Love your garden but don’t have time to look after it? Our low maintenance garden ideas are the solution, allowing you to do more of the things you enjoy in it and less of those that you don’t. If you’re starting from scratch, a low-maintenance garden is a fairly easy goal to achieve, but if you’re struggling to keep on top of what you’ve already got, don’t worry. It’s just a question of working out which gardening tasks currently take up a lot of your time and effort, and which you least enjoy doing, and then finding ways to either ditch those jobs altogether, or at least to minimise the time you need to spend on them.
There are bound to be some garden tasks you find really rewarding but that are nevertheless quite time-consuming, so start by making a ‘priorities list’ of jobs you’re happy to continue with. Do you love growing your own veg, for example? To give you more time for that, other garden tasks need to be streamlined or simplified.
Keep reading for our top tips on how to make your garden easy to look after, then head to our garden design ideas gallery for more inspiration.
1. DITCH THE LAWN
Keeping a lawn looking good is arguably the most time-consuming of all garden jobs. Replacing it with hard landscaping is an option, but there are more ecologically sound alternatives. You could consider having just a small area of short grass in the most formal area of garden and leaving the rest to become wilder and more natural, for example – all you then need to do is mow it just once a year at the end of summer.
Replacing fine turf or very poor grass with a hard-wearing seed or turf mix is a possibility too. Both high-quality turf and very poor turf need aerating, scarifying, feeding and regular mowing to keep them looking good, whereas more durable lawn mixes labelled as ‘amenity’, ‘multi-purpose’ or ‘hard wearing’ are much more able to look after themselves.
Or how about a green alternative to grass that always looks neat and never needs mowing? A sedum, thyme or even a chamomile lawn are all worth considering and are tough enough to be walked on. They are hardy too, so will look good all year round.
If you do want to keep your whole lawn area regularly mown and you don’t mind splashing out a little, a robot lawn mower will do all the work for you. It can be programmed to head out at pre-set times, before taking itself back to its charging station when it’s finished – and you don’t even need to be at home at the time.
2. Go for gravel
If you decide to replace your lawn with hard landscaping, be sure you choose a permeable surface that allows rainwater to drain away safely. This is especially important in front gardens, where there are now laws that restrict how much of the space can be changed to hard landscaping (this is to ensure less surface water drains onto roads, potentially causing flooding). Gravel is a good, low-maintenance option for attractive, permeable hard landscaping and can look wonderful with sun-loving plants in or around it. But be sure to use a weed-suppressing membrane underneath it to ensure upkeep is minimal.
3. CUT DOWN ON WATERING
Even the keenest of gardeners will admit that having to water once, and sometimes twice, a day at the height of summer can become very tedious. Cutting down on the number of plants in pots you have will instantly reduce watering time as these dry out so quickly. And if your garden soil tends to bake dry, as often happens with clay, see it as a plus point rather than a negative. Instead of trying to keep it moist, fill it with drought-tolerant plants that will thrive without additional watering instead – try eryngiums and lavender, for example. Check out our guide to garden hoses for our pick of the best.
4. GO AUTOMATIC
If you do have some plants that need watering on a regular basis, installing an automatic watering system could save you hours of time every week, not to mention cutting down on the amount of water that gets wasted. Kärcher, best known for their pressure washers, have a good range of auto-watering devices, such as the easy-to-programme Kärcher Watering Unit WT 4. Watering starts and stops automatically at preset times, and the water won’t flow unless it’s actually needed so there’s no waste.
5. CONSIDER YOUR BOUNDARIES
If you have a wooden fence around the perimeter of your garden, it will need treating and/or replacing every few years to keep it looking good and to prolong its lifespan: a very time-consuming exercise. But there are other options that are virtually maintenance-free. Try Kedel’s Recycled Plastic Fence Pales, for example, which are available in bright colours as well as in more traditional black and brown.
A hedge can make a very environmentally friendly perimeter, and if you choose a slow-growing species – such as holly – just a very occasional light clipping will be enough to keep it in check. Avoid fast-growing species like leylandii at all costs, or you’ll find yourself with hedge trimmers constantly in your hand – although if you do need one, you can find out best picks in our hedge trimmers buying guide.
6. DECK IT OUT
Decking makes an attractive, hard-wearing surface for seating areas and is a good replacement for labour-intensive patches of lawn. But if it’s wooden, it’s by no means maintenance-free. Wood lookalikes are the perfect solution. Trex decking, for example, is manufactured from recycled material, and resists fading, staining, scratching and mould. It won’t rot, warp, crack or splinter and just a simple soap and water cleaning every now and again is all that’s needed to keep it looking like new for years.
