Creating a Low-Maintenance Garden

Creating a Low-Maintenance Garden

What to expect with low-maintenance landscaping

When we’re consulting with clients about their goals for new landscaping projects, by far the most requested characteristic is “low-maintenance”. But keep in mind that “low-maintenance” doesn’t mean “no maintenance”, so there’s still some work involved in keeping your lawn and garden looking great all season long.

If you’re looking to minimize the amount of work your lawn and flowerbeds need, we’ve got some tips that will allow you to spend more time enjoying your outdoor living spaces and less time maintaining them.

The Low-Maintenance Lawn

It may surprise you to learn that your lawn generally requires a lot more time to maintain that gardens do. Weeding, feeding, seeding, sodding, cutting, trimming, and watering all repeatedly require time, effort, and resources.

As such, the first thing we recommend doing is considering how much lawn you need for your lifestyle. While grass-covered turf does offer certain environmental benefits like absorbing toxins and carbon dioxide, other landscaping options can be just as beneficial. Chances are you can drastically reduce the amount of grass in your yard and replace those areas with other, much lower-maintenance elements.

One sure-fire way to reduce high-maintenance grass is to add some hardscaping to your yard. In addition to your driveway, porch, and deck, you might consider expanding your living space with a stone patio, fire pit area, and/or walkways. Adding crushed stone and pavers to high-traffic areas can significantly reduce maintenance while improving draining and weed control.

Low-maintenance garden and armour stone retaining wall and patio

Trees

Large trees may require some maintenance in the form of trimming and/or raking leaves, but they offer many aesthetic and environmental benefits.

If you plan to add trees, give them a wide skirt of exposed earth (out to the drip line) and mulch well. This not only looks good, but furthers the reduction of grass that would otherwise need to be maintained.

Plant Selection

We’re fortunate to have myriad options when it comes to plants, flowers, and shrubs. However, if your goal is low-maintenance landscaping, you’ll want to be selective.

First and foremost, you can ensure the lowest maintenance gardens by choosing plants that are native to your region. These plants thrive in your region’s climate and soils, and historically have grown in the wild with no one but Mother Nature maintaining them. So you can bet they’ll thrive in your garden without too much attention.

Favour perennials over annuals. While the latter tend to be showier, they require more maintenance (deadheading and watering) and need to be replaced every year, adding both time and expense to your gardening requirements. To add pops of colour to your porch and patio but keep maintenance manageable, plant annuals in large containers.

Native plants are naturally low-maintenance

It’s important to consider sun exposure when selecting plants – both annuals and perennials – for gardens and planters. Shade-loving plants will become scorched in anything other than morning sunlight. Sun-lovers planted in the shade will not reach their full potential and will get “leggy” reaching for the sun.

While it’s visually appealing to choose a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures, be sure to select plants for your garden that have similar needs. This will help you avoid having to care for plants individually, permitting you instead to apply what maintenance is required to all plants in your garden.

Beautiful plants come from healthy soil. Soils that are rich in nutrients with good drainage and low competition from weeds will foster healthy plants without much assistance.

Good quality compost adds a wide range of nutrients and healthy bacteria to soil, and can also ensure appropriate drainage. Peat moss can also improve drainage but has an acidic pH. Raised beds also drain better than those dug down into the ground. Finally, a thick layer of mulch will help reduce watering requirements and minimize weed growth. Topped up every spring, mulch also feeds the soil and adds a polished look to flower beds and gardens.

Here in Southwestern Ontario, our outdoor living season is short, so maximize enjoyment by minimizing your work. Consider where you spend the bulk of your time and effort outside and determine ways to reduce or eliminate it so you can spend more time basking in our summer weather, while it lasts.

Retaining Walls, Pathways, and Patios – Oh My!

Retaining Walls, Pathways, and Patios – Oh My!

Enhance the comfort and beauty of your yard with hardscaping

Hardscaping is probably not a term you use very often, but it’s actually a common facet of landscaping. In fact, you probably have some hardscaping elements in your yard.

The “hard” in hardscaping refers to the non-living or inanimate elements in a yard’s layout. In contrast, “softscaping” includes all living matter including plants and flowers, trees and shrubs, plus soil, mulch, and of course grass.

Natural stone, wood, gravel, concrete (precast and pour-in-place), interlocking brick, and composite are the most common hard materials used in the creation of fencing, retaining walls, waterfalls, ponds, patios, pathways, and more.

Standard inclusions in virtually any property are walkways, a driveway, decking, and fencing. However, many home owners opt to upgrade at some point, either to add new features to their existing landscape or simply to update outdated elements.

So how do you decide what features to add or change and which materials to use? When we consult with our clients, we consider several variables including specific goals, personal style, the style of the home and surroundings, and budget.

