I’ve been gardening for many years and from my experience, I say that maintenance of a garden can be measured by size of the garden and/or by what you plant.
High Maintenance Garden
I grew up on a farm where our vegetable garden was about 20 feet by 50 feet (1,000 square feet) and was our family’s source of green beans, peas, sweet corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and strawberries. All but the potatoes were canned to feed us over the winter; the strawberries became strawberry jam. After planting the seeds, time would be spent working in the garden most days of the week to weed, water, or harvest produce. This garden had lots of different types of vegetables and fruit that required different kinds of care. Support was needed for the tomatoes and peas, and digging up potatoes can be a dirty job.
Large flower beds around your house can also become high maintenance with deadheading and watering, plus periodic thinning of perennials by dividing them. For information on deadheading, click here. For information on dividing perennials, click here .
Generally speaking, any flower or vegetable garden that requires your interaction several days a week is considered high maintenance as far as upkeep is concerned. That maintenance timeframe follows perhaps hours, if not days, of preparing the plot, buying seeds or plants, and planting; and precedes hours (or days) of clearing the plot out after the plants die off.
Average/Medium Maintenance Garden
As an adult, at my first house I prepared a garden that measured about 10 feet by 15 feet. I planted cherry tomatoes (loved them in salads!), green beans, and pumpkins, all from seed. I added a row of marigolds around the perimeter to help ward-off rabbits. As the garden grew, I gave it as much attention as was needed to weed, water, and harvest.
Time spent maintaining this garden with only a few different types of vegetables that are easy to grow and harvest totaled maybe an hour a week divided over one or two days.
To keep maintenance to a minimum, you can skip deadheading flowers and allow them to go to seed; they will have fewer blooms, but you will have less labor. Use a sprinkler to water rather than watering by hand with the hose and nozzle.
Low Maintenance Garden
A small garden, roughly five feet by ten feet, could be considered low maintenance. Those 50 square feet could be divided into separate flower beds at various locations in your landscape.
For someone who has never gardened before, starting with a low maintenance garden is the best way to go. If you are hesitant about gardening, you may want to start with a very small plot, no larger than three feet by five feet. Or, you could purchase cylindrical or square plant containers that are 16-20 inches across, which could hold tomatoes (one plant per container) or flowers. In fact, plant containers are good to use whether you have a large yard or a small balcony from which you are starting your first garden.
You can select to use vegetables or flowers or a mixture of both in your first time garden. To cut back on time spent weeding or watering, apply a thick layer of mulch to help block out weeds and help retain moisture. Better yet, place a layer of landscape fabric down first and cover that with mulch. You can also skip deadheading flowers.
Tomatoes are very easy to grow making them an excellent choice for the first time gardener. Start with two plants in separate pots or planted in the ground. If you prefer a flower garden, go with perennials, which will come back the next year.
Time spent maintaining a small garden might be 30 minutes a week.
Avoid the Temptation to …
Using stones or ivy as a substitute for mulch or as a ground cover may seem like a good idea for those looking for a low or no maintenance garden. However, consider the resell value of your home should you decide to move. Perspective buyers may look upon the labor and expense of removing stones or ivy from the landscape as a reason not to buy or reason to offer you less than asking price.