Truth time. There is no such thing as a maintenance free garden!
However, you can get a LOW maintenance garden by:
- Growing hardy native plants
- Prepping your garden bed like a pro
- Following a simple maintenance schedule (download the free PDF!) ⬇️
These 15 garden maintenance tips are for perennial flower beds and landscape beds, especially native plant gardens. Vegetable gardens may require additional maintenance.
No need to spend money on garden maintenance services. Just follow these simple tips!
Why It Is Important to Grow Native Plants
One of the main benefits of using native plants in your outdoor space is that they are HARDY!
Once established, natives need only the occasional watering and a yearly pruning. Beyond that, they are virtually maintenance free.
In addition, native plants are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. These plants have evolved in your local area, while non-native plants were introduced from other parts of the world. Native garden plants:
- Are important food source to plant-eating insects and wildlife
- Serve as host plants to butterflies and moths
- Require little water once established
- Thrive without fertilizers or pesticides
If you are new to native plants be sure to read the Top 6 Benefits of Native Plants in Your Yard. The majority of our yards are currently filled with non-native plants so there are lots of opportunities to swap in some natives and help the environment!
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Low Maintenance Planting
Having a low maintenance garden starts by doing the right planning upfront. If you’re starting a new garden or landscaping bed be sure to follow these tips!
1) Space plants based on mature size
A common mistake new gardeners make is to space new plants in their garden based on the size they are when they bring them home from the nursery.
They like the instant lush and full look it gives the garden. While this can be nice the first year, you’ll likely be regretting it by year three!
Many perennial shrubs and flowers take 3-5 years to reach their mature size. They can quickly outgrow the space they were planted.
While thinning out plants and relocating them is possible, it isn’t ideal.
Instead, space out your new plants based on their mature size. If you want to fill in gaps in the garden in the meantime, opt for annual flowers, colorful pots or other garden decor to add interest to those areas.
Use this garden layout tool to help you design your garden in advance!
2) Group plants in threes
This is a trick used by landscape designers to create a visually appealing landscaping bed. Planting three of the same plant together not only looks good, it helps when the plants begin to mature and spread.
The plants will start to grow together and fill in the gaps, creating a dense, attractive looking grouping that will suppress weeds.
3) Use living ground covers
In addition to using mulch, a ground cover does a good job keeping weeds at bay. Look for native ground covers such as Frogfruit to incorporate into your garden. These can grow quickly and cover the area between plantings.
In addition to preventing weed growth they can also be beneficial to pollinators! Frogfruit’s tiny white blooms are loved by small butterflies and bees.
4) Choose hardy drought tolerant plants
Choosing plants for your garden that are native to your local area goes a long way towards minimizing your maintenance.
Why? Because they have been growing on their own in the wild without any maintenance for thousands if not millions of years!
Native plants tend to need little supplemental water once they are established. They also tend to be hardy and can handle extreme temperatures.
You’re not going to waste money and time replacing dead plants after a freeze or heat wave.
5) Replace more lawn with native plants
Our turf grass lawns are water guzzlers and require regular mowing, fertilization and costly lawn care services. Minimize lawn maintenance by replacing portions (or all!) of your lawn with landscaping beds of drought tolerant native plants.
Some municipalities like San Antonio offer water conservation incentives for removing turf grass and turning off your irrigation system. Take advantage of these programs!
How to Keep Weeds Out of a Garden
The best tip for weed control is to prevent weeds from developing in the first place! This can be achieved with the proper garden bed prep. Doing the work upfront will save hours of weeding time on the backend.
6) Cover garden bed with cardboard and mulch
Preparing your garden beds with cardboard and mulch is one of the best ways to keep weeds out of your landscaping beds and flower gardens.
From my experience, cardboard works much better than traditional landscaping fabric for keeping out weeds. It also is more natural, slowly breaking down and adding organic matter into the soil over time.
7) Pull weeds before they go to seed
If you do have weeds starting to merge, the best thing you can do is get to them while they are small and before they develop deep roots. When weeding, you want to make sure you get the entire root.
It also helps to weed after a rain. The wet ground makes it easier to pull up weeds and get out their entire roots.
Just make sure what you’re pulling is actually a weed! You can use a plant identification app like iNaturalist or PlantNet to help you ID plants before pulling them.
