The snow and ice and chilly days have kept me out of the garden recently, but only physically. Each time I pull in the driveway, my mind races with ideas about how to make my landscape better. If the cold weather sticks around long enough, I'll have a plan for my entire yard.
Plant selection is definitely the most important part of planning. Even though I love gardening, I am rarely able to spend as much time as I would like to working in the yard. With well-chosen plant species, my landscape will look good regardless of being neglected.
When selecting plants to add to your landscape, first look for varieties that are not dependent upon regular watering. Dragging water hoses out all summer is no fun. The first year is different - all plants need supplemental water to establish a good root system, but a well-adapted plant can make it through some hot temperatures without the garden hoses.
Also look for plants that will not have to be pruned regularly to maintain vigor. Pruning needs are a little trickier because most plants, like boxwoods and yews, are pruned only to meet human needs or likes. A perfectly squared-off hedge is aesthetically pleasing to many people, but does nothing for plant health. In fact, many plants are happier and healthier unpruned.
You can create more work for yourself if you plant something in a space that is smaller than the mature size of the plant. A shrub that can grow to 5 feet wide should be planted far enough away from other plants and structures to allow it to get that big.
Plants that require lots of fertilizer can be a drain on a gardener. There are adequate nutrients in the soil for most trees, shrubs and perennial flowers, but annual flowers and vegetables are often heavy feeders. Have your soil tested before planting to determine what the real fertility needs are and avoid spending unnecessary time making applications.
Another item to think about when selecting plants is susceptibility to insect and disease problems. There are many plants that almost attract spider mites and leaf spots and will suffer each year unless you monitor the pest and control it. I hear countless stories about people returning from vacation to find that bagworms have devastated their shrubs, or a virus disease wiped out their rose bushes.
Native plants are usually good choices for low maintenance, but sources can be limited. Cultivars, or derivatives of native plant species, are more readily available and similar to the native species. One example is purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. While the species is less commonly available for sale, one popular cultivar is called "magnus." This cultivar performs similarly to the species, but has a larger, brighter flower.
Good maintenance practices such as mowing high and mulching decrease your plants' need for care, too.
Sometimes I think we make more work for ourselves by trying to grow plants that are never going to be happy in eastern Kansas. Just do a little homework - your plant choices are in no way limited if you are looking for low-maintenance.