Raleigh isn’t “all work and no play” just because it’s home to the famous Research Triangle Park. After a long week at the office, you want to lay around the house or maybe go out with friends — but you definitely don’t want to spend that precious free time on yard work. That’s where our low-maintenance landscaping ideas for Raleigh can help!
Design a landscape that practically takes care of itself, and you’ll cut back the hours you spend working on the lawn and garden on the weekends. How? You can start with these 11 landscape design ideas:
- Plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers
- Be water-wise with succulents
- Fill your flower beds with long-lasting perennials
- Go for evergreen trees and shrubs
- Use a ground cover plant in place of grass
- Install no-maintenance artificial turf
- Build a custom rain garden
- Keep your outdoor plants in pots
- Always use mulch where you can
- Replace garden spaces with hardscapes
- Transform your yard into a xeriscape
By incorporating even a few of these low-maintenance landscape features, you can cross several yard chores off your to-do list permanently. While you’re at it, why not hire a professional landscaper to handle the whole list for you?
1. Plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers
Even if you don’t know anything about native plants, it’s a pretty simple concept to understand. The explanation is right in the name: Native plants are plants that grow naturally in the Raleigh area. Think wildflowers or the trees and bushes you might see in the woods.
If you plant those natives in your landscape instead of foreign plants, your garden will thrive with much less effort from you. Native plants have a built-in resistance to local pests and plant diseases, and they can survive on Raleigh’s natural rainfall without supplemental watering.
What if you can’t find a native plant that suits your needs? That shouldn’t be a problem. North Carolina has thousands of diverse native plants, including shrubs, trees, vines, flowers, ornamental grasses, and more. Here are just a few examples:
- Carolina phlox (Phlox carolina)
- Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
- Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)
When choosing the best NC natives for your landscape, make sure you choose species that can survive in Raleigh’s U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones. Parts of the city fall under zone 7, while others fall under zone 8. That means the lowest winter temperature each year ranges from about 0 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t use plants in your landscape that can’t handle those lows.
Advantages of North Carolina native plants:
- Need less watering than nonnatives
- Typically resist pests, diseases, and weeds without pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides
- Can survive Raleigh winters
- Beneficial for local wildlife and environment
Approximate cost: Cost varies widely based on the size and species of plant; Between $650-$3,000 for a whole flower bed with professional installation; Between $25-$3,000 to plant a new shrub or tree with professional help.
2. Be water-wise with succulents
Succulents are infamous for being easy to take care of. Because they store water in their thick, fleshy leaves for a long time, you only have to water them once a month after they’re established. Growing succulents outdoors in Raleigh is even easier because the rain will usually provide plenty of water for these plants to thrive.
Be careful when choosing succulents for your Raleigh landscape. Many of these plants love heat and won’t survive winter in zones 7 and 8. Most succulents from these groups will be able to handle this area’s occasional dips below freezing temperatures:
- Sempervivum genus
- Agave genus
- Euphorbia genus
Even with cold-hardy succulents like these, you may have to cover them during the coldest parts of winter to protect them from frost and harsh winds.
Advantages of succulents:
- Rarely need you to water them
- Don’t create much plant litter for you to clean up
- Typically need less pruning than other plants
- Purify the air
- Have beautiful and unique colors, shapes and sizes
Approximate cost: Depending on size and species, it costs about $3-$25 per succulent for the plant only.
3. Fill your flower beds with long-lasting perennials
Pay attention when you’re at the nursery picking flowers to plant in your flower bed next spring. If you choose annual plants, they’ll completely die off in winter, and you’ll have to plant new ones again next spring. But perennials live through winter (though dormant) and bloom year after year.
It’s a good idea to use native perennials, so you can be certain that they’re hardy enough for North Carolina winters. Some native perennials that will thrive in your flower garden include:
- Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
- Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
Some perennials have a lifespan of a few years, but others will go on living as long as you keep them in the right conditions. That means saving yourself several years of planting (and paying for) a whole new flower garden every spring.
