Good-Looking, Low-Maintenance Landscapes

April 16, 2009
One way to achieve aesthetically pleasing, low-maintenance landscapes is to incorporate native, drought-resistant plants

Regardless of the type of project, a top concern for facilities professionals is budget. Everyone wants beautiful landscapes that bloom all year long and are easy to maintain, which lowers operating costs. One way to achieve aesthetically pleasing, low-maintenance landscapes is to incorporate native, drought-resistant plants.

Some native plants are readily available, and most require less maintenance. Native plants also tolerate seasonal changes better, need less water, and require fewer pesticides and fertilizers. (For the information specific to your region, contact your local cooperative extension or university.) Perennials, such as Barrenwort (Epimedium), are good for dry shade, and don’t need to be replanted. Another attractive, hearty perennial is the Black-Eyed Susan.

Low-Maintenance Plants for the Mid-Atlantic Region


  • Willow Oak (Quercus phellos): rapid growth, long life, good shade tree, easily transplanted, used widely in urban areas.
  • Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis): forms a spreading, graceful crown; thrives in full sun or light shade; rosy-pink flowers usually appear in April; reddish-purple leaves change to dark green, and then to yellow; partial shade preferred in windy, dry areas.


  • Abelia ‘Edward Goucher’: semi-evergreen shrub with glossy foliage and long bloom time; tubular, 1-inch-long, soft-pink flowers aren’t produced in huge quantities, so bloom time extends from summer to autumn.
  • Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum): versatile, flowering shrub that’s indigenous to North America’s eastern half; bears white flowers in spring and attractive fall foliage and bluish berries in autumn; tolerates a range of soils; grows in full sun, partial shade, or full shade.


  • Knock Out Rose: easy to grow, doesn’t require special care, most disease-resistant rose on the market, generous bloom cycle that continues until the first hard frost.
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia): tolerates drought; fares well in full sun to light shade; extended blooming season; good for mass plantings, groundcover, and naturalizing.

Xeriscaping is the practice of using non-native, drought-resistant plants that are also non-invasive. Drought-resistant plants are able to survive through times of little rainfall using natural rain as the only source of water. Xeriscaping practices thrive in urban areas where there is little water absorption. Native plants and xeriscaping provide a variety of hardy, low-maintenance options, and can also filter out pollutants.

With any landscape design, it’s important to take certain factors into consideration when selecting specific plants. For example, there are many different types of soil, and understanding the soil determines what amendments are needed for plants to thrive. The soil also determines which types of plants would be more appropriate. Other factors include slope and topography. Some plants are better suited to be at the bottom of a slope to absorb the most rainfall, while plants that need less water can be placed at the top of the slope. The shape of planting beds (and the beds themselves) is also extremely important to the success of the landscape. It’s essential to use plants that will establish their roots into the beds and will not have to be replaced each year.

Another factor to consider is the pedestrian traffic patterns that the landscape will have to support. It’s better to figure out the most frequently traveled paths and pave them instead of repeatedly replacing plants and grasses. The placement of the plants also plays a role in the amount of sunlight that certain plants will receive. Some plants fare better in the shade, while others need significant amounts of sunlight.

In addition, every region experiences different seasons (and variations of those seasons). In an area with four distinct seasons, it’s important to consider how each plant will bloom and change during each season.

To minimize future operating costs, it’s ideal to install the appropriate irrigation system before installing the landscape. Rain sensors are easy to install, and they save water by preventing watering systems from irrigating during times of adequate rainfall. Soil moisture sensors track soil dampness and indicate when to turn the irrigation system on.

Through proper planning and low-maintenance plants, there are many options to mitigate high operation costs and still have a beautiful landscape.

Joan Floura and Aaron Teeter are principals at Baltimore-based Floura Teeter Landscape Architects.

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