There’s no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape in Atlanta. Even a bare patch of dirt will come up weeds and weevils if left to its own devices. But, low-maintenance landscaping is a different story. It can be achieved, especially if you put a little planning and work into it upfront. Here are low-maintenance landscaping ideas and tips for Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs.
To get started, first, you have to understand two important things about gardening and landscaping in Atlanta: the soil and the climate. If you’re willing to work with the soil and Georgia’s humid subtropical climate, you’ll have fewer problems and more thriving plants.
Test the Soil: TLC for Good pH
Soil in and around Atlanta is classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “Southern Piedmont.” It tends to be clayey, but has suffered badly from erosion and can vary greatly.
Most soils in Georgia are acidic, with a pH ranging from 5.8 to 6.0. This means you’ll have to give your soil a little TLC and tweak the pH to get alkaline-soil-loving plants such as columbines or delphiniums to grow. You may want to get your soil tested to see how much garden lime or other soil-amending material you should add to give your garden the right start.
Soil that registers at a 7.0 or above on the pH scale is considered “sweet” or alkaline soil. “Soil pH, the measure of hydrogen ion activity in a solution, is important for soil nutrient availability,” says UGA Extension Community and School Garden coordinator Becky Griffin. In other words, when you tweak the pH a little, you make it easier for your garden plants to get the nutrients they need.
You also need to take into account the crop you’re planting. Vegetable gardens need a pH level of 6 to 7. But the needs of different flowers vary. “Blueberries and azaleas need a more-acidic soil,” says Griffin. “And if you use the wrong type of soil, you could be wasting your money on fertilizer.”
You can get a soil testing kit at the UGA Center for Urban Agriculture. For $15, they’ll mail you a test kit along with a postage-paid envelope to mail in the sample so they can send the results back to you. Make sure you include the type of flowers and produce you want to plant, so the extension service can make recommendations accordingly.
You want to choose plants that thrive in Atlanta’s humid subtropical climate. That means hot, muggy summers and winters that can get cold, but not for long. If you’re looking at reseeding or resodding, choose warm-season turfgrass, such as St. Augustine, Zoysiagrass or centipede grass. These grasses are heat and drought-tolerant, for those occasional long spells without rain. They’re adapted to Atlanta’s temperatures, so you won’t spend as much time fighting the climate to achieve a thick, green lawn.
Perennials are plants that overwinter well and return year after year. They’re much easier to maintain than their annual cousins, which tend to only last a year before you’ll need to plant another ornamental grass or flower. Begonias, asters, and irises are a few of the flowering perennials that do well in Atlanta (once you tweak the soil!).
That brings us to water. “Do not rely on normal rainfall; irrigate if necessary. Allow the water to penetrate deeply. Frequent light waterings are not advisable because they wet only the upper soil depths and result in shallow root growth and wet foliage and flowers, an invitation to many diseases,” write UGA Extension professors Paul A. Thomas and Bodie V. Pennisi. “Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems work well with perennials.”
Plants native to Georgia are going to be some of the easiest, lowest maintenance plants out there for the everyday landscaper. If you plant native flowers, shrubs, and trees, you’re also helping your neighborhood ecosystem and giving local birds and small animals, food and shelter in your yard. Fortunately for Atlanta gardeners, there’s an explosion of colors and textures among Georgia’s native plants. Choose from the fuchsia fruit of the American beautyberry or the flaming fall foliage of the scarlet maple.
Next, group plants together according to their water needs. That means keeping the thirsty roses and the drought-tolerant bougainvillea in different areas. This technique creates stronger, lower maintenance plants, as it saves water — which is good for the Earth and your wallet.
Xeriscape, Reduce Lawn Area
You could also go lawn-free with groundcovers and hardscaping. Also, consider xeriscaping. It is more than just cactus and a couple of rocks — it’s a low-maintenance, water-saving idea that’s trending in Atlanta. The more drought-tolerant plants and mulch you use, the less grass you’ll have to mow and water!
Doing your homework before you plant your yard is the way to achieve a low maintenance landscape that looks like a million bucks. You’ll also be more likely to spend your weekends outside in your yard, instead of working on it. Take the time to improve your soil, and choose plants that won’t flinch in the heat of Atlanta’s summers, or die off in the few weeks of “real” winter we have. You’ll reap the rewards all year long.