WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- You work 9 to 5, pick up the kids, take one to soccer practice and one to piano lessons, have dinner, attend a parent meeting at school, come home, do laundry, watch the late news, go to bed, get up the next day and start all over again. And when you do have spare time, who wants to spend it pushing a lawn mower or spreading fertilizer?
Neatly clipped emerald lawns might look simple to keep up, but we all know hours of maintenance and many chemical applications are responsible for that even, green look. Bruno Moser, Purdue University Extension specialist in landscaping, urges homeowners to take a left turn from the historical perspective and try something a little different.
"If you think about what you're looking over when you look out the front of the house, it's this very short, green grass," Moser says. "It's historically been the landscape we use in the bulk of our front yard. I'd like to suggest that you reduce the grass area, create some flower beds, create some shrub beds that are a little bit taller and that give you a background.
"With the use of mulches and some perennial plants that are very low maintenance, you can have borders that are not high maintenance. In fact, instead of spending every Saturday mowing your yard, you might have some time to go out and play golf or do other things."
Moser says homeowners should think of their front yards as something they want to look at and enjoy, not as something available only for public viewing and that's indistinguishable from the neighbor's. But the public, including your neighbors, does look, so he cautions would-be landscape architects to be carefully creative.
"I've seen this over and over again," he says. "When someone does a creative treatment of their front yard in a neighborhood, it spreads down the street. My experience has been that it actually has a positive effect on the neighbors, and very often they'll follow the lead."
Moser recommends selecting vigorous plants hardy to your area and getting them started on the right foot -- errr -- root. He says there are many landscape materials and tricks that can be used, such as fences, berms, paths and night lighting, and suggests having a master plan before getting started.
"You can choose horticultural-type plants and also use paving, gravel and mulches to create an environment that really looks nice," he says. "It gets away from high chemical use on lawns, and it gets away from the exhaust of the lawn mower, if you're concerned about that.
"I have to confess that my front yard doesn't have any grass in it at all," Moser says. "I have a paving-stone patio and some berms of earth, some fencing and a lot of ground covers. The only place I use the lawn mower is in the backyard, and I only do that a couple of times a year to knock down the wildflowers and things to make it look good. So there are techniques you can employ to create a very pleasing front yard that you can actually use, without putting your lawn mower in it ever again. It's not maintenance free, though. You have to pull some weeds when you have plantings."
However, he says, with the use of mulch and vigorously growing ground covers and other plants, maintenance is no more extensive and time consuming than mowing once or twice a week. The mulch serves to smother weeds, keep plant roots warm in winter and cool in summer, conserve moisture and prevent soil from washing away or becoming hard.
Moser says there are hundreds of herbaceous perennials, such as daylilies, hostas and peonies, that come up every year and need little attention except to be divided every three or four years.
"Some perennials are very hardy, very vigorous growing, and don't require a great deal of maintenance," he says. "Normally you'd use some mulch under them to keep weeds from growing."
He says many shrubs and trees can offer colorful flowering or fruiting characteristics and come in all shapes and sizes. They also need little care.
Ground covers may need the most upkeep, he says, but if they're planted properly and grow vigorously, they'll out-compete weeds and won't cause a problem. One good ground cover he recommends is wintergreen euonymus, which is green in the summertime and purplish in winter. According to Moser, periwinkle, with its blue or white flowers, is another good low-growing ground cover. Pachysandra works well in shady spots, he says, and some junipers that grow only about 6 inches tall and spread across the ground are good for sunny locations.
"You can go all the way from a height of 2 to 3 inches with periwinkle up to 18 inches or so with hostas. Just mass plant them," Moser says. "They out-compete the weeds and do a beautiful job."
For help in selecting plants that are right for your landscape, Moser says to consult a professional at your local nursery or garden center. Another source of information is your local Cooperative Extension Service office. County Extension offices often have people available who can answer questions, and they offer several publications on home landscaping and plant selection.
"Because of the severe winters in Indiana, it's important to determine what plants will grow in your hardiness zone," he says.
Labels on plants will usually list the zones in which they can be grown, and reputable dealers won't sell plants that won't grow in your area, he says.
Source: Bruno Moser, (765) 494-1352; Internet, Bruno_Moser@horticulture.purdue.edu
Writer: Andrea McCann, (765) 494-8406; Internet, firstname.lastname@example.org
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