Advantages of perennials:
- Bloom every year so you don’t have to replace them
- Many native plants are perennials
- They have a deep root system
- Overall less maintenance
Approximate cost: From $650-$3,000 for a whole new flower bed; depends on size, types of plants, and whether you DIY or hire a professional landscaper.
4. Go for evergreen trees and shrubs
Even though Raleigh is called the City of Oaks, deciduous trees like oak trees aren’t the best choice for a low-maintenance landscape. Whenever you can, plant evergreens instead.
Any time you see a tree or shrub described as evergreen, that means the plant retains its leaves or needles throughout the entire year. Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs, which lose all their leaves in fall, evergreens don’t drop a massive pile of leaves on your lawn every year.
Weekly raking or leaf blowing from September to November wouldn’t be necessary for a landscape full of evergreens.
Native evergreens for Raleigh include:
- Loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus)
- Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata)
- Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera)
Note: Many evergreens are conifers (such as pine trees), which means they have needles that shed in small amounts throughout the year instead of one big drop in fall. You usually won’t have to clean up the small needles, since they’re sparse enough to decompose into the soil as part of the thatch layer. However, those needles can clog gutters, so plant tall conifers away from the house.
Advantages of evergreens:
- No leaf cleanup in fall
- Trees and shrubs add year-round interest
- Many native plants are evergreen
- Provide privacy
- Improve air quality
Approximate cost: Starts at about $25 for a single shrub, can go up to $3,000 for a mature tree; cost will depend on the type of plant, its size, and whether you plant it yourself or hire a professional landscaper.
5. Use a ground cover plant in place of grass
When you stop and think about it, grass is extremely high-maintenance. You have to mow it at least once a week for most of the year, which is one of the most time-consuming and back-pain-inducing yard chores out there.
Most Raleigh-friendly grass types are also susceptible to many pests and lawn diseases. You usually have to apply fertilizers, pesticides, and other lawn treatments on a regular basis to prevent these problems.
What if there was a way to have a living (non-artificial) lawn without all the hassle? There is: Ground covers! Ground covers are plants that spread out along the ground, creating a short, solid mat that resembles a grass lawn. Many homeowners choose to replace portions of their grass with ground covers to cut back on necessary maintenance.
The North Carolina Native Plant Society recommends these ground covers, among others, for the Raleigh area:
- Green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
- Moss phlox (Phlox subulata)
- Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens)
Ground cover plants are much easier to take care of than grass, mainly because you don’t have to mow them. Think of all the time you would save during your grass’s growing season if you didn’t have to mow at all!
Ground covers aren’t as thirsty as grass either, so they’ll help you reduce your landscape’s water usage. They also tend to have fewer problems with pests, weeds, and plant diseases than grass.
Advantages of ground covers:
- No lawn mowing
- Need far less watering and fertilizing than grass
- Use fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides than a traditional lawn
- Provide year-round interest
- Provide shelter to beneficial insects and pollinators
- Help limit soil erosion
- Deter weeds
Approximate cost: From $3-$13 per square foot, depending on the type of ground cover; compare that to the initial cost of about $1-$2 per square foot to install sod for a traditional lawn (both price estimates include labor costs for a professional landscaper).
6. Install no-maintenance artificial turf
Artificial turf certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s an easy and effective solution if you’re sick of lawn care. Replacing your living lawn with artificial grass leaves you with even less work than a ground cover plant. You don’t have to water, fertilize, weed, seed, or nurture an artificial lawn at all.
There are more benefits of artificial turf, too. For one, kids and pets will have a much harder time damaging the tough fibers than they would with live grass. For another, artificial turf gives you more options for the look of your lawn because you aren’t limited to grass types that can survive in Raleigh.
