With increasing man power costs and the development of new technologies to assist with the maintenance of gardens (ie: machinery, chemicals etc.) the way in which we design and build our gardens is being greatly affected. Our arrangement of the landscape components and our selection of materials must fit with the techniques and equipment (as well as time) we are able to use on maintaining that garden.   

Compromises often have to be made in order to create a garden which will fit with an expected maintenance level.  Know what man power, equipment and money will be allocated regularly to maintaining the garden and design something which can be kept presentable for that amount of commitment.

THE COST OF GARDEN MAINTENANCE

We usually think of garden maintenance as a summer priority when lawns, weeds and plants grow vigorously but even in winter a garden will soon go backwards without regular maintenance. 
But the proper maintenance will cost you both time and money. Fortunately, there are shortcuts to help you have a good-looking garden without spending a huge amount of time or money on your property. 

What Costs?

Maintenance costs fall into three main categories:

1. Tools and Equipment

If you use them all the time, buy them.
If you use them rarely, borrow or hire them.
Another option is to employ a gardener who has his own tools. Consider: to buy a lawn mower, leaf blower, power hedge shears, chainsaw, secateurs, loppers, barrow, spade, shovel, whipper snipper, etc the cost may be 5-10% of a person’s annual income.
If you hire a gardener, who has all of these tools, you might not need to buy hardly any of these things, and you won’t need to learn about and take care of their maintenance. 

2. Manpower

How much is your time worth to you?

It may be cheaper to hire a gardener than do it yourself.
If you are stressed and suffering from a lack of exercise, working in your garden each week can have massive health benefits. 
Many people find that a few hours in the garden can make them much more productive when they are in the office.  

3. Materials

Once a garden is established, you may think the cost of materials is minimal. But over several years, the cost of replacement materials mounts up. Here are just some examples of things that need to be purchased to keep the garden looking good: 

  • Plants – replacement costs 
  • Fertiliser
  • Potting mix
  • Pots – when plants outgrow their existing pots
  • Mulch to top up beds
  • Gravel to top up paths
  • Pesticides/Weedicides 
  • Petrol/oil for machinery

What Happens if You Don’t Maintain a Garden?

  • It looks worse 
  • It detracts from your property value
  • It becomes less useable
  • It can attract vermin and other pests
  • Root and foliage growth can damage the structure of buildings, pipes etc.

Machinery

Machines are notoriously expensive to maintain; particularly if you are not mechanically minded.
Without routine care, petrol engines develop clogged spark plugs, blocked fuel lines, and other problems with relative ease – and you simply can’t start them.
Chainsaw blades will be blunted the first day you use them and need resharpening (and that task is very different to sharpening a kitchen knife).

Expensive to Maintain Areas

Monocultures

Though a mass planting of the same plant variety can look stunning, this style of planting is more likely to suffer from pest, disease or weed problems. When a large number of the same type of plant are together, a small infestation of pest or disease will have plenty of food to spread through (hence pest or disease populations build rapidly to plague proportions). Similarly, weeds that can compete with a particular plant will have nothing different to suppress their growth if everything is the same variety.

Lawns

Lawns may seem inexpensive but they’re not!
Don’t discount having a lawn – they’re great to sit on, look at and play on but perhaps the size of your lawn should be determined by the amount of money and time you have to spend on its upkeep.
Lawns need ongoing maintenance otherwise they quickly deteriorate. If you want a lawn to look lush and green, you need to fertilise it several times a year, and remove weeds almost every week in the growing season; not to mention aerating the surface perhaps annually and watering whenever the weather is dry. 
Lawns can seem the easiest way to deal with acreage but in fact the cost of mower fuel and time to mow it each week can be very significant. 

Edging

Maintaining tidy lawn edges is time consuming but necessary. A clean edge to the lawn prevents grasses spreading into adjacent garden beds and becoming a major weed problem. 
Grass trimmers and edging machines do the job quickly but like all machinery require maintenance etc. to keep them in good condition. 

Container Plants

With the right care, hanging baskets, indoor plants and tub plants are highly attractive but to look good, they do require a lot of maintenance. They need regular watering, occasional feeding and repotting every year or so. In addition you need to consider the cost of new larger pots, replacement plants, fresh potting mix and fertilisers. 
You can keep the costs down by using plastic pots and choosing hardy plants that grow well in containers but don’t skimp on potting mix – quality potting mixes do cost more but in the long run give much better results. 

Annual Seedling Beds

Beds of flowering annuals are colourful and fast-growing but they are only temporary, lasting for only a few short months each year. To get the most out of annuals, you need to give them high quality soil, and regular watering and feeding. They may also need staking and deadheading to prolong the display. It’s also important to keep a vigilant eye out for pests and diseases which can wipe out the whole bed very quickly.  
To reduce costs, grow them from seed instead of buying punnets and plant them in pockets amongst hardy perennial plants as quick, colourful fillers.

Vegetable & Fruit Gardens

A long-term vegetable and fruit garden can save you money but you need to put in a lot of time and effort to get good results. 
You should be realistic about how much money you’re saving. Apart from tools, you need to spend money on plants, fertilisers, stakes, mulch/manure, bird netting and pesticides. The end result could be a spectacular harvest…just at the same time as the produce is at a dirt-cheap price at the supermarket. 
Also consider how long it takes for many fruit and nut trees to start bearing decent crops. Are you prepared to wait for up to five or more years, while still having to water, fertilise and prune the tree until it starts bearing?

Some shortcuts: 

  • Fertilisers – make your own compost; grow a worm farm; collect free manure from stables
  • Pest control – companion planting, home-made sprays, rotating crops, choosing hardy crops
  • Swapping produce with neighbours – liaise with them before planting to avoid planting the same crops
  • Grafted fruit trees – expensive initially but give better, more reliable crops in less time

Water Gardens

A well maintained water garden is an asset to every garden but unless you have time to spend on its upkeep, you should stick to a very simple water feature. Some ongoing maintenance requirements are cleaning and weeding (keeping the pond free of algae, water weeds and floating debris), feeding fish and keeping the pump in good order.

Less Expensive to Maintain Areas

Polycultures

When a wide variety of different plants are mixed together, the likelihood of pests, diseases and weeds becoming an obvious problem, or building to plague proportions will be far less.

Dense Shrubberies

Compared to other gardens, a dense shrubbery planted with hardy, low maintenance plants requires less weeding, watering and pruning. The key is to choose the right plants including hardy groundcovers, and to put them close together to exclude weeds.  

Informal Bush Gardens

The beauty of these gardens is not so much that they don’t require watering, pruning and fertilising because they do (but generally to a much lesser extent), but that it doesn’t matter if leaves and twigs litter the garden and if the garden takes on a slightly wild, unkempt appearance. 

Paved Areas

These may be expensive to construct but if done properly, maintenance costs are low.