6 Steps to a DIY Sustainable, Low Maintenance Yard



Low Maintenance Yard
A low maintenance landscape that uses all six steps will produce a beautiful, easy to maintain yard.  Here we see reduced lawn area, native plants in the right place, drip irrigation, mulch application & appropriate permeable hardscapes all combined with a plan in mind.

Photo credit: dbc1_dc/Photobucket

Low Maintenance landscapes don’t just happen.  However, you can take steps in your design, materials choices & installation processes that will help you create a beautiful and easy to maintain landscape.

These six DIY steps will get you the results you are looking for and still give you time to enjoy your landscape, not just work on it.



Landscape PlanPlanning before installing is one of the best ways to insure a low maintenance landscape.
Photo credit: Justineyates/Photobucket

Step 1 – Plan for Low Maintenance with a Landscape Design

Low maintenance landscapes start with a plan.  With a well thought out plan can eliminate unnecessary work, resources and time. 

Some of the best questions to ask yourself when deciding on a plan for your landscape are:


The answers to these questions will give you a good idea of the needs and wants to be included in your design.  You can then use this information to make the most of your maintenance time. 

Your plan should take into account the best and worst features of your yard, plants and colors that work with your architecture and hardscapes and materials that reflect your style and personality.  You don’t have to do it all at once, but a plan gives you a roadmap for your landscape’s destination. 

CompostAmending Soil with compost is one of the best ways to save on future maintenance
Photo Credit: giorgiosgardens/Photobucke

Step 2 – Healthy Soil Sets the Stage
Soil is the basis of the living landscape.  The first thing to do is have your soil tested.  Most soil needs some kind of amendment. 

The soil test will give information on the kinds and composition (N-P-K), of organic fertilizer your yard needs avoiding over-application and pollution.

Compost is the most sustainable amendment adding organic matter, improving drainage, adding nutrients, aeration and microbes essential to plant health.

Alkaline soils are greatly benefited by adding compost. Acidic soil requires lime to balance the pH.  Applying Mycorrhizae, which benefits root production, is a worthy amendment, especially for water conservation. 

As a finishing touch, add 2” of mulch to help retain moisture (saving time and money on watering), reduce weeding, and help your plant roots get off to a good start.

Virginia SweetspireChoose Native Plants for the best in drought and disease resistance. This Virginia Sweetspire shrub  is native to many regions of the United States.

Step 3 - Grow Native Plants
Native plants will be the most successful plants that you can choose because they are already accustomed to the growing conditions in your area. 

Once established they will give you years of carefree maintenance.  They are often the most disease and pest resistant species available. 

Native plants attract more insect helpers and beautiful birds and butterflies by providing the food they require.  Irrigation is rarely needed after the plants are established. 

Last but not least is the fact that you are reducing invasive plant risks which take a lot of time to keep in check and are imperiling our natural resources.

Flowering DogwoodA flowering dogwood requires partial shade to full sun to imitate the natural habitat of the wood’s edge.
Photo Credit: Joey Godsey/Photobucket

Step 4 - The Right Plant in the Right Place
Installing the right plant in the right place is essential to a healthy, low maintenance landscape.  

There are many factors in determining which plants will work best in your landscape.  This is a complex process and one that deserves the time it will take in your planning to do it right the first time. 

Factors to take into account are the growth habits of your plants—meaning how large and what shape the plant will take as it matures.  You want to choose plants for the color, foliage texture and ultimate size for placement. 

Growth factors such as hardiness zone, sun and water requirements are vital to your plant’s success in any landscape. 

Finally, seasonal interest, flowering times and micro-climate conditions will determine how your plants will look and contribute to your overall landscape.


Drip IrrigationDrip irrigation delivers water just where needed saving work and water.
Photo credit:  karlwest/ Photobucket


Step 5 - Irrigation
The living landscape is dependent on water. It is important to plan for appropriate irrigation.

Careful planning, proper soil preparation, choosing native plant varieties and mulching will all reduce the need for additional water and the amount of time and money you spend on irrigation. Still, there are times when you will have to water your plants. 

Water restrictions often forbid using municipal water supplies for outdoor irrigation systems.  Harvesting rainwater in rain barrels will provide a significant water supply to help get you through to the next rain. 

Any installed irrigation system should rely heavily on drip irrigation to provide water only where it is needed. 

Grouping plants with the same water requirements will keep you from over or under watering your plants.  

Lastly, installing an eco-lawn and reducing the turf area of your yard will also help you save significantly on water usage and maintenance time.

Permeable Paving PatioThe gravel on this patio provides a water permeable, low maintenance surface. aptosestate/Photobucket


Step 6 - Hardscape
The non-living parts of your landscape are hardscapes.  Hardscape includes patios, walkways, decks, overhead structures, fireplaces and driveways.

These are usually the most expensive parts of your landscape design.  To keep your sustainable goals use permeable materials for reducing runoff and returning water to the water table. 

When deciding to do the work yourself, make sure to seek out information on the latest products and most sustainable techniques available.  These include permeable concrete, permeable concrete pavers, crushed driveway materials, grass pavers, and rock or synthetic rock materials. 

You will have to live with your hardscape decisions for a long time, so take the time for planning and materials investment seriously.

For further information on the sustainable landscape design process you can refer to the University of Minnesota “Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series

And the University of Delaware’s “Designing a Sustainable Landscape to Serve Your Needs.”



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