The most successful low maintenance gardens usually start at the design stage.

The first two questions to consider are:
"How much untidiness will you tolerate?"
"What style or character do you want your garden to have?"

If you don't mind an untidy or informal appearance, you will have a lot more flexibility in the way the garden is put together.


Good site preparation

A little work early on will save a lot of time and effort later on. The main tasks to consider are:

  • provision of good drainage
  • improving soil structure and fertility
  • good base preparation and proper laying of paving/other surfacings
  • identifying features present on the site worth keeping.

A great mixture of textures and forms will create a wild appearance and hide things which might otherwise look out of place. When plant foliage is a diverse mixture of different shapes, colours and textures, anything which is out of place such as a weed or patchy growth on a lawn, will tend to blend with the pot pourri of other forms. When the garden is designed to have straight trimmed edges to paths or garden beds, or numbers of the one type of plant are grouped together, things which are different will stand out and become very noticeable.

Dropping Leaves

  • If leaves drop from trees (particularly deciduous trees), what will they fall on?
     On lawn, they make the lawn look messy, particularly if it's a fine lawn. On a rough lawn
     of mown weeds where textures are varied, the leaves don't look so out of place.
  • Too many leaves can smother & kill young plants or grass. The leaves of some trees,
     such as many conifers, often contain toxic materials that will effect the growth of plants
     that they fall on or near. The needles of the Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata), in particular,
     which has become widely naturalised in South-Eastern Australia, will prevent the growth
     of nearly all plants beneath the Pine. 
  • Wet leaves on paving, concrete or asphalt can become slippery.
  • Leaves on mulch or gravel which has a patchy rather than smooth even texture tend to
     blend more and are less noticeable.
  • Leaves falling into a pond can be a problem, often creating foul odours, or toxic conditions
    for water life such as fish. A fine wire mesh cover can be used to protect your pond from
    falling leaves without greatly reducing light, air and rain penetration. The cover also
    provides some protection for fish from predators such as birds. The cover can be left in
    position permanently, although this may detract severely from the appearance of the area, or can be a temporary protection at night or during times of high leaf fall (ie: autumn).
  • Trees that drop a lot of leaves should be avoided close to buildings, otherwise spouting
    and roof areas will need regular clean ups. This is particularly important in areas
    subject to heavy downpours or having a high fire risk. Guttering, in particular, will last
    much longer if it is not subject to corrosion from large amounts of decomposing leaf litter.
    Simply placing a ladder against guttering, walking on the roof, or holding on to
    guttering to support yourself can result in physical damage to your roof or guttering that
    will reduce their lifespan, or result in a higher maintenance requirement, and don't forget
    the physical risk to you. Damage can be greatly reduced if the need to remove large
    amounts of leaves on a regular basis is minimised by careful positioning of plants that
    drop lots of leaves and/or branches.
  • Gutter guards can be used to prevent leaves blocking up guttering and drain pipes etc.
  • To prevent leaves getting into a swimming pool you can use one of the many available
    cover pool sheets. Many of these also act as a pool warmer, and some of the stronger
    ones double as an added safety feature against the possibility of small children falling into
    the pool.

Reducing the need for water

  • Rocks...moisture is often trapped under rocks. This gives plants in rockeries a moist root run. 
  • The way you water can also affect how much time you might spend in the garden. A slow deep watering once every week or so is far more effective than frequent light waterings. It wastes less water, is less time consuming overall, and encourages plants to develop deeper root systems, which makes them less likely to suffer water stress in drier times, as well as giving them greater anchorage. Drip and micro spray irrigation systems are also effective in minimising the amount of water used, and the time spent in watering.
  • Use plants that tolerant dry conditions. Many native plants will tolerate by dry and wet
     periods, in particular some of the Melaleucas and Callistemons (bottlebrushes).

