hydrangea
Image by Sandy Repp

Shrubs, such as hydrangeas, are generally low-maintenance plants

Easier Gardening Q&A

Easier GardeningBy Pat Curran, Horticulture Educator, Tompkins County Cooperative Extension

Question: I love to garden, but I don't have much time, and my joints aren't getting any younger either. How can I reduce garden maintenance?

Garden maintenance is a problem for all of us, regardless of age! Famous gardener and garden writer Sydney Eddison has a new book you might want to read: "Gardening for a Lifetime." Here are some suggestions: pick lower-maintenance perennials that are more self-sustaining (contact Cooperative Extension for a factsheet on this topic from a recent horticulture class). Replace small perennials with large bulky ones that can be spaced further apart. For shady areas, there are many native wildflowers and ferns that thrive without much care.

Convert a sunny flower bed to a shrub border. There are many new shrubs available. Use an occasional one with purple, gold, or variegated foliage for interest throughout the growing season. After planting young shrubs the proper distance apart (which might be 8 ft or so), mulch in between with cardboard or newspaper to keep weeds out (use woodchips on top for a better appearance). Replace the cardboard or newspaper for the first couple years as the shrubs grow. Eventually, when the shrubs get bigger and the cardboard or newspaper has rotted, plant spring-flowering bulbs or fall-flowering colchicums (or both!) between and in front of the shrubs. After the bulb foliage dies down in late June, it will be easy to remove any weeds that make it through the woodchips or shredded bark.

Other tips: use mulch in beds or around trees to help prevent weeds from germinating; hire someone to mow the lawn; avoid formal hedges that need clipping in favor of informal shrub borders; relax your standards!

For more information on gardeing, inlcuding low-maintenance gardens, consult the Cornell gardening website or call the horticultural hotline at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County at 272-2292.

Last updated October 22, 2014