Using Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs make really good candidates for any low maintenance garden. Once established, they are some of the most undemanding of plants – so you can forget most of the usual ritual of dead-heading, feeding and weeding that goes with most annuals and bedding plants. In addition, they can be relied on to provide a bit of structure and interest throughout the year, and the threat of hosepipe-bans ceases to be so much of a worry, since unlike hanging baskets and containers, trees and shrubs won’t wilt at the first sign of a bit of warm weather.

However, although trees and shrubs do have much to recommend them for the low maintenance garden, there are a few things to remember when picking the specimens to use – not least because they tend to be more costly than the likes of bulbs, bedding plants and roses. It pays to choose carefully and make sure that you pick the right plant for the job.

Making The Right Choice

Although many shrubs and trees will thrive in a range of garden conditions and require very little effort to keep them looking good, there are some which are anything but low maintenance in their demands.

No matter how attractive or striking a plant spotted in the garden centre may be, it’s essential that you don’t just buy it on impulse and then hope to find somewhere suitable for it to live. Not only do you risk wasting the money – and some trees and shrubs can be very expensive indeed – but there is always something very depressing about watching any plant die. It’s even worse when you know it was entirely your own fault!

When it comes to picking shrubs and trees for the low maintenance garden, the two golden rules are don’t buy anything you haven’t first thoroughly researched and always buy the best quality stock you can.

Look For Low Maintenance Features

There are two basic things to bear in mind when you are selecting trees and shrubs for the low maintenance garden. Firstly, steer clear of anything that needs extensive annual pruning to keep it in good health – such as the likes of Lilac and Philadelphus, which rapidly lose their free-flowering forms if they are not regularly cut back.

It’s also a good idea to avoid plants such as Buddleia or Forsythia which will tend to grow in a leggy or unrestrained way without frequent pruning, opting instead for trees and shrubs that naturally have more compact growth.

Secondly, unless your plot is very sheltered and guaranteed frost-free, don’t go for anything that isn’t fully hardy. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble by choosing specimens which can survive the cold of winter without requiring extra artificial protection – and if your site is exposed or particularly windswept, pick kinds which will tolerate these conditions.

Willow and Mountain Ash, for example, show good wind tolerance, but the delicate-leaved Japanese Maple can be quickly damaged by anything much stronger than a gentle breeze.

Benefits For Garden Design

Trees and shrubs can bring a number of valuable benefits to any garden. In addition to providing some form and interest, there’s nothing quite like a well-chosen tree to add a feeling of maturity to the plot, while many trees and shrubs come into their own during the autumn and winter – just when the rest of the garden is fading fast. Winter-flowering jasmine, for instance is a long-established favourite for this very reason, and there’s no shortage of suitable conifers or evergreens to liven up the view during the colder months of the year.

Whatever your reason for including these kinds of plants in your low maintenance garden, it’s important to keep a sense of scale when picking what you’re going to grow. There’s a place for a tree in every garden, however small – but don’t lose sight of the fact that some kinds do grow up to be real giants! Once again, good research is vital and it’s every bit as important to think about how big – and how quickly – your purchase will grow as it is to consider whether it likes light or shade or what type of soil suits it best.

Fortunately, there are many excellent dwarf of miniature trees available, such as Silver Birch (Betula pendula) and Weeping Willow (Salix caprea var. ‘Kilmarnock’), which have all the charm and beauty of their loftier brethren, so you need never feel cheated even if space is a bit limited.

Whether you’re looking for a way to add a little interest, provide a little extra privacy, make a good wind break or grow a living screen to hide an unsightly view without too much effort, if you pick your plants wisely, trees and shrubs are hard to beat.