What are the downsides of artificial turf? Initial installation costs for artificial turf are expensive, especially compared to the cost of laying sod for a traditional living lawn. Plus, artificial grass isn’t the most eco-friendly landscaping solution, since it can smother and ruin the soil underneath it.
That being said, traditional lawn care takes its toll on your wallet and the environment in the long run, too. Artificial grass has a high upfront cost, but that’s a one-and-done fee as opposed to years of buying lawn care products and tools. Artificial turf also will drastically reduce your water usage for decades, which is great for the environment.
If you think artificial turf could be a good option for you, don’t let the price or the environmental drawbacks scare you.
Advantages of artificial turf:
- No more lawn mowing, watering, weeding, or fertilizing
- Holds up under wear and tear from kids and pets
- Never fades or wilts
- Can last for decades
Approximate cost: Typically around $5-$19 per square foot for materials and professional installation, depending on the type and quality of the artificial turf; compare that to the average cost of $1-$2 per square foot for laying sod.
7. Build a custom rain garden
Designing and building your own rain garden will take some elbow grease in the now, but it will save you time and water in the future.
A rain garden is a garden planted on a downhill slope, a depression, a low point in the yard, or anywhere else rainwater naturally collects. That rainwater gradually soaks into the soil and nourishes the plants in the garden. Basically, a rain garden is a garden that nature waters for you.
When choosing plants for your rain garden, look for species that can tolerate drought in case it doesn’t rain for a while. Then, you shouldn’t have to water the garden even during dry spells. You should try to find plants that can tolerate standing water, too, since the collected stormwater will sometimes sit for up to 48 hours.
Rain gardens benefit everyone! They’re easy for you to take care of, and they help filter pollutants out of stormwater before it reaches the groundwater supply or natural bodies of water. If you have problems with flooding on your property, a rain garden can help there, too, since it will collect most of the stormwater runoff that causes floods.
The City of Raleigh offers some local resources for putting together a rain garden. On their website, you can also apply for government funding for certain rain garden projects.
Advantages of rain gardens:
- Don’t have to water them
- Keep pollutants out of groundwater, lakes, and rivers
- Minimize flooding on your property
- Create a diverse habitat for birds and butterflies
- Reduce landscape maintenance, saving time and money
- Increase curb appeal and property value
Approximate cost: DIY rain gardens can range from $100-$2,000, depending on the size of the garden and the types of plants you use.
8. Keep your outdoor plants in pots
Common plant diseases and pests will have a harder time reaching your plants if you keep them in pots instead of planting them directly in the ground. That means you won’t have to worry about pesticides or treatments for diseases. Potted plants won’t have to compete with weeds, either, so you can cut weeding and applying herbicides out of your gardening schedule.
When you keep your plants in pots, you can refer to them as a container garden. Container gardens are perfect for people with small yards and people who don’t want to get down on their knees to take care of their plants.
Another convenience of container gardens? You can bring them inside if the weather forecast predicts freezing temperatures. You won’t have to cover your plants, heat them, or otherwise protect them from frost during winter, as you might have to do with certain plants in the ground.
Advantages of container gardening:
- Can come inside during winter
- Don’t need frost protection
- No weeds
- Don’t attract as many pests and diseases as plants in the ground
- Great for beginner gardeners
Approximate cost: About $20-$50 per plant depending on the size and species; about $15-$60 per outdoor planter, depending on the size, style, and material.
9. Always use mulch where you can
Mulch is a relatively easy and cheap feature to add to your landscape, and it makes a huge difference for your plants. Applying a layer of mulch in flower beds and around the base of trees and shrubs will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend weeding and watering your plants.
The primary benefit of mulch is that it prevents weeds by cutting the seeds off from the water and sunlight they need to grow, smothering them. Mulch also keeps the soil cooler through the heat of spring and summer, which helps roots retain moisture longer. The longer the roots can retain moisture, the longer you can go between waterings. In the winter, it keeps the soil warmer and protects the plants from frost and snow.