One of the primary goals that hardscaping can help address is added privacy. You can achieve this by adding a fence line or panels, a wall(s) or even just creating a privacy screen on one or both sides of your deck or patio. To soften the overall appearance, consider combining hardscaping elements with tall shrubs or ornamental grasses that can also enhance privacy.

Another common goal is expanding outdoor living space. Options here are dependent on available space and budget, and can range from a small deck to a multi-tiered patio with an entertainment area, bar, built-in kitchen, pool, pond, waterfall, and/or fire table with seating.

Natural stone retaining walls are a great solution for adding depth and visual interest, or dealing with a steeply graded yard or uneven grading around the perimeter. Armour stone is a popular choice for creating retaining walls as they are large, but natural and create visual impact.

Pathways to and around your home can add visual appeal and can also create visual separation and definition of gardens. Although poured concrete is the standard for walkways between the driveway and front entrance, explore other options like flagstone, interlocking brick, decorative pavers, or even materials generally relegated to the backyard like wood or composite.

If there are areas around your home where grass doesn’t thrive due to inadequate drainage or poor sun exposure, adding gravel and stepping stones can improve the appearance while also making navigation around those areas easier.

A couple caveats before you get started

  1. Even if you plan to add hardscaping in phases – say, the patio first, and then a pond and retaining walls over the next couple years – it’s best to create the whole plan at the outset so that you can be sure everything will work together when the entire project is completed. Short-term oversights can lead to long-term headaches.
  2. Think about drainage and environmental issues when adding immovable objects like a patio or a wall. Consider incorporating a means of collecting runoff water for use around your yard.
  3. Balance is best. You can create contrast with various sizes and shapes. Use two to three different complementary materials in your project. And most importantly, don’t overdo it with hard elements in your yard. Mix hardscaping with softscaping for best results.
  4. Ensure your design is appropriate for your lifestyle. If you have young children, maintaining an open, grassy area is probably a good idea. If you’re older and want a low-maintenance yard, you might opt for more hardscaping and drought-tolerant plants.
  5. Choose the right materials for your style. Whether your taste is modern, traditional, or somewhere in between, some materials are going to suit your style better than others, so choose carefully.

Hardscaping can add so much beauty to your yard and enjoyment to your outdoor living space. Just be sure to plan ahead for best results. Of course, sometimes it’s all just too daunting. A Touch of Dutch Landscaping and Garden Services can consult with you to create and implement a plan and design that meets your needs and fits your budget. Contact us to get started.

Planning and Design Tips for Your Garden

Planning and Design Tips for Your Garden

When it comes to garden design, many people know what they like when they see it, but just don’t know how to transform their garden from its current state to what they envision. There’s a lot to consider – your preferred style, available space, soil type, irrigation, sun exposure, and maintenance expectations.

Gardens take time, energy, and money to establish and maintain, but starting with a plan can help minimize ongoing cost and effort. When customers call A Touch of Dutch Landscaping & Garden Services we create a plan that incorporates all of the aforementioned considerations. But if you’d like to create a plan of your own, here are some tips for creating something that will work for you and your outdoor space.

Understand Your Space

While we recommend you have at least a general idea of the space you’re working with, many find it helpful to draw or map out the space to get an idea of square footage, nearby elements, sun exposure, and more.

If you are making over an existing garden, consider what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Regardless of whether you’re updating or starting from scratch, think about the location of the garden. Is it against a fence or wall, around a porch, deck, or patio, or will it be exposed on all sides? You’ll want to select plants in a range of sizes to add dimension, and whose height and width will be appropriate for the size of the garden without contributing to a too-sparse or overcrowded appearance.

Understand Your Style

One of the worst times to decide on your style is probably when you’re at a garden centre or nursery. Everything on display is typically in season at that time and so their showy foliage and/or blooms are competing for your attention. Instead, make note of designs that you’re drawn to.

Whether you’re using magazines, Pinterest, or Houzz, or even out and about in your own neighbourhood. Take pictures or jot down notes about general styles and specific elements that you like. This practice really helps inform your plan, so that when you go shopping for plants, you don’t get swayed by some pretty shrub that’s not remotely close to what you’re after.

Understand Your Maintenance Threshold

Maybe you’re a green thumb. But, maybe you’re not. While some amount of maintenance is required for every garden, regardless of style or size, there are ways to minimize the amount of upkeep required to ensure a landscaping project continues to thrive, long term.

If you’re updating an existing flowerbed, consider which individual plants require the most maintenance and get rid of them. When planning for new garden elements, be aware of drought tolerance, sun exposure requirements, standard height and width projections, preferred soil types, and what else is or will be planted in the space. If you make poor plant choices, keeping them alive is going to require more effort than you might be willing to expend. Things like extra watering, fertilization, amending the soil, and trimming might be added to your to-do list on a regular basis.

