Through the years we have learned that many people don’t exactly understand how we create low maintenance landscaping. Billings Landscaping, LLC has been installing low maintenance landscaping whenever possible for many years. The concept is very simple to understand, but there are some details that should be considered in order for you landscape to be truly low maintenance.
In this article, I will attempt to explain how to do low maintenance landscaping. I will address the materials required; the process to follow during installation; and attempt to give some helpful tips. These trade secrets are our gift back to the community. We hope you find them helpful!
Materials required for low maintenance landscaping
- Commercial Grade Landscape fabric. Typically woven 4 mil fabric is adequate. Use heavier, more expensive black landscape fabric if you plan on driving a skid steer over it, otherwise, I recommend the light grey 4 mil fabric. You can’t buy this stuff at Home Depot or Lowes. Instead, you will need to go to a place that supplies wholesale landscaping materials.
- Fabric Stakes. These wire stakes are about 5 inches long and C-shaped. It is wise to use plenty of them! I’ll explain more later.
- Edging. I prefer aluminum edging over almost all other types. If you decide to use plastic, definitely use the heaviest stuff you can get. I hardly ever use plastic anymore, but there are some situations where it is best. Concrete edging is fine, but be prepared to pay $6-$7 per foot as opposed to $3-$4 per foot for aluminum. Both edging materials are nice, but aluminum is much more flexible and can accommodate changes much better than concrete. And the price of aluminum always going up.
- Decorative gravel or similar. You can use common river gravel in beds, however, we recommend the more beautiful decorative gravels. Landscaping gravel like crushed limestone, gold-stone, and basalt have many benefits over other alternatives. Rainbow rock is another wonderful choice if you prefer a round, natural looking gravel. Other alternative do exist such as mulches. I’ll talk more on that later in the article.
- Drip irrigation. You will need 1/2″ poly drip pipe, drip emitters, 1/4″ spaghetti tubing, stakes to hold the tubing at the plant, and you can use the fabric stakes to stake down the 1/2″ poly tubing. You will also need plugs with removable end caps for each end of the 1/2″ poly drip tubing. You will need a pressure reducer to limit the pressure to 20 psi. You might also need some splices and tees. All of the fitting these days are shark-bite style, press on fittings. You might also want to get some emitter plugs just in case you poke a hole in the wrong place. Lastly, you will need a timer or a way to tied in to the existing sprinker system if you have one. If you don’t, the sell timers that connect to the hose bib.
- Recommended tools include a good pair of scissors, a rubber mallet for the fabric stakes, a punch for the drip emitters, a pick axe and a flat bladed shovel for the edging, a mini sledge for the edging stakes, a square ended shovel for the gravel, a tiller for soil preparation, a landscape rake for grading, and a spade shovel for moving dirt and planting shrubs. You may also want some leather gloves, hand shovels, a wheel barrow, and a medium sized tarp to catch any gravel that falls from the trailer while shoveling the the wheelbarrow.
Installation process for low maintenance landscaping
- Step 1. Install the Edging. If you are installing a new landscape, begin by putting the edging upright to get the profile you want. Then use the pick axe to score a groove where the edging will run. Then use the mini sledge to hammer it down a good 1/2″ into the soil. Use stakes to secure it in place. If you are using concrete edging, then prepare a good base and use landscaping paint to mark where the edging will go. If you are installing aluminum edging in an existing landscape, use a flat edged shovel to punch straight down, cutting a vertical edge 3″ down, then come from the other side and remove the existing sod or dirt. You want the grass to be about 1″-2″ below the top of the edging, but on the bed side you should be either flush with or 1/2″ into the dirt.
- Step 2. Prepare the soil. Remove all weeds and roots. Run the tiller through the bed. We usually add some compost during this process. Plants need three basic things to survive: food, water, and sun light. Adding compost feeds the plant, which makes them grow much faster. It also improves watering. After tilling, rake the bed with a landscape rake. Be sure to removed organic debris including roots. Use a shovel to remove dirt from the edges of the bed. Be sure to maintain positive drainage away from the home. Use rake to smooth the soil.
