It is possible to develop a maintenance-free landscape while still having an abundance of plants. This may not happen in the first year, since new plants need plenty of water, but with proper planning and an emphasis on perennials, you will spend less time weeding, pruning, spraying, watering and planting. If you are willing to forego a green lawn, maintenance decreases dramatically and you can spend your time in the garden relaxing and enjoying the scenery.
Prepare the Soil
Virtually all garden resources emphasize soil preparation as the first step a successful gardener takes. Amend the existing soil to suit the needs of specific plants, adding organic matter--such as decomposed leaves or purchased peat moss--to all soil. Additionally, group plants in the landscape based on their specific soil requirements; rhododendrons and azaleas prefer moist, acid soil, for instance, while rosemary prefers hot sun and much less water. It is also possible to buy products that retain moisture and release it more slowly over time.
Perennials are trees, shrubs and vines that come up year after year with no additional planting on your part. Perennials can be either evergreen, keeping their leaves during the winter, or deciduous, losing their leaves. Plant perennials in groups or clumps to achieve a lush effect and to eliminate a place for weeds to take hold. Strive for a variety of colors, shapes and textures to add interest to the landscape, but do try to keep something blooming year-round. According to the "Sunset Western Garden Book" some healthy and hardy plants that are easy to grow in any climate include daffodil bulbs, bottle brush, mahonia, daylilies and juniper.
Rely on Shrubs
Shrubs are perennials with woody stems that are the longest-lasting plants in the landscape. They provide the backbone of any landscape plan. Check with your local nursery to see which shrubs do the very best in your specific climate and which shrubs are native to your area, because those are the ones that will be the most maintenance-free.
In hot, dry climates, try aloes and cacti. In a moister climate with cool summers, plant rhododendrons and ferns. Barbara Damrosch, in "The Garden Primer," recommends buddleia--or butterfly bush--for a tall, arching plant in the back of the landscape; cotoneaster, a spreading ground cover; daphne, with sweet smelling flower clusters; mock orange, also with fragrant clusters of flowers; and potentialla, a compact shrub with bright yellow flowers.
Give Up the Lawn and Hybrid Roses
Both lawns and hybrid roses require regular and prolonged care, with feeding, watering, pruning and mowing needed. A courtyard paved with rich-toned pavers or covered with pea-sized gravel, and surrounded by lush perennials or raised planting beds is a maintenance-free and attractive alternative.