Low Maintenance Landscapes For Portland

by Ben Bowen

Low or No Care Landscaping?

Almost every week, it seems, I meet with a potential client who is looking for something very specific: a low maintenance or sustainable landscape design.

This is not a simple request. Why? Because, my friend, we live in Portland, OR.

Portland is a place where the rocks turn green, every vacant lot is a rain forest, and cracks in the sidewalks fill with weeds. Stuff really grows here. Low maintenance is not what nature produces here. How do we handle this?

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!
— Audrey Hepburn

What is a low maintenance garden?

As a landscape designer, the first thing I have to understand, is what a client means when the say "low maintenance".

For some it is code for "Let's eliminate this lawn". Others want a garden that doesn't need a lot of attention in the fall or regular pruning. Some homeowners also mean that they don't want to water a lot.

What does a low maintenance landscape mean to you?

Strategies for Portland's low maintenance landscaping

Natives. For the Pacific Northwest we need to look to the natives. Some (not all) native plant material will thrive with less water, fertilizer, and attention. Much of what we use is "understory" plants. These plants are naturally found underneath larger plants. They don't mind shade, acidic soil, or crowding. Translation: they will be happy in your yard.

Hardscaping. Patios, walkways, dry creek beds, boulder groupings all add weight and focus to your landscape. And guess what? They take little or no maintenance. You can not blanket 5000 square feet of dirt with plants and think you won't spend the rest of you life pruning and weeding!

No lawn. Turf needs weekly attention 9 months of the year. The demand water, fertilizer, and your time. Did you know that a water feature uses less water in a year than a lawn of similar size? Unless you need a lawn you probably shouldn't have one. Synthetic turf might be a great option if you still need a play surface or dog-friendly yard.

Irrigation. Can you have a low maintenance landscape without sprinklers? Yes, after a year or two. Even drought tolerant plants need water while they are getting established and mature. Having an irrigation system will lessen the time you spend in your garden and expand the selection of plants we can choose from. And a low water use system, installed by Ross NW Watergardens, is very efficient.

Low maintenance landscaping is not impossible- even here in Portland. They do take a lot of careful planning though. Partner with a great landscape designer to get started!

For more on low maintenance landscape designs check out this post with 10 great tips!