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Let's be honest. Most of us enjoy looking at gardens a lot more than maintaining them. And why not? The fact is that summers in the South are long, hot, sticky, and buggy. So when faced with the choice of weeding, watering, and being stung by fire ants or relaxing on the sofa in air-conditioned bliss, most of us choose the latter.

But reducing garden maintenance isn't just a question of comfort. For many of us, it's also an issue of time. Free time is precious in households where both spouses work outside the home. Devoting hours to hand-watering and dead-heading isn't always time well spent.

Fortunately, you can create the garden you want without burying yourself in upkeep. Just consider the following suggestions:

  • Don't plant more garden than you can easily care for. This is a common mistake that beginning gardeners make. If you find yourself getting up an hour before dawn to water the hydrangeas or neglecting family duties to keep the roses sprayed, your garden is probably too big.
  • Choose plants that are well adapted to your climate, especially native plants. You'll have less watering, fertilizing, and spraying to do. If time is limited, limit your palette. Also, group plants that require similar growing conditions.
  • Plant in masses. This simplifies maintenance by reducing variety and allowing you to treat large areas the same. Mass planting also discourages weeds.
  • Avoid invasive plants that spread by seed, bulblets, or roots.
  • Install an irrigation system if you can afford it.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn. People spend more time on lawn care than on any other gardening activity. Devote more space to ground covers, mulch, and natural and paved areas.
  • Forget about large beds of roses or vegetables and long, clipped hedges.
  • Mulch planting beds. Mulch conserves soil moisture so you won't have to water so often. It also discourages weeds.

After following all the above suggestions, there will be time for a tall glass of lemonade and chance to read that new gardening book you have been neglecting. (Source: Southern Living Landscape Book)

Shirley Watson, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


While all types of gardens require a bit of maintenance, careful planning, site preparation and plant selection can significantly reduce the amount of time required to keep a garden looking lovely. A plan should be made of the size and shape of the garden and the type and size of plants that are desired. If the soil conditions are not known, a soil sample should be sent for analysis to the local extension office with specific information about the type of plants to be grown at the location. The soil should be amended as indicated by the results of the soil analysis and made ready for the new plants.

Only those plants that are native or well-adapted to the area and which conform to the plan of the garden should be selected. If, for instance, the gardener wants an evergreen shrub with a mounding habit and a height limit of 3', plants that tend to exceed that height or have a tendency to grow vertically should not be selected. Doing so will result in regular pruning and a dissatisfied gardener. Plants should also be chosen that thrive in the other conditions at the garden site. The type of soil (sandy or clay, alkaline or acidic, etc.) and the available sunlight (full sun, part sun, shade) are also to be considered when selecting plant material.

Shrubs with interesting and differing leaf shapes, colors and habits can contribute to the interest in the garden. Perennials that bloom at different times during the year may also bring beauty to the site without having to plant large numbers of annuals for seasonal color and further reducing the amount of time spent tending the garden. Routine maintenance such as clearing away debris, dead-heading flowers or trimming the shrubs can be reduced to a minimum by following the simple rules of planning, preparation and plant selection.

Janis Morris, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service

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