Low Maintenance Landscapes Using Elderyarding Aging in Place Principles

Low Maintenance Aging In Place Landscape

Elderyarding® : A True Low Maintenance Aging in Place Landscape

If you're planning on staying in your home as you age, creating a low-maintenance yard is a key element to remaining engaged with your garden. As we age, some tasks may become more difficult to maneuver. Transitioning to a low-maintenance landscape is a process that we at Second Summer have created and dubbed “Elderyarding®.” 

Elderyarding® is a design concept that encompasses specific aging in place characteristics that can keep older homeowners working in their garden comfortably and safely as they age. A true low-maintenance Elderyarding® landscape is:

    • easy to love in all types of weather
    • environmentally friendly in using native species of plants
    • maintained without harmful pesticides, herbicides or extraneous fertilizers
    • easy to care for with little use of noisy, gas-powered machinery
    • designed to powerfully connect with your memories and support brain health as you age
    • planned, planted, and furnished to connect with your unique sensory responses
    • able to change easily as your needs change over your lifetime

As you age, you can transition your landscape to better accommodate your physical needs by using an Elderyarding® approach. Let's look at some considerations when creating a low-maintenance, aging in place garden design.

First, Remember Low Maintenance Ain't “No Maintenance!”

Even simple tasks need to be done in the garden to keep it healthy and looking beautiful. Raking leaves, trimming ornamental grasses, pruning back flowering trees, applying spray fertilizer on trees and shrubs, pulling volunteer plants from walkways and weeding beds are all necessary tasks to keep your garden maintained.

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To help you keep up with smart solutions to cut down on your gardening chores, here’s a curated set of blog posts and articles about low-maintenance gardening. Sometimes all that's keeping you from a low-maintenance yard is your resistance to change! While every tip might not apply to your personal situation, it's best to look at these tips and think broadly and deeply by asking these questions:

BROAD: How can I adapt this tip, so it's a perfect solution for my landscape? Should I adapt it differently for different areas of my garden?

DEEP: How realistic is this tip when it applies to my yard? How many places in my yard can I apply this tip in exactly the same way?

And: How do I have to change my thinking about gardening to have a true low-maintenance Elderyarding landscape?

To get you started here are a few excellent links to check out.

Creating a low-maintenance, aging in place landscape means being aware of specific characteristics of your space like rainfall and your choice of plants. Let's explore those areas a little more deeply while applying an Elderyarding® approach.

The Importance of Rainfall

For a genuinely low-maintenance yard that is extraordinary in times of rain and no rain, a rain gauge can be a fabulous tool. Of course, rain gauges only tell the story of precipitation in a single spot. Your eyes are another great tool when it comes to rainfall in your landscape. When it rains, look at your yard from every window in your house, every door, and every porch perspective.

Where is the rain falling off of the roof? Is everything captured in your gutters? Should it be?

There may be areas around your home that could benefit from water sheeting in a uniform cascade from the roofline. These could be places where the plants don't get enough water, places where you're dragging a heavy hose to satisfy their thirst. Then, think the opposite. Areas under the roof overhang that need to be drier could benefit from a gutter where there is none.

Next look further into your yard. Notice where the rain is sliding from the downhill side of paved areas. This is extra water for the adjacent bed that affects which plants are happy here. Observe whether the water moves evenly from the pavement or concentrates in one or two spots at the low edge. Concentrated water can be a sign of potentially waterlogged soil or erosion that's beginning to develop. Or it could be the perfect spot for a wetland-loving plant.

When you observe water behaving in ways that might cause problems, it's time to test solutions. Often a simple solution can solve the problem. Over time, small drainage problems can add up to maintenance headaches. While it's raining is a good time to carefully study precisely what's happening and figure out long-term Elderyarding® friendly solutions.
A quick fix is exactly that – fast and not always effective over the long term. Then you end up with new maintenance headaches when you are least able to take care of them. Resolving them one at a time as they occur can lessen your worries, free your time, and help ensure that you can stay safe and healthy, easily managing any maintenance chores needed in your aging in place garden!

Some Plants Are Thugs!

Another consideration when transitioning to an Elderyarding® design comes with your choice of plant species. Some plants are thugs that out-compete other plants around them, both near and far. And they can be challenging to keep in an Elderyarding® garden if your goal is low maintenance unless located just right
There are three categories of plants that compete aggressively – annual and perennial flowers, shrubs and trees. Yup, you can have a thug in any category! Know their characteristics before you plant, re-plant or fertilize that “cute plant in the corner.”Plants use multiple means of reproduction for survival. So, how do you recognize those who want to take over your carefully planned and maintained garden? 

Re-seeding:

One method plants use to reproduce is to generate a lot of seed. If can be dropped gently near the plant's feet, blown by the wind, or coated with burs that catch on animal fur or your socks.  A perfect example is cosmos. Each cosmos flower makes copious amounts of seed. Depending on your climate, you may enjoy a flowerbed that regenerates new plants each spring. Or you may get really tired of pulling them out of beds where they’ve seeded too much or of the deadheading needed to keep them blooming rather than throwing seed all season long.

Stolons:

Another common method of reproduction is for the mother plant to send out shoots that create copies of herself. A shoot that is thin and appears above ground is a stolon, otherwise known as a runner. You can see these on strawberry plants. Or if you've ever grown spider plants indoors, you've seen the stolons arch out from the plant and add a baby spider plant to the end. 

Strawberries and spider plants aren't likely to be competitive in your yard, but two common plants that are aggressive with stolons are weedy grasses like Bermuda and Japanese honeysuckle. Their stolons can even reach through weed barrier fabric to spread. Get rid of these quickly when they appear, before they become established in a wide area.

Rhizomes:

These are underground shoots, sometimes just barely below the surface. Here in Texas, some agave plants have pups tied to the main plant with a fat, white rhizome. An example of a vegetable where you’ll want to encourage rhizomes is the potato. Growing it in a deep container lets the rhizomes end in new potato tubers. 

Be quite cautious about rhizomatic plants. Many are native to the North American prairies and learned how to survive by competing with grasses. Lovely yellow, daisy-like plants such as Maximillian sunflower and black-eyed Susan will awe you with their ability to take over via rhizome in a garden environment without grass competition.

Know plant behavior, in addition to flower color and attractiveness of the leaves. Sometimes you’ll deliberately choose to have two or three thugs battle it out in a flowerbed, constantly challenging each other. The bed can look great in all seasons. And the thugs will out-compete weeds, another reason to consider a low-growing thug as a ground cover in a large area. If it only requires occasional weed-whacking to keep it trim, that can be a good thing. If you mistakenly choose a thug instead of a well-mannered plant i a special bed, however, don't dawdle. Decide right away how to handle its presence in your Elderyard®!

Aging In Place With Elderyarding®

Creating a low-maintenance aging in place Elderyard® starts with planning. Understand how to cut maintenance chores by placing beds in areas that can benefit from natural run-off reducing the need to manage a watering system or hoses. Choose the proper specimens that can co-exist without competing and take the time to truly plan your design with an eye towards the future, especially if you're planning on aging in place! With a little forethought, you can enjoy a low-maintenance, beautiful landscape throughout your life!

Ann Yakimovicz