Using Mulch
Mulches have many benefits that aid in plant growth and reduce maintenance requirements. These include:

  • Keeping soil moist
  • Blocking out weed growth
  • Organic mulches provide nutrients, and help improve soil structure, and hence drainage,
  • Moderation of soil temperature, preventing extremes in temperatures that may severely
    affect plant growth
  • Providing a good surface to walk or play on. Mulches are good in preventing muddy 
    spots in well trafficked areas. Some mulches make an excellent 'soft' landing area around childrens play equipment. Mulches also help prevent compaction of the underlying soil in well trafficked areas.
  • They are usually quite cheap to purchase, and often light and easy to spread.


  • Some mulches may need regular topping up as they decompose.
  • Edging may be required to prevent mulches from being dislodged.
  • Be careful that any fresh organic mulch material is well composted before spreading it on    your garden, otherwise you may get mass germination of grass, grain and other weed seeds. This is quite common with fresh animal manures, and freshly cut grass hay. Fresh animal manures may also release toxic levels of nitrogenous gases (ie ammonia) that can damage your plants. Composting for 3-6 weeks will overcome these problems.
  • Some woody organic mulches such as pine bark, wood chips and sawdust require a lot of nitrogen as part of the decomposition process. This is often drawn out of the soil thereby reducing the amount of nitrogen available in the soil for healthy plant growth. Nitrogen fertilisers can be used to counteract this, or mulch materials high in nitrogen
      such as lawn clippings or manures can be mixed in with the woody material to provide sufficient nitrogen for decomposition, without it being drawn from the soil.

Some Mulches To Use:-
- Pine Bark ......slow to decompose, good weed control, can be easily dislodged, easy to
  spread, must be composted at least 6-8 weeks to leach out toxins.
- Wood Chips......similar to pine bark in properties, usually lighter in colour.
- Wood Shavings & Sawdust....can pack down reducing aeration and water penetration,
  can result in nitrogen drawdown.
- Straw....can have nitrogen drawdown problems, easy to lay, be careful that doesn't
  contain weed seeds.
- Compost......must be well composted to prevent pest & disease problems. Not as good to    walk on as some other types (can be slippery). Usually good source of slow release
- Manures.....must be well composted ie: release of toxic levels of nutrients such as
  nitrogen also to kill of weed seeds and other pests.
- Newspaper.... good as under layer for other mulches, can be a problem if dry and lying
  on the surface. Avoid glossed and coloured paper as these take longer to decompose
  and may be coloured with potentially poisonous chemicals.
- Sugar cane mulch... this comes form the leafy tops of the cane. It is different from
  begasse and regarded as a better product. It has good moisture holding features but
  does decompose relatively quickly.
- Cotton meal....a very good product for mulch although not that easy to get. Can be a bit
  expensive due to cartage. Has an attractive light, spongey appearance.

Where you put things
  • Washing in the sun, avoid trees that may create shade or drop things onto
     washing (e.g. fruit or saps), should be close to the house and a good walking surface
     between the house and washing line provided.
  • Compost heap... in close proximity to the vegetable patch and garden shed. Needs to be 
    easily reached with space around it so that the heap can be turned over. It should not be
    too close to the house in case bad smells develop or pests are attracted, nor too far
    away which will mean a long walk with kitchen scraps.
  • BBQ...with easy access to kitchen and entertainment areas.
  • Garden shed...easy access to get tools in and out, and close enough to where most work will occur.

Provision of drainage
A correctly drained site should suffer from few problems in the near future. Should 
drainage not be corrected you will continually encounter problems. Simple ways to 
improve drainage include:
  • Where water spreads out onto the soil surface dig a shallow trench to direct the water to
    a major water course or drainage channel.
  • Construct a spoon drain (surface) or underground drainage system.
  • Remove any debris from water channels or drains to prevent blockage or slow flow.
  • Plant water loving plants that use a lot of water close to wet areas.
  • Make a feature of the drain - construct it like a creek or water feature such as a pond.
  • Contour (slope) the land to quickly remove/direct runoff.



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