Holidays

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Laidback Gardeners

In 2022, why not spend more time enjoying your garden and less on working in it! Ill.: Claire Tourigny

By Larry Hodgson

On this eve of a brand-new year, why not look at a few resolutions you might want to make for the coming one in order to reduce the efforts you put into your gardening? After all, there are many techniques you can apply to ensure your garden remains beautiful while needing much less work than most gardeners put into it.

Here are 10 of the most laidback—and most useful!—tips:

Hosta with leaves damaged by slugs.
A hosta that looks like this doesn’t deserve to live! Replace it with a slug-resistant variety. Photo: lenschanger, depositphotos

1. Replace plants that require extra efforts with plants that can grow on their own.

Say goodbye to hybrid tea roses with their need for winter protection, to lilacs whose suckers try to take over your entire yard, to phloxes that always are blasted by powdery mildew and to hostas that slugs turn into green Swiss cheese. Simply replace them with hardy roses, Preston lilacs (which never sucker), mildew-resistant phlox and hostas with leaves so thick slugs won’t leave a mark on them. And there are hundreds of other examples of both persnickety plants and tough ones. For this first year, why not simply think of the 3 plants that require the most work in your garden and replace them with no-nonsense tough-as-nails greenery. Do that every year and it no time, your maintenance needs will have dropped by half! When you switch to self-maintaining plants, the less effort you put into their care, the more beautiful they become!

Flowering lawn.
What’s so wrong with flowers in a lawn? Learn to enjoy them rather than fight them! Photo: Solstice2015, Wikimedia Commons

2. Learn to live a less than perfect lawn.

The very first lawns were simply fields kept mowed by sheep or cattle. Yes, they included grasses, but also yarrow, dandelion, daisies, clover and many other plants. If the crowned heads of Europe found a mixed lawn perfectly acceptable, why are you insisting on a golf green? As a reward for tolerating a bit of variety in your lawn, you’ll discover that its maintenance will drop off dramatically. Not only are what were once weeds now considered part of a thriving lawn (and therefore you no longer need to remove them), but a natural lawn requires less frequent mowing, is much less likely to suffer from significant insect, disease and drought problems, and requires little to no fertilization.

Lawn mower leaving clippings on the lawn.
Just leave lawn clippings where they fall. Photo: Katkov, depositphotos

3. Start grasscycling.

In case you don’t know the term, grasscycling is simply the act of allowing grass clippings to remain on the lawn after you mow, meaning that there will be much less to pick up and lug to the side of the road for the city to pick up. And grass clippings decompose quickly, within a day or two, and supply the lawn with minerals, making it greener and more resistant to drought. You’ll have less work to do and your lawn will still be beautiful. And talk about environmentally friendly! What’s not to like?

Gardener cleaning up a fall garden.
Forget fall cleanup: just let your garden take care of itself in the fall. Ill.: Claire Tourigny

4. Avoid Fall Cleanup.

Plants from temperate climates evolved using their own leaves to protect themselves from the cold. And the best fertilizer for any plant is its own decomposed foliage. When you “clean up” in the fall, you’re removing your plants’ natural winter protection and also their main source of nutrients. Just leave their dying leaves alone in the autumn and in spring you’ll see that not only will your plants be in better shape than ever, but almost all the so-called waste will actually have decomposed all on its own, leaving you with nothing you need to clean up. Just trust Mother Nature: she knows what to do!

Shrub border.
Shrubs and groundcovers: a low-care solution to landscaping. Photo: mashiki, depositphotos

5. Plant more shrubs and groundcovers.

They require much less maintenance than other garden plants. A bed with shrubs growing through a carpet of groundcovers requires almost no care and can be absolutely superb.Why grow plants, like these palms, in climates colder than they can naturally handle?

Respecting your hardiness zone means not planting tender plants in climates colder than they can handle. Photo: Flickr

6. Choose only plants of your hardiness zone or of lesser zones.

If you live in hardiness zone 5, for example, limit yourself to plants in zones 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and they will survive the winter all on their own. Do you live in zone 3? Then choose plants of zones 1, 2 and 3. And so on. By choosing plants naturally hardy enough for your conditions, you’ll no longer have to wrap them up for the winter in what is often a vain effort to protect them from the cold, no more than you’ll have to replace in the spring the plants that died during the winter.

