6 Low-Maintenance Landscaping Ideas for Birmingham

light pink flowers from oakleaf hydrangea

Spend your weekends exploring the Birmingham Zoo or some of the Magic City’s urban greenspaces instead of laboring outside, checking chores off your to-do list. Don’t miss out on a fun time with your loved ones because your lawn is unkempt and needs maintenance. Implement these low-maintenance landscaping ideas in your yard. 

  1. Be an environmental hero with xeriscaping
  2. Add native plants
  3. Landscape with perennials
  4. Consider low-maintenance lawns
  5. Make your backyard fun with hardscaping
  6. Maintain moisture with mulch

Have a hectic schedule? The easiest way to decrease your lawn care to-do list is to hire a Birmingham Lawn Love pro to do it for you. But if you want to take on the challenge yourself, these easy steps can improve your yard.

1. Be an environmental hero with xeriscaping

xeriscape with rocks and green groundcover
one2c900d | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Even in a state that has plenty of water sources such as Alabama, water supply is a concern. Lawns drink a lot of water — lawn care accounts for over one-third of residential water usage on average across the country. A perfect solution to reduce the need for irrigation is xeriscaping

Xeriscaping (pronounced “zeriscaping”) is a type of landscape design that focuses on water conservation.

There are seven elements of xeriscaping:

  • Eco-friendly landscape design

Making your lawn eco-friendly can be a big undertaking. You have a lot of things to keep in mind when deciding to xeriscape your lawn. Consider how you want your yard to look, how much effort you want to put into maintenance, how your backyard is used, and the scope of your budget. You also can consult a landscape designer to aid in your decision-making process. 

  • Test your soil

Help ensure the health of your plants by testing your soil. Soil testing tells you if you have the proper levels of nutrients so your grass and plants can thrive. Once you know what elements need adjusting, you will be able to pick out the best fertilizer for your lawn or garden.

There are two main ways for you to test your soil:

  • A DIY soil test kit is an easy and inexpensive way for you to test your soil at home. At-home testing kits will usually tell you the pH level of your soil, and let you know what amendments you should make to correct nutrient levels.
  • Send a sample to a soil testing laboratory. They will return a full soil analysis, giving you a detailed description of what is going on below ground. Reach out to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System office to learn about your lab testing options. 
  • Water-wise turf

The most water-efficient option you have is to remove turfgrass completely and replace it with native plants or hardscaping. It is still possible to have a water-efficient lawn without sacrificing your grass. Look for grass types that are drought-resistant and require less frequent watering, such as Zoysiagrass and tall fescue

  • Drought-resistant plants

Your best bet is to go for native plants or drought-resistant perennials. Trees and shrubs are also more water-efficient, requiring less frequent watering as they become established.

  • Careful irrigation

This one’s simple: Keep an eye on your irrigation system throughout the year to make sure that it’s never leaking or wasting any water. Make sure water is not being wasted hitting your driveway or the street.

Pro Tip: Water your lawn separately from your other plants to conserve water. Your grass and plants do not need the same amount of water.

  • Mulch

Mulch is a very beneficial component of water-wise landscaping. To conserve water, use mulch wherever you can. 

Mulch helps:

  • Conserve soil moisture
  • Protects plant roots
  • Reduces chances for weeds to spread
  • Keeps heat in and cold out
  • Organic mulch adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes
  • Increase curb appeal
  • Adds texture and dimension to your landscape

Save money and the environment by following these xeriscaping guidelines, but don’t be afraid to reach out to an expert for help. 

Estimated cost: The cost for xeriscaping projects largely depends on the size of your yard and the scope of your project. On average it costs around $3,298 to hire a landscape designer. To implement the design itself, on average homeowners can expect to spend between $8,737 and $22,226

2. Add native plants

close-up of the red berries and green leaves of Yaupon holly
edbo23 | Pixabay

Bring an abundance of wildlife to your yard with minimal effort by planting native plants. Does your current garden require frequent watering, fertilization, or other maintenance? You may be working with nonnative plants.

Advantages of Alabama native plants:

  • Native plants support the local ecosystem.
  • They reduce the amount of time and effort required to maintain your garden.
  • They tend to be drought-tolerant and resistant to pests and diseases.
  • They have naturally adapted to your local environment. 
  • Since they don’t require pesticides, they’re better for the environment.

Here are a few popular Alabama native plants to begin with:

The oakleaf hydrangea is a native shrub bringing white and purple blooms to your yard in June and July. They thrive in damp, wooded areas and near river banks. The shrub does best in shaded areas and is vulnerable to sunscald.  

Yaupon holly is a native plant that produces an abundance of striking red berries. This small tree thrives when given at least half a day of sun or more. It can be grown as a shrub and trimmed into hedges.

Plum leaf azalea is a native wildflower that grows bold funnel-shaped orange-red flowers. This plant will bring buzzing bumblebees to your backyard. 

Want to find more native plant varieties for your yard? Check out the Alabama Wildflower Society’s website and our list of recommended native plants for the Birmingham area. 

Estimated cost: The average price for landscaping projects falls between $3.50-$15.50 per square foot, but if you plant the native plants yourself you will only have to worry about the cost of the plants themselves. Keep in mind that native plants are cost-effective, so you’ll be saving money in the long run. 

3. Landscape with perennials

cluster of tiny white flowers from common yarrow
Jitaeri | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

You don’t need to rely on native plants for your low-maintenance garden. There are plenty of drought-resistant plants and nonnative perennials that can grow in Alabama landscapes. 

