The home landscape can be anything in Charlotte. Gardens and fruit trees around your yard can put food on the table. A fire pit or seating area can offer a cozy respite and an open lawn of lush green turf can be everything from a football field to the setting for your annual Fourth of July barbecue. But those things don’t have to break your back or your bank. 

Charlotte’s 213-day growing season is one of the longest of anywhere in the state, according to the North Carolina State University Extension. So with some thoughtful planning, creativity and know-how, your Charlotte home landscape can be one thing most people want their lawns to be: low maintenance. Here are some ideas to help you spend more time enjoying your lawn and less time maintaining it.

Plan Ahead

First, know what you’re dealing with, says Steven Capobianco, horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Mecklenburg County. 

Know your soil, how the water drains from the area and how much light different areas of your landscape get every day. 

Read the labels on any plants you buy, he says, and follow those guidelines. 

“Understand the light requirements,” he says. Using fescue as an example, he says, if it needs six hours of direct light every day, that means six, not five and a half. 

Planting the right plants where they can thrive will cut down on how much work you have to do to keep them going.

Locating Your Landscape Features

This isn’t just a rule for the booming Charlotte real estate scene. When you plan any new landscape features, you need to think carefully about where they’ll go, Capobianco says. 

  • Think about what the plants will grow into and any other effects on the landscape that may leave you with unexpected work, such as trees that drop nuts, flowers or sap.
  • Will they interfere with power lines or easements?
  • Will they eat into your home’s foundation?
  • At full height, will the plant shade out your grass?

“Consider where plants will be in 10 years, not just now,” he says. “Don’t plant a tree that’s going to be 4 feet wide 4 feet off your driveway.”

Getting the right plant in the right place where its requirements will be met is key, he says. And if you need help, the Mecklenburg County Extension offers plenty of resources to help.

Consolidate Grass and Mulched Areas

Manicured, uniform turf broken up by landscape plants set apart in mulched beds are common goals for many homeowners. But even those don’t have to come with hours of hard labor.

North Carolina Extension Horticulture Agent Jessica Strickland explains one easy way to cut down on that maintenance in a blog post on the extension’s website. 

Keep grass areas and mulch areas contiguous, she says. 

Avoid narrow strips of separated grass that require extra mowing time to navigate. Consider making one large mulched area with flowers, trees or other landscape plants. This cuts down on mowing and trimming time, too, and even looks more attractive than scattered mulch beds. 

She advises homeowners to apply 2-3 inches of mulch, keeping it away from direct contact with shrub and tree trunks. 

That mulch will help retain soil moisture and cut down on weeds. That’s more work you won’t have to do.

The Right Work at the Right Time

Doing the right work at the right time will cut down on the total amount of maintenance your yard will need, explains Strickland in her article. 

For example, knowing the proper fertilization regimen for your plants will cut down on extra labor. Under-fertilized plants will grow poorly and be more susceptible to pests and disease. 

That will mean extra work if you have to replace a dying plant or figure out how to rid it of insects. 

Scout your yard regularly to spot disease or insect problems that are much easier to deal with when caught early.

Get Creative With Grass

Adding texture, color and dimension to your landscape doesn’t have to carry with it expensive, exotic or labor-intensive plants. 

In another article, Strickland explains how to use ornamental grasses in your landscape for a low-maintenance way to add interest to your landscape. 

Often overlooked, ornamental grasses can provide seasonal interest by keeping their rich colors through the fall and winter. 

In the article, she lays out five different types of colorful ornamental grasses that thrive in North Carolina, including the commonly used pampas grass and maiden grass, which can easily reach a height of 10 feet.

They’re durable, able to survive drought and heat and they have very few pest problems, being highly resistant to insects and diseases. 

Ornamental grasses work well as a privacy screen and grow well on slopes or eroded areas where other plants might struggle.

Hardscaping

Walkway of pavers
Tightly knit paver stones create a hard pathway and reduce lawn area. LawnStarter file photo

One landscaping feature that requires very little maintenance is stone. Creating hard-surfaced areas such as walkways, patios or decks can be a win-win, providing a usable outdoor space that needs very little maintenance. 

And when it replaces areas of turf, or even loose gravel, it cuts down even more on the amount of work you’ll be doing to keep your yard in shape.

The University of Missouri Extension offers some more guidance to keep hardscapes from adding any extra maintenance:

  • Avoid sharp corners or narrow strips that mowers can’t reach.
  • Edges of hard surfaces should be low and flat to allow mowers to travel over the top.
  • Plan the hardscape location to minimize hand-trimming around sidewalks, fences or similar features.

Putting It All Together

Knowing your site and planning accordingly are key if you plan to spend more time enjoying your backyard than working on it. 

Choose the right plants and put them in the right places. Maintain your yard the right way. Get creative with the design of your landscape. All will impact how much maintenance the area will need. 

But if you can be careful and deliberate with the yard, it won’t take much work at all to stay looking lush and inviting and worthy of the Queen City.

Main photo: Jalexartis Photography, CC2.0