Making your garden care-less, can help you enjoy more

Published 8:30 am Sunday, May 15, 2022

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Getting steamy, time to explore ways to reduce effort, expenses, and task-time – lose some of the “beholden” part of gardening.

Other than living in a woodland—picking through poison ivy—there is no such thing as a landscape that takes care of itself. But a little redesigning and choosing good plants for the right spots can dramatically reduce unnecessary, expensive, time consuming maintenance.

Neil Odenwald, my beloved landscape professor at LSU, showed me how piling limbs and blowing leaves into neat rows to connect trees and shrubs lessened his hauling time while creating rich soil for planting ferns and other shade plants. It broke his wall-to-wall carpet of unused lawn into open pools of green connected with wide, grassy walks, while cutting his mowing time by more than fifty percent. And it all still looked good.

So last year I modified two big, necessarily open areas by covering them with materials that cost less than a new mower and now need nearly zero maintenance. One was covered with landscape fabric and topped with flat, chipped slate (could have used crushed limestone) which is weedless and easy to walk on year-round; the shaded area out back is now beautiful, practical flagstone; in both areas, sixty seconds with a leaf blower and I am done. I use smooth river rocks and metal edging strips along walks and flowerbeds to further define them and make trimming easier and neater, and to help keep grass out and mulch in.

I group all my plants, even those in containers, according to size, tolerance of sun or shade, easy maintenance, and use. Fighting the urge to personally own every flower I fancy, I rarely succumb to the allure eye-popping looks without first checking on if they will be the right size down the road, and if they will end up needing coddling, pruning, spraying, or regular replacing. If a plant in my yard becomes troublesome, or looks bad part of the year, I simply ditch it,and walk around to admire it in someone else’s garden, at their expense.

By the way, forget “plant zones” which are based entirely on average low winter temperatures; ours is the same as that of Seattle, which also gets occasional moderate freezes but cools down at night in the summer. Our plants also need to tolerate torrential rains, prolonged drought, insufferably hot muggy summer nights, and bad soils. And our inability to provide much attention in the summer.

I look for trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers, flowers, vegetables, and even potted plants from among the countless tried and true species we understand thrive here, both native and proven imports. Find dependable, Mississippi-hardy recommendations through MSU Extension Service or my own free lists (email me via

As for pruning, I now have only three plants that need it regularly: a round boxwood to show folks I know what to do, a holly poodled into green balls on sticks, and a crape I murder every year to get long, limber stems for my woven “wattle” fence. Takes less time than shaving. Oh, and I weed a little regularly, not all in one big huff.

A huge biggee: Stop struggling for a perfect lawn; just mow what grows, enjoy a little clover. If a HOA forces you into expensive, environmentally unfriendly chores, just hire it out.

Bottom lines, other than not starting and getting disheartened over half a dozen or more unfinished projects going at once: Less grass, mow what grows, lose plants that need coddling, group and mulch the rest in interesting combinations.

Making your garden care-less, can help you enjoy more.


Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to