Mulched strawberry plants.
Mulching makes gardening easier in so many ways. Photo: Animaflora-PicsStock, depositphotos

7. Mulch your plants.

Almost all plants absolutely adore mulch. It helps maintain a more stable soil humidity level, reduces weeds and insect pests, keeps the soil loose and well aerated, protects beneficial insects, eliminates erosion and protects fragile plant roots from winter damage. It will change your entire way of gardening … for the better!

Variegated Goutweed.
Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegata’) will take over your garden. Photo: Victollio, depositphotos

8. Avoid planting invasive plants.

Goutweed, Japanese knotweed, any kind of loosestrife: there are a lot of ornamental plants that grow fast and furiously … to the point where they take over your yard and become weeds. Avoid planting them and, if you have any on your property, get rid of them … without delay, as if you don’t, things will just get worse from year to year. (Hint: all green plants require light to survive, so if you cover an invasive plant with a black tarp, it will eventually die without you’re even having to pull it out.)

Man pruning hedge.
Do you really need to prune? Ill.: clipartlibrary.com

9. Avoid pruning for purely aesthetic reasons.

Deadheading lilacs or pruning a shrub into a sphere, cube or spiral, what a waste of your energy! And what does it really give you? Removing the faded flowers of your lilac is simply a waste of time (despite a persistent belief that doing so improves flowering, the fact is that you won’t gain even have a single flower the following year). And the majority of shrubs have a naturally beautiful shape, so why force them to take another?

Window overgrown with shrubs.
Choose plants that fit into the space available and you can eliminate most pruning. Photo: natureworksct.blogspot.com

10. Check the eventual size of a plant before planting it.

Most of the pruning the average gardener carries out (and pruning can be a very time-consuming activity) is to reduce the size of shrubs and trees that have become too big for the available space. And of course, as soon as you prune them, they react by growing back even more strongly, forcing you to have to prune them again and again. It’s much easier to check, before buying any woody plant (tree, shrub or conifer), what its future dimensions will be and to choose one that actually fits the available space rather than forcing a giant to fit into a tiny corner.


There you go: put the above simple resolutions into practice and you’ll have much more time to enjoy your garden rather than working on it all the time. Long live laidback gardening!

Article originally published on December 31, 2015.

10 comments on “10 New Year’s Resolutions for Laidback Gardeners

  1. I so agree with all of this, especially about mowing and collecting leaves. Less work, more wildlife!

  2. Pingback: 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Laidback Gardeners – Cathy's real country garden

  3. Pamela Whitcomb

    I’ve learned the hard way on a few of these, lol. I’ve given up trying to grow things that are not hardy enough for my Northern zone 4, even if it is “protected”, planted close to the house, or any other silly idea I’d come up with. I’m also guilty of not checking how large a plant will eventually get, only to find myself cutting down huge tree like bushes. And I do have two bushes that I still prune into cute little cubes…..I’ve been rethinking that lately, as I can never seem to get to them more than once a season. Yes, all very good tips! Happy gardening!

  4. Joyce, Hamilton, Ontario

    Larry,
    This is one, if not, the best advice on your blog. Brilliant list of how to create an easy care garden.
    Happy New Year

  5. Had a bit of a chuckle over planting Preston lilacs vs the common variety. True they don’t sucker but boy do they seed themselves around. Even through thick mulch these little ones are determined to survive. I agree that we do need to lighten up on maintenance and just enjoy the garden. Happy New Year.

  6. I was much aided in leaving things be this fall by upcoming cataract surgery, now that I can see I still don’t mind at all knowing everything will be better for not doing a clean up. I do wish more people would pay attention to plant size, I inherited quite a few misplaced bushes with our present home though I can’t say I have been completely blameless myself. It does break my heart to have to keep a lovely Rhododendron kept cut low as it is right in front of my kitchen window and there isn’t a better place to move it to.

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