11 Low-Maintenance Landscaping Ideas for Asheville

stone pathway in a garden with ground covers and low-maintenance plants

When George Vanderbilt II built his “little mountain estate” (AKA Biltmore) complete with 75 acres of fountain-filled garden space, he gave Asheville lawns some stiff competition. But don’t panic: You don’t need to be a Gilded Age tycoon to design your own gorgeous, low-maintenance lawn.

Sorry, George, we don’t have a bowling green on our list (it’s not exactly easy-care), but we do have some great ideas to make your lawn shine without all the yard work. Here are 11 low-maintenance landscaping ideas for your Asheville lawn. 

1. Go natural with native plants

Native plants aren’t just any old plant: They’re native to Asheville in particular, so they’re adapted to our mountainous western North Carolina climate. While non-native plants struggle through our warm, humid summers and mild to chilly winters, native plants thrive with minimal work.

Once established, native plants don’t require any fertilizer or pesticide, and they won’t need any watering except in periods of drought. They’re beautiful, hardy growers that won’t eat up your weekend needing care or need to be replaced halfway through the year. 

Native plants come in all shapes and sizes, from ground covers to wildflowers to trees. Here are some of the top native plants for Asheville:

  • Rhododendron
  • Mountain laurel
  • Blueberry
  • Mountain stonecrop
  • Green-and-gold
  • Creeping phlox
  • Passionflower
  • Lady fern

Native trees are a fantastic way to “spruce up” your lawn, reduce erosion, and protect lower-growing plants. Some of Asheville’s finest native trees include:

  • Red spruce
  • Dogwood
  • Tulip tree
  • Bitternut hickory
  • River birch
  • Red maple
  • Chestnut oak
  • Eastern hemlock
  • Sycamore 

For native Asheville plants listed by type and season, check out the North Carolina Native Plant Society’s native plant handouts.

Benefits of native plants:

✓ No mowing required
✓ Little to no supplemental water needed
✓ No fertilizer or pesticides necessary
✓ Pollinator-friendly
✓ Provide a habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife
✓ Promote biodiversity
✓ Deep roots prevent erosion and protect local waterways from polluted runoff
✓ Add beautiful color and texture to your lawn

Cost: Native plant prices vary based on size, age, and species. Expect to pay $5 to $10 per native flower, $20 to $100 per native shrub, and $60 to $800 per native tree. 

When you have a choice between native and non-native plants, native plants are almost always the lower-maintenance option. So, we’ll give you a buffet of native plant options as we travel through our list.

2. Hardscape to your heart’s content

Ready to ditch the mower and hose and kick harsh chemicals to the curb? Hardscapes are made of, well, hard materials — from wood and brick to stone and gravel — which means you won’t have to do any of the care required for live plants. 

Installing a hardscape is a great way to cut back on thirsty, high-maintenance turfgrass, so you don’t have to do as much weeding and digging in hot summer months. You can kick back with a frosty drink on your patio (one of your hardscapes) without worrying about whether it’s time to apply the next round of fertilizer or pesticide. 

While the initial cost of installing a hardscape is higher than spreading grass seeds or planting a garden, you get a return on your investment. Hardscapes — especially those that offer an outdoor space for dining — can increase your property value by as much as 15%. 

Need some hardscape inspiration? We’ve got you covered:

  • Stone patio
  • River rock pathway
  • Fire pit
  • Outdoor kitchen
  • Outdoor fireplace
  • Wrought iron bench
  • Wooden deck
  • Arbor
  • Water features like fountains
  • Paved walkway
  • Eco-friendly permeable pavers 

Benefits of hardscaping:

✓ Expands outdoor living and hosting space
✓ Long-lasting
✓ Less grass to mow and water
✓ No pesticide or fertilizer needed
✓ Can even out sloped areas of your lawn
✓ Increases your property value

Pro Tip: Many hardscapes are made of impermeable material, which means they don’t allow water to penetrate. During storms, water rushes across these surfaces down the storm drain and into local waterways like the Swannanoa River and Burnett Reservoir. To protect fish and turtles and keep our drinking water clean, choose a permeable hardscape option.

