I liked this article by Eric King so much, I’m just going to reprint it. If you’re reading this, Eric, sorry! Let me know if you want me to take it down.
One of the most common requests — a low maintenance landscape — is virtually impossible to create. The goal should be to create a landscape that requires less maintenance than before, becoming even easier to tend the older it gets.
People often think that removing the grass from their yard is the easiest way to reduce maintenance. Because grass requires regular maintenance, it usually doesn’t get out of control as quickly as other plants might. But everything requires some care.
So what happens if you remove lawn and plant ground covers?
You won’t be tied to frequent mowing like before, but you’ll still need regular weeding and mulching. You’ll also need to keep an eye on the ground covers to ensure they don’t grow too large and choke out the other plants.
If you want to play badminton or let the overflow from your party spill onto your grass, that’s a great use for a lawn. But having a lawn everywhere can be counterproductive.
The best way to reduce the size of your lawn is to create areas where grass doesn’t want to grow. Often-times that involves planting trees that will create shade and provide natural leaf mulch. I call that letting your yard go back to nature. There are some steps to follow to do that.
You need to understand how nature works. Trees in a forest create a natural leaf canopy that blocks out sunlight, reducing weed growth below. As the leaves drop, they provide weed-suppressing mulch and improve soil health.
How can you reforest parts of your yard? The process can seem over-whelming. Because you can’t bring in multiple trees that are 40 feet tall, start out small. Use bare root trees in the smallest containers you can get.
Plant them five to 10 feet apart in individual mulch areas around an area of your yard. Then mow around them for a couple of years.
Walk through a healthy forest and look at the variety of plants. Notice the diversity and close proximity of the trees to each other. That should be your model.
Fill your yard with native trees in varying sizes, shapes and types. As they get bigger, they’ll eventually reach a point where you won’t have anything to mow because grass won’t grow due to lack of sunlight. Then you can bring in shade-loving plants. Eventually you’ll have woods in part of your yard that’s relatively self-sustaining.
If you continue to mow that area every week and don’t plant trees, it will never become a forest. We’re stopping natural, ecological succession in its tracks. We’re not allowing nature to progress. If you want a lower maintenance yard, take your cue from nature.