There are many advantages to perennials:

  • Perennials tend to grow deep root systems that help balance nutrients in the soil. 
  • They only need to be planted once.
  • They save you money on purchasing new plants every year.
  • They save you time spent re-planting annuals every year. 

Below is a list of three popular low-maintenance perennials:

Yarrow is a delicate wildflower with small, clustering white blooms. It is a fragrant plant that will attract plenty of bees to your garden. This plant grows best in dry or well-drained soil. 

Coreopsis is a showy, daisy-like perennial. It will bloom bright yellow flowers in May and June.

American beautyberry is a low-maintenance perennial shrub that thrives in a variety of soil types and environments. Its striking purple berries will bring birds and butterflies to your backyard. 

There are many other kinds of low-maintenance perennials that you can incorporate into your garden. When researching them, look for drought-tolerant, pest- and disease-resistant perennials that grow in Birmingham’s U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 7b-8a.

Estimated cost: The general cost of landscaping services is between $3.50-$15.50 per square foot. You also can plant these perennials yourself and only worry about paying for the plants themselves.

4. Consider low-maintenance lawns

ground cover alongside a stone stairway, with ornate bushes throughout
I.Sáček, senior | Wikimedia Commons | CC0

Most of your landscaping maintenance probably goes into your lawn. Grass tends to be water-intensive and high-maintenance. It needs to be fertilized, mowed, watered and looked after throughout the year. Cut down on the time and money spent maintaining your lawn with these tips:

  • Plant ground covers instead of grass. Ground covers are grass-like plants that spread horizontally and grow low to the ground. They aren’t as durable, but usually require less maintenance than turf grasses. Some ground covers that can thrive in Birmingham include dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) and monkey grass (Liriope muscari).
  • Use low-maintenance grasses. Some of the most low-maintenance grass types that thrive in Birmingham include Zoysiagrass, tall fescue, and centipedegrass.
    • Zoysiagrass is an extremely durable warm-season grass. It doesn’t require much watering, but does require more fertilizing compared to other turfgrasses.
    • Tall fescue is a cool-season grass that handles heat and drought well. It can also handle plenty of activity and has a high tolerance for shade.
    • Centipedegrass is a wonderful option for low-maintenance turfgrass. This grass type does not need to be mowed or watered as frequently and requires little fertilization. 
  • Get rid of grass altogether. A grass-free yard is a bold option for a low-maintenance yard, but it is becoming more popular with busy homeowners. While it may seem extreme, you can fill your yard with other elements such as native plants, rocks, and mulch. You also can use hardscaping to make your yard functional and add a touch of personality. This option is more expensive at first because you’ll likely be completely redesigning your backyard, and likely you will need to hire a professional, but it will save you plenty of money in the long run. 

Estimated cost: The average cost of landscaping falls between $3.50-$15.50 per square foot. Going grassless is the most expensive option, but you can rent a sod cutter with a $150 deposit for about $67 for four hours. Alternatively, you can hire a professional to do the work for you at around $1.50 per square foot. Native ground covers are a less expensive option, and if you’ve got a green thumb and some time to spend outside, you will only need to pay the price of the plant itself.

5. Make your backyard fun with hardscaping

outdoor pergola surrounded by plants in pots and the ceiling lit with lights and featuring a seating area beneath
Randy Fath | Unsplash

Bring some personality and functionality to your yard with hardscaping. Hardscaping can be defined as any non-living element of your yard, and it greatly reduces the amount of lawn care. 

Here are some examples of hardscapes:

  • Patios
  • Gazebos
  • Retaining walls
  • Fire pits 
  • Walkways
  • Fences
  • Decks
  • Outdoor kitchens
  • Water features

Advantages of hardscapes:

  • Increase your home’s value and curb appeal
  • Decrease mowing and overall lawn maintenance
  • Create a fun and functional environment
  • Easy to clean
  • Add dimension to your backyard

Estimated cost: Hardscaping is hard to estimate, as the cost is determined by the scope of the project you have in mind. On average, a fire pit can cost around $700, but a patio will generally cost around $3,595

6. Maintain moisture with mulch

fresh mulch placed around trees and bushes along the front of a house
Sid | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Mulch can seem like an aesthetic choice, but it can help decrease the maintenance needs of your yard and garden. It can add nutrients, maintain moisture, and prevent weeds from growing. 

There are two kinds of mulch:

  • Organic mulch: It’s best to choose organic mulch because as it decomposes it will add nutritional elements to the soil. Common types of organic mulch include pine straw, tree bark, compost, and woodchips. Organic mulch decomposes, so you will need to reapply mulch annually. 
  • Inorganic mulch: Requiring slightly less maintenance than organic mulch, inorganic mulch is made out of non-plant-based material and won’t decompose. Common kinds of inorganic mulch include gravel and rocks. Since they don’t decompose, you won’t have to worry about replacing them each year. 

Advantages of using mulch:

  • Prevents weeds from spreading
  • Regulates soil temperature and moisture levels
  • Adds beauty and personality to your garden
  • Adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes

Estimated cost: The cost of mulching is entirely based on the type of mulch you are looking to buy. Pine straw mulch is a very affordable option at only $40 per cubic yard, compared to wood chips, which fall around $70 per cubic yard

Implement low-maintenance landscape design

Does having fewer chores on your to-do list sound good to you? Choosing a low-maintenance landscape design is a smart way for you to reduce the amount of time, energy, and money you spend outside taking care of your yard. 

Let one of our Birmingham lawn care experts check tasks off your landscape maintenance to-do list. They are professionals with years of experience providing landscape services and are ready to help you design and maintain your low-maintenance lawn through every season. 

Main Photo Credit: Carol VanHook | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.