Cost: Hardscape prices range based on the type of hardscape you are installing and what materials you’re using. Pathways typically cost between $7 and $24 per square foot (a 100-square-foot paver path usually costs between $1,000 and $1,800). Patios range from $576 to $8,000 and a deck ranges from $4,000 to $11,000. Pergolas cost $2,100 to $5,900 on average, and arbors and trellises range from $100 to $1,500.

3. Get water-wise with a xeriscape

Some people mistake a “xeriscape” for a “zero-scape” and think it’s a gravel- and dirt-filled wasteland. That’s nowhere near the truth. A xeriscape is a drought-tolerant, colorful landscape designed to thrive on local rainfall levels with little to no supplemental water. 

In Asheville, we tend to get plenty of rain (an average of 45.5 inches per year), but that doesn’t mean xeriscaping isn’t beneficial: Xeriscapes make our yards less vulnerable to the damages of drought when it does come (because even Asheville isn’t immune to drought), protect our drinking water supply, and save our watershed from toxic, fertilizer-filled waste.

Xeriscapes are filled with:

  • Native plants and succulents
  • Mulch
  • Rock, sand, and gravel
  • Hardscape features like benches, fire pits, and patios

Xeriscapes are fun to design and create a low-maintenance space that doesn’t sacrifice beauty for convenience. 

Benefits of a xeriscape: 

Increases property value
✓ Reduces outdoor water use for households across the U.S. (not just in the dry southwest)
✓ Excellent way to prepare for droughts and prevent water shortages
✓ Cuts fertilizer and pesticide waste
✓ Reduces runoff
✓ Reduces or eliminates mowing (depending on whether you keep a portion of turfgrass)
✓ Attracts beautiful butterflies, bees, and birds
✓ Creates a habitat for wildlife and promotes biodiversity
✓ Fun to design a unique, stylish lawn

Cost: A professionally designed and installed xeriscape costs between $3,600 and $22,349, or $3 to $15 per square foot, depending on the size of your lawn and the features you want in your landscape design. 

4. Mulching is magical

We’ll say it: Mulch doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s no mere filler for bare patches of your lawn. It’s a miracle worker that protects plant roots, encourages strong growth, and reduces watering needs. Whether you’re building a rain garden or xeriscaping, a healthy layer of mulch will come in handy. 

Mulch is an organic or inorganic material — from shredded leaves to rubber chips — that is spread over your soil. It retains soil moisture, prevents weeds and diseases, and protects plant roots from damage and erosion. With mulch, you can cut back on the watering, weeding, and chemical applications. 

Benefits of mulch: 

✓ Prevents evaporation and retains soil moisture
✓ Insulates soil to prevent sudden temperature shifts
✓ Prevents erosion
✓ Protects plants from soil-borne diseases
✓ Stops polluted runoff from entering aquatic ecosystems
✓ Keeps soil aerated and nutrient-rich
✓ Visually attractive
✓ Gives plant roots a nutrient boost (if organic)
✓ Attracts beneficial microorganisms and earthworms (if organic)

Cost: Mulch ranges from $15.30 to $74.80 per cubic yard or $1.80 to $6.05 per 2-cubic-foot bag, depending on the material you choose. You can often get fresh wood mulch for free from your local arborist or tree recycling center.  

5. Refreshing rain gardens

Sick of your backyard becoming one big puddle during rainstorms? A rain garden is a perfect way to channel water to one place to reduce the risk of home flooding and prevent harmful runoff from flowing into the Burnett Reservoir. 

What’s a rain garden? Rain gardens are basins filled with deep-rooted native plants, rocks, and permeable soil. They’re designed to capture and hold polluted rainwater flowing from impermeable surfaces (like your roof and driveway), giving the water time to drain into your soil and be absorbed and filtered by plant roots.

Why build a rain garden? Installing a rain garden means that less polluted runoff enters local waterways and more stormwater gets used by your lawn, so you don’t have to water as frequently. A rain garden does the environment and your wallet a big favor. 

