Here are some low maintenance garden ideas so you have more time to relax

As Mark pulled the patio chairs out of storage this spring, he made a promise to himself to finally hang the hammock. It’s time to swing in the cool shade of a four-meter-tall birch tree on a hot summer afternoon.

As Mark pulled the patio chairs out of storage this spring, he made a promise to himself to finally hang the hammock. It’s time to swing in the cool shade of a four-meter-tall birch tree on a hot summer afternoon.

Now is the start of summer and the thoughts of gardeners and non-gardeners alike turn to relaxation. On this point, we can be of assistance. We’ve created a list of things you can do to minimize labor and maximize hammock time in your backyard this summer:

Use native plants.Less water, disease and pests. Think about it: long before Europeans arrived on our shores, many plants happily sprouted their hearts without human intervention. The Native people of Canada, to their credit, have remained fairly quiet, gathering some herbs or peeling a little bark here and there for culinary or medicinal purposes. But at no time have they reduced the population of a plant species to the point of extinction. All of this changed quite dramatically about 500 years ago.

The plants that have survived since then are true “survivors” with tolerance to weather, pests, disease and drought.

Many native plants are now available from garden retailers, who have responded to consumer demands for these plants in recent years with the introduction of many nursery-grown “natives”.

Here is a short list of our favorites:

For the sun:


Hedge flower (Gaillardia)

Butterfly weed (Asclepias)

Echinacea (Echinacea)

Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium)

Achillea millefolium (Achillea)

Beebalm (Monarda)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier) – shrub / tree

For the shade:


Lily of the valley (Convallaria)

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum)

Canadian ginger (Asarum)

Marsh concern


Blood root

Ferns, including Christmas, Cinnamon, King, Wood and Marginal Wood ferns

Hemlock (evergreen tree)

Sugar maple (shade tree)

There is more to taking time in your schedule to rest. Consider this:

Water abundantly and less often.Invest in a quality lawn / garden sprinkler that covers a large area but doesn’t spray water high into the air, where much of it is lost through evaporation. We like circular sprinklers that don’t have the “halo” effect of the old impact sprinklers.

  • Apply no less than an inch of water at a time and water less often (place a straight-sided container under the sprinkler to measure the amount applied).
  • Hand-water annuals and newly planted perennials while the soil dries up to 3 to 5 cm below the soil surface
  • Do not water your lawn at all. If we get into a drought situation, which is very likely in July, your lawn will turn brown and go dormant, but it won’t die. It will break dormancy in August when evening temperatures drop and morning dew intensifies. In the meantime, you have drastically reduced your lawn mowing time.
  • Deep watering encourages deep, drought-tolerant roots.
  • Water the garden in the morning to avoid wasting water through evaporation. The water will seep deep into the soil.
  • Use a rain barrel – we have 4 on the go and they save us a ton of time dragging the hose to the water tanks.
  • Use a weeping hose. The recycled rubber “drain hose” or the new “flat cloths” are great for delivering water to the root zone of your plants where it is needed most. New nylon fabric products are stronger and last longer under heavy use.

Add organic matter to the surface of your soil. By isolating the soil from the drying effects of the sun, watering is greatly reduced. We prefer shredded cedar bark mulch but the straw works great, when laid about 30cm thick (works great in the vegetable patch, especially around tomatoes).

Other tactics that will reduce the demands on your time in the garden this summer are:

  • Mow your lawn 6 to 8 cm high with a mulching mower.
  • Plant drought tolerant plants (see list of native plants above) and look for other non-native species that will thrive in your garden without too much attention on your part. Check with your gardener.
  • Cut weeds when they are young with a sharp hoe – much easier to do now than allowing them to grow into small trees – now removing them, IT IS work. And time consuming.
  • Work in the morning when the weather is cool, when your energy level is at its highest, and discipline yourself to stop when the weather is hot.
  • Work in the shade – work in the morning on the west side of your house and in the afternoon on the east side, if you have that option.
  • Hydrate. Take a bottle of tap water with you everywhere in the garden. Sip it frequently. By doing this, you will maintain your energy level and feel great all day long.
  • Sharpen your cutting and digging tools. Put your shovel, spade, and hoe on your workshop’s chipper, or watch the guy who roams the neighborhood selling his sharpening services. The guy with the bell, not the ice cream truck. Maintain an advantage over your tools by running a garden file over the blade each time you use them.

The difference between a low-maintenance garden and an “intensive-care” garden is careful planning, a schedule, well-maintained quality tools, and an attitude.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, animator, tree advocate and member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth generation urban gardener and graduated from the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them on, @markcullengardening and on Facebook.