At a minimum you want to make sure you get to the weeds before they drop more weed seeds in your garden. If you stay on top of weeds in Year 1, you’ll have fewer weeds to deal with next year.
8) Use a hori hori knife
This is the ONLY tool you’ll ever need for weeding and regular maintenance. The hori hori garden knife does a significantly better job than a traditional weeding trowel. Its serrated edges help it cut through the soil and get out the roots.
Check out MY TOP 6 FAVORITE garden maintenance tools!
9) Use plenty of mulch
Keeping 2-4 inches of mulch in your landscaping beds can go a long ways towards keeping weeds at bay. Just make sure to not pile up mulch high at the base of the plant. Give them a little breathing room.
Hardwood mulch works great (opt for undyed mulch). Repurposing grass clippings and leaves as mulch is another great idea that is more ecofriendly.
Flower Bed Maintenance Tips
In addition to occasional weeding, there are some other basic maintenance steps you want to take to keep your perennial flower bed looking their best.
10) Deadhead regularly
Pinching off spent blooms is an easy way to encourage a new round of flowers. For example, Salvia Greggii produces a new round of blooms when you pinch off the top couple inches.
11) Prune plants when they become leggy
Pruning regularly can help maintain a healthy plant. Pruning back will make it look fuller and also encourage more blooms. I recommend reading up on your particular plants to see if it can benefit from pruning and how much to prune.
Several types of perennial flowers that are long bloomers can benefit from a mid-summer pruning of 1/3 to 1/2. Turk’s Cap is an example of a native flower that blooms from March to November. It tends to get leggy during the summer.
12) Cut back perennials in early spring
Late winter / early spring is a good time to prune back native perennials. Here in San Antonio, Texas we typically do it in late February.
This late winter pruning depends on the type of plants. It is typically used for perennial flowers and shrubs that die back to the ground. Some perennials are evergreen and don’t require this.
Even if the plants have died back earlier in the winter, leaving their woody stems in place during the cold seasons can help provide overwintering areas for native bees. For this reason, an ideal time is when temps are consistently in the 50s before cutting back plants. The bees will likely have emerged by then.
13) Minimize watering with the right plants
After weeding, gardeners spend a good amount of time watering their plants. Growing more plants that are native to your local area can significantly cut down on your watering time.
After adding a new transplant in your yard you will want to water daily for the first week, 2-3 times during the second and third weeks, and then once a week for the next several months. Once established, native plants rarely need supplemental watering except for a few times in the heat of the summer when the temperature rises.
If you are hand watering, the best time to water is early in the morning or in the evening. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are another option for cutting down on your watering.
14) Minimize pest control by letting nature do it
The first thing we tend to think when we see insects eating our plants is “How do I get rid of them?”. Let’s change our mindset on that! Most insect problems will resolve on their own without reaching for a pesticide.
If you have aphids on your plants you can do one of two things – 1) spray off the aphids with a heavy stream of water or 2) wait for the ladybugs to arrive! They will take care of them for you. Don’t use pesticides as they will not only kill aphids but beneficial insects as well.
If you’re not sure what is eating your plant, use an app like iNaturalist to identify it. If it is truly a ‘pest’, then research the organic options for controlling it.
Regular Garden Maintenance is Key
Having a general plan of what your garden needs in each season can make a big difference! Aim to do monthly garden checkups with different tasks based on the time of year.
15) Get my simple garden maintenance schedule
I’ve created a FREE maintenance checklist to help you! Here’s an overview of what’s outlined in the printable checklist:
Spring Garden Maintenance
- Add fresh compost
- Refresh mulch
- Plant perennials
- Sow wildflower seeds (USDA Planting Zones 1-5)
- Begin regular weeding schedule
Summer Garden Maintenance
- Light weeding every 1-2 weeks
- Mid summer prune for leggy perennials
- Supplemental water as needed
Fall Garden Maintenance
- Plant perennials
- Sow wildflower seeds (USDA Planting Zones 6-11)
- Collect leaves and use as mulch or start a compost pile
- Refresh mulch in garden beds
Winter Garden Maintenance
- Transplant perennials while dormant
- Leave seed heads where possible for birds
- Prune perennials that have died back in late winter / early spring
Get my printable yearly native garden maintenance plans here:
I hope these tips will empower you and help you cut down on garden maintenance cost to take on your own garden maintenance and avoid the