There are two main types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulches, such as pine straw, shredded bark, or wood chips, are awesome for soil health because the material eventually decomposes into the ground, adding nutrients. However, they take a little more work, since you have to replace the mulch every year after the old layer breaks down.
Inorganic mulches, such as gravel or shredded rubber, are more appropriate for a low-maintenance landscape because they last for several years and won’t need regular replacing.
Advantages of mulch:
- Affordable but extremely effective
- Smothers weeds
- Beds with mulch need less frequent watering
- Controls pests
- Prevents soil erosion
- Maintains soil nutrients
- Protects against temperature changes
Approximate cost: $20-$70 per cubic yard of mulch; for reference, 1 cubic yard of mulch can cover about 300 square feet with a 1-inch layer.
10. Replace garden spaces with hardscapes
Even if you don’t have time to maintain a beautiful garden (or the money to pay a professional to do it for you), your yard can still have curb appeal and interesting features to look at. Instead of living features like flowers and trees, opt for non-living features, also known as hardscapes.
Many different types of landscape features fall under the category of hardscapes, including:
- Outdoor kitchens
- Water features
- Fire pits
The best thing about hardscapes? You barely have to maintain them! The most work you’ll have to put into a hardscape is occasional cleaning. If the hardscape is made of wood, you’ll also have to stain or seal it every few years. Compared to the daily struggles of keeping a lawn and garden alive, hardscape care is practically nothing.
So, if you’re short on time, consider installing a new patio or water feature instead of planting a new flower bed.
Advantages of hardscapes:
- Only maintenance is occasional cleaning and/or staining
- Increase property value
- Can expand your living space into your yard
- Add dimension and contrast
Approximate cost: $2,000-$6,000 for a new patio; $4,000-$11,000 for a new deck; $2,000-$4,000 for a new walkway; $1,000-$6,000 for a new fence; the cost of building a new hardscape varies widely depending on the type of feature, its size, the material it’s made from, and other factors, but these ballpark estimates should give you a good idea of the price (estimates include labor costs for a professional contractor).
11. Transform your yard into a xeriscape
Xeriscaping is a landscaping technique designed for drought-prone areas, which means it focuses on saving water. Even though you don’t have to worry much about drought in Raleigh, xeriscaping can be helpful when creating a low-maintenance landscape.
Xeriscapes hardly need you to water them, if ever. North Carolina’s natural rainfall will likely provide plenty of water for them to thrive. As far as plants go, a xeriscape will usually only include:
- Drought-tolerant native plants
- Other plants that do well in dry conditions
Besides plants, xeriscapes feature a lot of non-living elements such as gravel beds, decorative rocks, pavers, and other hardscapes.
If you’re feeling creative, you can design your xeriscape to look pretty much however you want. As long as you use the basic elements of hardscapes and drought-tolerant plants, you won’t have to water your landscape anywhere near as often as you do now.
For specific advice on how to create a xeriscape in Raleigh, check out the definitive guide Xeriscape North Carolina from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
Advantages of xeriscaping:
- Saves gallons of water every year
- Won’t die in case of a future drought
- Tends to attract fewer pests and damaging fungi than traditional landscapes
Approximate cost: Anywhere from $3,000-$30,000 to remodel your whole yard into a xeriscape with help from a professional landscaper; price will be lower if you complete a small project instead of doing a full makeover.
Low-maintenance landscaping makes your life easier
Are you tired of spending your weekends mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, and watering plants? Would you rather sit back and enjoy the fruits without all the labor? Our 11 low-maintenance landscaping ideas for Raleigh can help you move a few steps closer to that ultimate goal of a beautiful landscape you hardly have to touch.
There’s an even easier way out of yard work, too. If you don’t feel like remodeling your landscape using these low-maintenance techniques, just hire a local lawn care service to maintain your traditional landscape for you.
Main Photo Credit: Thomas Quine | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0