7. GIVE YOURSELF AN EDGE
Nothing makes a garden look tidier than neat edges – in fact, you can get away with no end of untidiness in the borders so long as the edges are neatly trimmed! But edging with a strimmer or half-moon spade takes a lot of time, and life will be a lot easier if you install permanent edging that you can mow right up to or over. These days, there are lots of styles and materials to choose from. Try the Roman Stone Effect Border from Waltons for example – it’s made from recycled tyres and allows you to install it in either straight lines or curves.
8. RIGHT PLANT, RIGHT PLACE
A plant that’s happy because it’s planted in conditions that suit it perfectly will need far less cosseting, and so will take up far less of your time, than one that’s struggling to thrive in a less-than-ideal situation. Establishing what sort of soil you have before you choose plants is vital (remember that even in the same garden, this can vary from one bed or border to another). You may have clay or sandy soil, and it may be acid or alkaline – all of these determine the most suitable plants to grow in it. And when you're thinking of investing in new plants, be sure to check their eventual height and spread too – constantly having to cut them back to keep them in their allotted space is a huge time-waster.
9. SIMPLIFY YOUR PLANTING PALETTE
Including a huge range of different plants in every border is inevitably labour intensive because each one will need your attention at a different time, whether that’s for staking, deadheading, pruning, or disease and insect control. A restrained planning palette, on the other hand, with swathes or drifts of the same species or variety repeated though the border, not only looks fantastic but allows you to deal with all the plants in one fell swoop.
10. GO GREEN
No plant can be said to be entirely maintenance free, but evergreens certainly come close – and a border full of lush evergreen plants can look amazing. Try jungle-like Fatsia japonica, for example, or dainty Euonymous fortuneii. To keep things interesting, mix in some low-maintenance perennials like hardy geraniums. Geranium macrorrhizum ‘White-Ness’ looks especially good against a backdrop of dark-leaved evergreens.
11. SHRUBS ARE THE WAY TO GO
Of all the plants that you could include your garden, shrubs are the ones you are more likely to be able to put in and more or less forget about. Once they’re established, shrubs will usually only need watering in the very driest of summers, if at all. Other than that an occasional light pruning will be all that’s required. For amazing summer scent in a sunny part of the garden, you can’t beat Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’, while hydrangeas (now very fashionable again) are perfect for shady spots – for super-size flowers that last right through summer, go for ‘Annabelle’.
12. SUPPRESS WEEDS
Weeding can be one of the most soul-destroying of garden tasks, but there are two key ways to keep them at bay. One is mulching – laying a thick layer of well-rotted manure, garden compost, leaf mould or composted bark around your plants. As well as locking in moisture, a mulch also blocks the light, meaning that weeds won’t come to the surface. The other key to a weed-free garden is dense planting – where there’s a plant, there won’t be a weed. So pack every border and you will notice a big reduction in the time you need to spend your hands and knees, pulling out that pesky chickweed. Low-growing ‘ground-cover’ plants around shrubs are useful for this – try Vinca minor and Pachysandra terminalis.
13. AVOID ANYTHING TENDER
It’s so easy to be tempted into buying a whole host of tender plants when they’re on display in the garden centre in spring and summer. But remember that they can’t stay outside over winter and will need wrapping up and bringing undercover just as it’s starting to get cold and miserable and the last place you want to be spending time is out in the garden. Instead, for an easy life look for plants that are labelled as fully hardy.
14. PUT DOWN THE SPADE
You could spend hours digging over your beds and borders at the start of every spring, but supporters of the ‘no-dig’ method of gardening argue that it’s better for the soil, for the plants grown in it – and for your back! – to leave well alone. Instead, they advocate adding a thick layer of garden compost or well-rotted manure straight on top of the soil, to feed it and to suppress weeds by blocking out light (some first add a layer of cardboard too, to increase the light-blocking effect). No digging, less weeding and super-healthy plants – you can see why many consider this to be a no-brainer.
15. LITTLE AND OFTEN
If you keep on top of weeding by pulling out the odd dandelion or strand of bindweed whenever you see them as you stroll around the garden, weeding becomes a much less onerous chore than if you leave the weeds until they’re starting to take over the garden and dealing with them has turned into a major undertaking. Leave a small bucket or spare plastic flowerpot discreetly hidden in or near each border so you can simply drop weeds in as you pull them. Once you’ve filled it with weeds, tip them onto the compost heap or bin them.