When you think of low maintenance planting, many of us really don’t know where to start. The main maintenance tasks are watering, feeding, pruning, and insect and disease control.
Watering is an issue for those of us that live on the Front Range of Colorado, since it is a high desert. Our normal precipitation is 14” per year. This moisture never comes in regular even doses, so our plants need to be drought tolerant or they need to have additional water added. If you are going to water, we would recommend using drip irrigation and dividing it into zones that have similar water requirements. Some examples of plants with the lowest water requirements are; Russian Sage, Rabbit Brush, Antelope Bitterbrush, Grow Low Sumac, and Siberian Pea Shrub.
Feeding is always an issue for ornamental plants, since they spend their entire life span in the same soil and continue to draw nutrients from these soils. Many plants can survive with very little additional fertilization but they tend to be more beautiful if fertilizer is added on an annual basis. Low water situations tend to use less fertilizer as the plants grow less, and there is less water to leach the water past the root zone of the plants. So in short, low water plant zones require less fertilization.
Pruning has two very basic benefits. You can use pruning to control the size of a plant that is outgrowing the spot it has been given. Today there is no excuse for having to do this kind of pruning to the extent that it was done in previous years. New plants have been developed that fit in small spaces. Some examples of smaller plants are Concorde Barberry, Little Princess Spirea, and Blue Chip Butterfly Bush. You can also use pruning to keep a plant fresh with new growth and less old woody stems. Most of us find the new, fresh growth more attractive. Some pruning is necessary because the plant is not totally hardy for our area. Some examples on the Front Range of Colorado are Butterfly Bush and Blue Mist Spirea. If a customer tells me that they want a low maintenance landscape, I stay away from those plants.
All living things can be attacked by disease and insects or other pathogens. While we cannot totally stop the attacks that are a part of nature, we can keep our plants in good condition so that they can withstand these attacks. Proper watering, fertilizing and pruning, along with initial proper plant choices can help to keep our plants from succumbing to insects and disease.