We asked two landscape experts to share how much time and effort maintaining a thriving yard really takes.
Woman tending to garden
Credit: Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir via Getty Images

Maintaining a thriving garden guarantees backyard access to everything from delicious produce to an array of blooms. But a robust floral or veggie harvest only happens with the correct level of care. "Keeping a vigilant eye and noticing the garden as it evolves is key," says Teri Speight, a master gardener, writer, podcaster, blogger, and the author of Black Flora: Profiles of Inspiring Black Flower Farmers and Florists ($23.99, amazon.com). "For a few minutes a few times a week, monitor or visit your garden so you notice [anything] going awry in advance." Here, learn more about when and how often you should be tending to your green space to help it flourish, according to gardening experts.

Decide what type of garden you want to plant

According to Ryan McEnaney, a landscape and garden designer and the author of Field Guide to Outside Style ($30, target.com), the amount of time you need to spend in your garden depends on what is planted there. "A vegetable garden, one filled with annuals, or one with a lot of mulch space between plants may [require more time than] one with established shrubs and trees that require less maintenance," he says, noting that you'll likely need to be in your edible garden every day of the active growing season to pick fruit and vegetables, pinch buds, and check for pests. Speight agrees, noting that annual gardens require more care, as well; they require regular feeds with a high-quality fertilizer to maintain their form and color. "A perennial garden, [on the other hand], generally requires less specialized care; a good quality soil will provide the foundation required to make the garden thrive," she says. Native plants, adds McEnaney, also "require less intervention and reduce your need to spend time in the yard each week."

Garden type matters, too: Speight explains that a drought tolerant or xeric garden, which needs ample sun exposure and lean soil, requires minimal fertilizer and low amounts of water—and is less work overall.

Consider how much time you have to garden

Ideally, you should think about how much time you want to spend in your yard before you decide on what to plant: If you have limited bandwidth, McEnaney recommends planting more densely, using ground-covers to naturally suppress weeds, and selecting varieties that require less maintenance or native species that have adapted to your region over centuries.

Create a strong foundation

Every garden is unique, but most require the same strong baseline. Ultimately, giving your garden what it needs at the start will reduce the amount of time you spend maintaining or troubleshooting it down the road. One of these essential needs is quality soil. McEnaney says loam—a blend of sand, silt, and clay—is an ideal soil type in which most plants will thrive, but many varieties, such as lavender or sedum, are adapted to less favorable conditions like mostly sand or mostly clay. So while quality dirt is critical, it's even more important to determine which varieties suit the earth you have and plant accordingly: "Water-logged, dense clay soil, while challenging, works for plants that have adapted to thrive in it over time, like asters, coneflowers, daylilies, and bluestem ornamental grass," shares McEnaney, noting that soil isn't the only foundational element. "Once you understand your soil and the plants in the landscape, watering, fertilizing, and sun exposure are also vitally important for your garden's success."

No garden is completely hands-off

While the amount of time you spend in your yard will be determined by the scale and type of the landscape (and the varieties planted in it), it's important to remember that every garden requires some level of attention. So, be sure to pay your green space a few quick visits each week. During these check-ins, look for early signs of disease or new pests, says Speight. "Pausing to notice what is right in reach can make caring for your garden take [just a few minutes] a day," she says.


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