Six Keys to Hassle-Free Landscapes

08/16/2013 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Landscaping

fire resistant landscapeWouldn’t it be wonderful if you could enjoy an attractive, colorful garden without spending all your free time working in it?  Well, it can be done. All it takes is some knowledge about the right plants with the right mountain gardening techniques. Do your research for the best easy-care trees, shrubs, and perennials BEFORE you plant and you’ll save time and money now and for years into the future of your landscape.

When considering hassle-free landscaping, the six cardinal principles in order of importance are:

  1. Choose plants that are known to be reliable and problem free for your area and won’t outgrow their allotted spaces.
  2. Reduce the size of your lawn or eliminate it entirely.
  3. Prepare mountain soils before planting so plants get a strong start.
  4. Use shredded cedar bark to discourage weeds and bugs and to conserve soil moisture.
  5. Feed often with slow release organic fertilizers.
  6. Install an automatic drip irrigation system.

Use the right plant in the right place.  Considering the bewildering array of plants available at garden centers, choosing the right plants for the right places will require a little research.  Start by making a list of plants you like, even look around your neighborhood for interesting options. Consult gardening books and magazine articles to learn about the plants on your list, and ask the staff at your favorite garden center how well local conditions suit the plants that have caught your eye.  Take quick pictures of your landscape, the plants you like, the plants you dislike, and then share them with the horticulturalist working with you.  Keep in mind that a picture is worth a thousand words and helps to narrow down recommendations.

Allow enough space for the size of each plant at its maturity.  A common mistake is to choose plants that look just right on planting day and then rapidly outgrow their allotted spaces, creating a continual maintenance headache. Unlike an interior design that looks best the day it is installed, a landscape design should look its best when it’s about five years old.

coarl bell plant


Garden Photo Contest:  Submit a Photo, Get Votes and Win a Plant!  Contest ends soon, so don’t delay!


Some plant varieties have resistance to pests and diseases that plague their particular species. For example, ‘Prairie Fire crabapple’ is resistant to both apple scab and fire blight.  ‘Flower Carpet’ and ‘Knockout’ roses are rarely troubled by black spot, mildew, or thrips, problems that are common to other landscape shrubs. Choosing disease resistant varieties will result in fewer pests that ultimately will translate into less maintenance.

Dwarf varieties such as Alberta Spruce grow very slowly, as little as an inch per year. Such slow growers are more expensive initially because a plant that is 4-6’ tall may be 15 years old. Growers have invested as much time and materials in these as in faster growing varieties that are much larger. But the initial extra cost pays off over time because such plants need minimal if any pruning.  Other good dwarf varieties are petite blue butterfly bush, abbotswood potentilla, acoma crape myrtle, boulder blue fescue, crimson ruby barberry, flame maple, sand cherry, and gilded edge silverberry.

Amending the planting hole with composted mulch provides just the boost new plants need. Even if plants require only minimal maintenance, fertilizer and water still are essential to healthy growth. To make fertilizing a snap, use all natural plant foods that release over an extended period of time.  I created “All Purpose Plant Food” 7-4-4 specifically for mountain gardens.  It not only feeds the plants, but also feeds the soil so plants want to root deeper into our mountain soils.  Healthier, deeper roots translate into a healthier plant.

So there you have it. Follow these simple suggestions and you almost can ignore your garden and enjoy it, too.  My newly created “Preferred Plant Guide” is a list of the best local landscape plants. Of course, it’s free for the asking when you visit the garden center.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Blonde Ambition Blue Grama GrassPlant of the Week – Blonde Ambition grama grass is in plume and looking summertime good, its long lasting blonde seed heads hovering above the rugged blue foliage. These unusual plumes decorate the plant right through winter adding interest to the garden 365 days of a year. Native, drought hardy, and really easy to grow, every garden should grow one.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Gardening Class – ‘Vacation Landscapes with Less Work” is the topic of today’s free gardening class. We’ll cover the right designs, the right plants, and the right placement for a mountain landscape that doesn’t require a lot of care.  Bring pencil and paper for lots of notes, and don’t forget pictures of your landscape project for design advice.  We will have lots of local horticulturalists on hand to help during and after this class.  Class is free and starts promptly at 9:30 a.m. in the greenhouse at Watters.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.