Entries in low maintenance gardening (2)


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.



Fothergilla: A Shrub For Year Round Interest

I was smitten the first time I ever saw fothergilla. I bought it early one summer for its leathery, blue-green leaves. Fothergilla is deciduous, and that fall I was delighted when those leaves turned first to buttery yellow and then through shades of orange, scarlet, and purple.The next spring I experienced the delightful form and honey fragrance of its showy, bottlebrush type flowers.The flowers appear from April to May on branch tips just as new leaves are unfurling. Fothergilla truly is a shrub with multi seasonal interest.

Fothergilla is also called witch-alder, and it is in the same family with witch hazel. It is easy to see the resemblence, especially in the leaf stucture. There are two forms of fothergilla, both native to the Southeast from North Carolina to southern Alabama and into parts of Florida. Fothergilla major grows to about ten feet.The dwarf form is Fothergilla gardeneii, growing to about three feet. There are a number of cultivars available, developed to promote the native's various characteristics. 

Given the right environment, fothergilla is an easy-care plant. It is deer resistant and relatively pest free. It grows well in full sun to partial shade. Both flowering and fall color is better with a bit more sun. Because it blooms in spring on old growth, you should prune right after it finishes blooming. If you prune later than that, you will be cutting off the next season's buds. Generally, it doesn't need much pruning, except to remove unwanted suckers around the base or to remove dead wood.This fothergilla major is growing in my woodland garden. It has a loose, airy form. With more sun it probably would have a denser structure. Fall color is just beginning to show in a few leaves. Growing in hardiness zones 5-9, these shrubs make great additions to the woodland garden and to the shrub border. They make fine specimen plants. They do well in the same environment as rhododendrons and azaleas, and they like moist, well-drained, acidic soil. Their roots should be kept cool, and I add pine straw mulch around the base of mine each spring. Newly planted specimens should be watered weekly, more often in very hot weather.

Fothergilla doesn't get the press it deserves and is under appreciated. When I mention it, many people have never heard of it. It is not always easy to find, but species plants as well as beautiful cultivars are available. It is worth the search.