- Step 3. Lay the fabric. Unroll the fabric along side the bed and cut to length. Then stake along one end, pull tight and stake the other end. Be sure the fabric lays nice and relaxed on the soil. Use scissors and cut along edges. Add stakes every few feet being mindful of where plants are going. You want the fabric to reach the edges and roll up on them slightly. Staking is important because it prevents the fabric from pulling away from the edges when gravel it placed.
- Step 4. Install Plants. The key is to layout the plants where you want them. Take the scissors and cut around the plant being sure to make the hole large enough for the plant to reach full maturity. Dig the hole, tucking the soil up underneath the fabric and then pulling it back in the secure the plant. There is a lot to know about what to plant where, why, and how. You can learn more about planting perennials and shrubs in this article.
- Step 5. Install drip irrigation. Run the 1/2″ drip tubing on top of the fabric, weaving within 24″ to 8″ proximity from the plants and stake it down. Install drip emitters into the side of the 1/2″ pipe and install smaller drip tubing from emitter to plant securing it in place with a plastic stake. Connect the timer, install end caps, and test the system.
- Step 6. Place decorative gravel. Install the landscaping gravel being careful not to place gravel directly around the plants. Plant growth is stunted by landscape gravel. You will want to have 2″-3″ of gravel down. If you prepared the edges of the beds properly as explained in step 2, the gravel will easily stay inside the beds.
Q & A. Tips to consider when installing low maintenance landscaping.
What if I want to use mulch instead of landscape gravel? Mulch is considered a maintenance free landscape material. We don’t recommend using it in windy places, so it doesn’t work well in many subdivision here in Billings. If you do use mulch, I recommend shredded cedar. It seems to last the longest and stay better than other products we have tried. I have used some of the died mulches and other unique products, but my preference is natural materials. Since natural mulches brake down over time and need to be replaced, I generally prefer using decorative gravel. It is also easier to blow leaves out of the gravel.
How long will the cheap landscape fabric last? In our experience, the cheap fabric is a waste of time and won’t last more than a season or two even. On the other hand, we are going by what we have seen, not what we have done. If we installed it professionally, it might last longer. I know that even the lighter 3 mil fabric doesn’t hold up nearly as well. Landscaping is really hard work. The biggest expense is the labor, so it is best to use materials that last. Remember that in landscaping, fixing what was done wrong takes nearly twice as much work as doing it right the first time.
What if I want plants to grow all over the ground? In low maintenance landscaping, you can achieve this effect by using ground covers the vine out over the landscape rock. You can control the size of the ground covers by using the landscaping fabric.
What if I don’t want to use drip irrigation? There are ways to get around using additional water in a low maintenance landscape. The style of landscaping that using native plants without using additional watering is called Xeriscaping. Xeriscape landscaping is techniques require some compromises but can be a very effective way to get an awesome landscape that requires little to no watering. The catch is that you will be limited a highly drought tolerant plants and shrubs. Yucca is an example of a Xeriscape plant. A good designer can capture water downspouts and channel it to strategically placed shrubs that require more water but are necessary to help place the home on and in the landscape.
Can I used regular crushed gravel? You can, but we don’t recommend it. The cheap crushed gravel is not washed enough to use in beds. You can get away with it if you wash it really good before placing it, but expect to have some weeds. It sometimes only takes 1/16″ of dirt/sediment for a weed to grow. We think it is worth the extra money to purchase decorative gravel.
What kind of maintenance do I need to do to my plants? Some plants do require more maintenance than others, but most varieties that do well here in Billings are fairly low maintenance. The real difference is that by pruning and caring for you plants, you get better blooms, nicer stemming, and a better shape. If you love roses, but don’t want the maintenance, try double knockout rose shrubs. With roses and other flowering perennials, it is great to deadhead the old buds, but it isn’t necessary.
What kind of maintenance can I expect with low maintenance landscaping? You will need to blow out leaves and debris periodically. You may want to trim some of the shrubs and perennials, but not really much in the first couple years. You might need to take some precautions to prevent damage from wildlife. Native grasses need to be cut down each fall to allow for new spring growth. And once you landscape has matured, you might need to trim and shape some of the shrubs every year. In the winter, you will need to drain the drip irrigation. Otherwise there really isn’t much to it.