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10 tips for a low maintenance garden

From Sarah's garden to yours

1. Grow what you love
Gardens are personal spaces and as such should reflect your personality. If you fill your garden with plants you love, you will be drawn to spending time in it. Caring for it becomes a joy and a labour of love, instead of a tedious chore that needs to be done, on a par with housework. A well-loved garden can bring many benefits for health and wellbeing to the gardener and anyone who visits.

2. Grow what suits your environment
There are many beautiful plants out there and it is easy to be tempted at the garden centre. However, not every plant is suited to your garden. No matter how much you try, if your environment isn’t favourable the plant will struggle to thrive. Understanding your conditions and what that means for the plants that go in your garden will help you to make realistic decisions in the garden centre, especially when you compare that knowledge with the specific needs of the plants you are considering. Matching the two will give you a garden full of happy healthy plants without the struggle of trying to keep them looking at their best.

3. If a plant is a pest or disease magnet, stop growing it.
Some plants seem to attract problems more than others. This can work to your advantage as a trap plant, drawing the problems away from your more desirable plants. However, if you find you are always reaching for the pest spray or have a disease-prone plant that is a favourite or a feature plant, take the hassle out of your garden care routine and pull it out. There will be hardier plants available that can take its place and reduce the time you need to worry about your garden problems.

4. Set up irrigation on a timer
A well-watered garden gives a lush verdant look. However, giving the garden the water it needs, especially in the height of summer, can be time consuming. The ideal time to water is in the early morning or early evening to reduce loss through evaporation. If you struggle to find the time to water often or water well, install irrigation and plan the perfect watering routine with a timer or water computer. This also has the added advantage of reducing over or under watering, so the plants stay healthy, and water isn’t wasted.

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5. Mulch well
Mulching the garden is beneficial when creating a low maintenance garden. Not only will this contribute to the low maintenance required by retaining moisture and keeping weeds down, but it can influence the look of the garden by providing a nice backdrop to offset the plants. Mulch can be organic materials like bark or wood chips, pea straw or even a good thick layer of compost. You could also choose a layer of decorative stones or gravel chips. Avoid weed matting as it is detrimental to soil health and the environment. Always apply mulch after the soil has been deeply watered to lock in moisture. It may need topping up from time to time to refresh the protection and the appearance.

6. Have structures in place to keep plants looking nice.
Plants are often the first thought when deciding what makes your garden a special place, but they needn’t be the only stars. A structure or feature such as a water feature, a brightly painted arch, or a statue or sculpture can help to provide interest all year round. The supports and trellises required to hold plants in place don’t need to be purely functional, they can be beautiful too. Well placed features can bring vitality to the garden, especially in winter when many of the plants fade away.

7. Check the garden often
It doesn’t take much for a garden to get out of hand with weeds and overgrown plants if it isn’t tended often. Don’t wait until you need a full weekend to sort out the garden. Like so many things in life, it is much easier to keep a garden in shape with a ‘little and often’ approach. Do a daily wander when you are relaxing, and pull small weeds and deadhead flowers as you go. This helps you to be present in the garden and notice everything going on from the new buds or delicious fragrance of a fresh bloom to the appearance of weeds or a cluster of aphids. Taking care of problems as soon as you see them is much easier to manage, and will help you feel more on top of your gardening.

8. Give plants the space they need
Plants have their own sense of space to grow to their full potential, so when planting small plants bear this in mind. Always check how high and how wide a plant will grow and give them what they need - if crammed in too close all of the plants will struggle. It is also sensible to choose plants that will grow to fit the space and not become over or under whelming.

9. Plant things that will give seasonal interest
Make sure your plant choices include something special for each season. It can be tempting to go out to the garden centre at the first sign of spring and buy enough plants to fill the garden, only to find once the season transitions into summer there is little interest remaining. Instead, go to the garden centre often throughout the year and add plants to the garden that will add interest for that season. While this may not sound like a ‘low maintenance’ strategy, an incremental approach will keep those big jobs at bay. You are also likely to find more interesting plants and ideas each time you visit, and many garden centres also have a café for refreshment or socialising while you are there! A good garden plan can help to provide a cohesive look throughout the entire year.

10. Feed often with a food suited to the plant
A happy plant is a healthy plant. There is an expression ‘spend a penny on the plant and a pound on the hole’ which means before planting anything make sure the soil is a well prepared home for the plant. Once the plant is established, regular feeding with a general fertiliser is a good plan for most, but some plants prefer a specific type of plant food to keep them looking at their best. Take the time to find out what nutrients your plants need to keep them thriving and healthy.

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