Benefits of a rain garden:

✓ Recharges groundwater to protect Asheville’s water supply
✓ Increases soil moisture
✓Filters water to prevent harmful fertilizer, herbicide, and sediment from entering waterways
✓ Reduces runoff and erosion
✓ Protects fish and turtles from thermal shock
✓ Attracts pollinators like butterflies and bees 
✓ Promotes biodiversity and provides a habitat for native wildlife
✓ Increases your property value
✓ Colorful native flowers add curb appeal

Cost: Installing a rain garden yourself costs between $3 to $5 per square foot, depending on the type of plants and materials you use. A typical rain garden is 150 to 400 square feet, so expect to pay between $450 and $2,000. Professional installation ranges from $10 and $15 per square foot

6. Wonderful wildflowers

Here in Asheville, we tend to have highly acidic, low-fertility soils which can spell trouble when picking out plants. It often means we have to amend our soil to raise the pH. But you know what plants love our soil just as it is? Wildflowers. They’re native growers that thrive in poor soil and will turn your lawn into a gorgeous meadow with no watering or fertilizer needed.

Popular wildflowers for Asheville homes: 

  • Black cohosh
  • Wild columbine
  • Fire pink
  • Late purple aster
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit
  • Purple coneflower
  • Cardinal flower

A wildflower meadow takes two to three years to establish, but once it’s self-sufficient, the only lawn work you’ll need to do is the occasional weeding and pruning. Plus, pollinators love wildflowers, so you’ll soon see gorgeous butterflies, bees, and birds fluttering about your lawn. 

Benefits of a wildflower meadow: 

✓ No pesticides or fertilizer necessary
✓ Only one mowing needed per year
✓ Promotes biodiversity and provides a habitat for wildlife
✓ Pollinator-friendly
✓ No watering needed once plants are established
✓ Adds beautiful color and texture to your landscape
✓ Improves soil health
✓ Reduces runoff and erosion

Cost: Wildflower seed mixes (which include both wildflowers and healthy native grasses) cost $60 to $80 per 1,000 square feet. Professional installation runs $750 to $2,500 for a typical quarter-acre lawn, depending on how much preparation the area requires. 

7. Heroic herbs

Asheville is home to the largest herb festival in the U.S., and what better way to celebrate than to plant your own herb garden? Western North Carolina weather can be, well, unpredictable. One summer we’ll have downpour after downpour, and then next we’ll have no rain for a month. That means drought-tolerant plants are especially important for our climate — and delicious drought-tolerant plants? Even better. 

Many popular herbs aren’t native, but don’t fret: They developed in the Mediterranean region, so they’re used to periods of drought. 

Benefits of herbs:

✓ Less water needed than traditional turfgrass
✓ Many herbs do not require fertilizer
✓ No mowing required
✓ Aromatic
✓ Save money at the grocery store
✓ Add fresh flavor to your dinner table

Cost: Most small potted herbs cost $3 to $15 per plant. If you want to grow herbs from seed, a packet of seed costs $1 to $3, and an herb garden starter kit ranges from $20 to $45.

8. Perfect perennials

Tired of replanting your flower beds every season? Perennials are the perfect solution. They last year after year so you won’t have to waste money, time, and sweat getting rid of dead plants and replacing them with new ones. 

If you’re building a rock garden, xeriscape, or rain garden, native North Carolina perennials — ferns, vines, flowers, and shrubs — are your new best friends. Their deep roots withstand hot summers and drought, and they’re old pros at surviving Asheville winters. 

Here are 6 popular native perennials for western North Carolina:

  • Huckleberry
  • Robin’s plantain
  • Moss phlox
  • Virginia creeper
  • Spicebush
  • Turk’s cap lily

How do perennials survive the winter? When winters get too cold for growth, perennials go dormant (turn brown) and save energy in their roots. In spring, they green back up as temperatures warm. 

Benefits of perennials:

✓ Deeper, denser roots than annuals resist erosion and drought
✓ Don’t need to be replaced every year
✓ You can choose sun- or shade-loving varieties based on your yard’s light exposure
✓ Better at timing spring growth: Perennials are less likely to mistake a warm day in winter for the beginning of spring
✓ Don’t require as much pesticide as annuals

Cost: For a DIY perennial garden, expect to pay $5 to $30 per plant. A professionally planted garden bed ranges from $650 to $3,000, based on garden size and plant variety. 

9. Graceful ground covers

Want a healthy, leafy lawn without the thirsty turfgrass? Replace your turfgrass with ground cover. Ground covers are exactly what they sound like: Low-growing plants that fill in your lawn with a blanket of greenery, minus all the maintenance. With ground covers, you can cut back on the mowing, watering, and fertilizing and enjoy unique, attractive foliage.

