundreds of blooms every year.

Dystillium is a low maintenance evergreen shrub in the woodland garden.

Forsythia is another low maintenance shrub with early blooms.My low maintenance list does not include roses. Even though most of my roses are easy-care varieties such as knock-out and drift roses, they do require some spraying to minimize disease and more pruning and fertilizing through the season. My yaupon hollies are extremely durable, and I have never fertilized them; I would almost call them low maintenance, except that they require pruning in late winter and late summer to maintain their size and shape. 

Annuals, perennials, and vegetables are not low maintenance. Most require regular fertilizing, dead-heading or pinching back, and spraying for disease and bugs. Did I mention weeding? Plants in pots require more watering. I have some of all of these, but only as accessories. Flowering shrubs and trees are the backbones of my huge garden; while many of my plants are low maintenance, I would not call my garden that, because of the size of it. You should plant a garden only as large as you have time and energy to maintain.Autumn fern in the foreground and Camellia japonica 'Gunsmoke' in the background are low maintenance plants in the woodland garden.

I love gardening. For me, garden maintenance is about maintaining my own well being. The lessons of birth and death and rebirth, and all the forces in-between, are revealed in a garden. The spiritual power at work in a garden can comfort a broken mind or refresh a tired body. I don't mind the maintenance.

 

Sunday
Jan222017

Flowering Quince for Early Blooms

In my Alabama garden, Flowering quince, or Chaenomeles, begins blooming in January on leafless stems, and the blooms continue for at least two months. In cooler regions, blooming begins later, in February or March. The brilliant blossoms are always a welcome harbinger of spring.Sometimes my blooms get zapped by hard frost, but more flowers quickly appear. Edible 2" fruits follow the blooms, though they are seriously sour-tasting. The fruits do make good jelly, however.

Not only is this the first shrub to bloom in my garden each year, but it also is among the most durable of my shrubs. When we moved here in 1985, we found several quinces buried under weeds and vines on a hillside next to the drive. I was alerted to their presence by the colorful blooms that peeked through the brush.We decided to move them to a better location. It wasn't an easy transplant. They apparently had been on that hillside for a very long time; their roots were deeply embedded in the clay and almost hopelessly ensnared by their environment. We hacked out as much of them as possible and moved the shrubs to an area bordering the front lawn. Released from bondage and with better soil, they have flourished ever since with minimal care. Once established, they have proven to be drought-resistent. One year they were attacked by white flies, but they responded well to a good spray of horticultural oil.

Chaenomeles speciosa is a deciduous shrub that grows from 5-10' tall and wide. A spiny tangle of branches makes good hedges, screens and security barriers. After blooming, it is not showy, but its mass of green leaves provide nice structure for the garden.

Flowering quince will grow in USDA hardiness zones 4-9 in a wide range of soils, though it does best in slightly acid, loamy soil. It needs full sun for best flower production, but it will also grow in partial shade. 

Chaenomeles japonica and various hybrids are also available. Some of these lack thorns, are fruitless, or are smaller in habit than speciosa. Different varieties produce blooms in shades of red, pink, salmon, orange, or white, and some are noted for their gorgeous double blooms. Use cut branches for beautiful indoor flower arrangements.

Flowers are produced on the previous year's growth.To promote flowering and maintain shape and size, prune in spring after flowering is finished, removing some of the oldest branches down to the ground and cutting others back by a third or more, staggering cuts to maintain a natural appearance. Then apply a layer of compost or else use a slow-release fertilizer.

Flowering quince is a wonderful plant for wildlife, providing both food and shelter for birds and other critters. It is noted to be deer-resistant.