When you’re putting your plants in the ground, consider adding a layer of mulch or stones. Not only do these extra layers help keep weeds at bay, but they also add a layer of insulation to the soil, keeping warmth in while slowing down evaporation. This means both less weeding and less watering!

Understand Your Limits

If you’re short on time, energy, inspiration, or knowledge, consider leaving the design and installation to a professional landscaper. This will this ensure your project gets done in a timely manner. What’s more, your wishes will be factored into the landscape design to ensure that the end result is beautiful and done right, and meets your design standards.

If you do want to enlist the services of a landscaping company, the sooner you contact the landscaper the better. While we don’t generally start installing softscaping, hardscaping, and water features until May, planning, design, and scheduling gets underway much earlier in the year. So, by the time planting season actually rolls around, we already have much of our season planned. And weather is a big factor, too. Cold weather that persists longer than usual into the spring or that starts earlier than usual in the fall affects our schedule, as does each day of inclement weather during the season.

There’s a saying that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That’s probably as true in landscaping as it is in anything else. Having a garden plan can save you time, effort, and money, before during and after you plant. So, investing some time and effort into formulating a plan will pay off. And if you aren’t up for doing it yourself, contact us to discuss how A Touch of Dutch Landscaping & Garden Services can help you design and install the garden you’ve been dreaming of.

Add Winter Interest to Your Gardens

Add Winter Interest to Your Gardens

Most of us here in Southwestern Ontario prefer the warmer months. But when the snow falls it’s nice to still be able to enjoy your outdoor landscape, even from indoors. Visual interest in winter doesn’t have to come just from urns, wreaths, and garland that gets taken down shortly after Christmas. Hardscaping and plants provide cold-weather beauty that lasts the all season long. Below, we explore various landscaping options whose function and good looks extend well past our patio-dwelling days.


EVERGREENS

Conifers are typically top of mind when a landscaper wants to add year-round life to a garden because most keep their foliage throughout the cold months. They come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and shades of green that will compliment any home’s exterior. Some of the more popular conifers in our region are from the pine, spruce, and fir groups. And while they come from a different conifer family, cedars, cypress, and junipers, with their splayed branches, aromatic wood, and interesting bark, are also very popular.

But there’s more to evergreens than just needles and cones. Other conifer families are broad-leafed and/or fruit-bearing. These shrubs tend to have an appearance that more closely resembles a deciduous plant, but they don’t shed their leaves. Beautiful examples of broadleaf evergreens that thrive in the hardiness zones of Southwestern Ontario are Euonymous, Boxwood, and the festive favourite, Holly.

Beyond conifers, there are many trees and plants that brown or lose their leaves every year that can add structure and interest to the outdoors.

Ornamental grasses are a great example of plants that turn brow but maintain their structure through the winter and make a lovely, wispy addition to a winter landscape.

Purple Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan, Hydrangea, and Autumn Joy Sedum shed their foliage but maintain flower stalks and/or seed heads that look beautiful under a blanket of snow.

Mountain Ash, Canadian Serviceberry, and Winterberry (a popular Holly variety) are great choices for adding pops of colour to your winter landscape. Tip: Holly berries will only form if male and female plants are established together, so be sure to purchase one of each to avoid disappointment.

Many trees offer visual interest with noteworthy texture or colour. Birch trees have a white, papery bark whose beauty is revealed after it sheds its canopy of leaves in the fall.

Stems and twigs can provide bursts of colour ranging from bright green to orange and red. In our region Dogwoods are a common shrub that add vivid colour against the white snow. And a funny-looking tree with a funnier name – Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick – adds twisty, highly textural support for freshly fallen snow.


HARDSCAPING

Don’t discount stone structures and fixed furniture as difference makers where visual interest is concerned. These hardscaping elements can add colour and texture to otherwise flat terrain.


ADDITIONAL BENEFITS

Besides enhancing the beauty of your outdoor space, landscaping and hardscaping can also play more functional roles.

Attracting birds
Trees and shrubs bearing berries or situated close to suet and seed will provide nourishment for birds including Juncos, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Finches, Woodpeckers, Doves, and Sparrows. Dense, mature evergreens can also offer ideal shelter.

Privacy and windbreak
A properly situated row of evergreens ensures year-round privacy and can also act as a windbreak and natural snow fence, sheltering your yard from cold winds and drifting snow.

Beautiful, day and night
Outdoor lights aren’t just for the holidays. White mini lights can define the shape of a small tree or shrub. Consider lighting natural and hard elements with floodlights or projection lamps for a different but equally beautiful aesthetic at night.

Adding visual interest to outdoor spaces increases the appeal, value, and enjoyment of your home. As long as you’re selecting plants and varieties that are appropriate for your hardiness zone, your landscaping can help beautify your home not just in the warmer months, but throughout the year.