Choose a ground cover that thrives in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a. Some of the top native ground covers for Asheville include:

  • Bishop’s hat (AKA bishop’s cap)
  • Pussytoes
  • Partridgeberry
  • Alumroot
  • Dwarf lobed coreopsis
  • Foamflower
  • Golden ragwort

Benefits of ground covers:

✓ Prevent weed growth
✓ Little to no mowing required
✓ Lower-maintenance than turfgrass
✓ Prevent erosion and stabilize the soil
✓ No fertilizer or pesticide needed for native ground covers
✓ Fewer disease problems than turfgrass
✓ Attractive blossoms and leaf patterns

Cost: Replacing turfgrass with ground cover typically costs $3.50 to $12.50 per square foot.

10. Add winter greenery

Asheville winters can be cold, but our temperatures typically stay in the 40s and 50s throughout the winter months. So, why not host a winter get-together in the backyard complete with hot cocoa and holiday carols? 

Accent your lawn with pretty evergreens and “winter interest” plants (plants that display attractive foliage, blossoms, berries, or bark in winter) to turn your neighbors’ fa-la-la-la’s into ooh-la-la’s. 

What exactly gives a plant “winter interest”? Take the Sango-kaku Japanese maple. Its bark turns a vivid coral color as temperatures drop, so you get a stunning show. Winter interest plants keep your lawn looking, well, interesting, during the months when it would otherwise look brown and barren.

The North Carolina State University cooperative extension recommends winter interest plants including: 

  • Lenten rose
  • Winter daphne
  • Camelias
  • Leatherleaf mahonia
  • Winter honeysuckle
  • Paperbark maple
  • Fantasy crape myrtle

Benefits of winter interest plants:

✓ Brighten up your lawn in otherwise gray months
✓ No mowing required
✓ Improve air quality by reducing carbon dioxide pollution in winter
✓ Offer habitat and food to native wildlife when resources are scarce
✓ Excellent way to incorporate native plants into your landscape

Cost: Prices range from $20 to $2,500, depending on the plant size, species and maturity. Small flowering winter interest plants range from $20 to $35, and small trees range from $100 to $600

11. Get artistic with artificial grass

Asheville’s humid, wet summers can spell disease and pest infestations for your turfgrass. With artificial grass (AKA artificial turf), you won’t have to worry about rain making your yard a haven for mold and grubs. If you want an evergreen grass lawn without all the upkeep (and are willing to spend some extra dollars), artificial grass could be your perfect landscaping solution. 

Artificial grass is made of heat-resistant plastic that comes in a variety of textures, heights, and colors. While artificial grass of the 1980s didn’t exactly look realistic, today’s artificial grass will make your neighbors jealous of how you maintain such a fresh, healthy yard without touching the mower.

How to maintain an artificial grass lawn? You’ll just need to clean up twigs and debris and rinse your turf occasionally to keep it clean.

Benefits of artificial grass:

✓ Durable and good for play
✓ Evergreen
✓ Many aesthetic varieties available
✓ No fertilizer or pesticides needed
✓ No mowing necessary
✓ Minimal water required (only for cleaning the turf)
✓ Saves water and energy
✓ Can save money in the long term 

Cost: Professional installation of artificial grass ranges from $4.95 to $20.60 per square foot.

Let a pro give your lawn the Biltmore treatment

Sure, George Vanderbilt II commissioned a Roman garden, bowling green, and a statue of Diana — but he also created a low-maintenance 3-mile Approach Road leading up to the house to give his guests a rustic, relaxed journey up to the mansion. 

So, Asheville has a history of easy-care landscaping. If you want to join the tradition, you can DIY a low-maintenance lawn or play Gilded Age royalty for a weekend and hire a team of Asheville lawn care pros. They’ll give your lawn the Biltmore treatment while you enjoy the fun of downtown Asheville. 

Main Photo Credit: nanseaj | Pixabay

Maille Smith

Maille-Rose Smith is a freelance writer and actor based in New York. She graduated from the University of Virginia. She enjoys watching theatre, reading mysteries, and listening to psychology podcasts. She is an orchid enthusiast and always has a basil plant growing in her kitchen.