JoAnne Skelly: Landscape the lazy way

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I’m a lazy gardener. I try to minimize my work load while maximizing aesthetic appeal and practical function. I avoid plants that are needy, like those that need extra fertilizer or pruning or those that are susceptible to insects or disease. I’m not into planting annuals. All the extra work of planting flowers every year seems silly and expensive, when I can plant perennials once and have them for years. Besides, annuals are less cold hardy and our home is located where freezes often occur when other areas are fine. Annuals don’t survive well for me.

I have a fairly odd approach to landscaping in our yard. I rarely buy plants. Our yard is quite mature with many trees ranging from 25 to 50 years old. This means tree roots are everywhere making digging holes difficult. It also means that new plants I put in the ground struggle to put their tender roots out into the surrounding soil when they have to compete with old tree roots. My way of adding to our landscape is to let plants seed or otherwise propagate themselves. I have found that when a seed finds a spot where it can grow, it usually does better than when I try to place a larger seedling or transplant in the spot of my choice.

Some of the plants that have successfully propagated throughout our landscape are: bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis), catmint (Nepeta x faassenii), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), dragon’s blood sedum (Sedum spurium), Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri), Mexican primrose (Oenethera speciosa), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), violet (Viola odorata), hardy geranium (Geranium sanguineum), blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora), golden yarrow (Achillea filipendulina), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) and some beautiful purple penstemons (Penstemon ?) for which I don’t know the species name. I have even had luck with Amur maples (Acer ginnala) reseeding; if fact, their prolific sprouting can be problematic.

This freewheeling landscaping approach is not for everyone. It shoots design plans full of holes. It requires careful weeding out of plants that pop up in places that are totally unacceptable. I can’t use preemergent herbicides because they prevent my volunteer seeds from developing. It takes years sometimes for a tiny seedling to mature to an attractive size appropriate for the landscape. I usually hand-water my babies to help them compete with older plants. I’ve been gardening this way for almost 30 years and love my lazy habits.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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