Empty nesters want low-maintenance yards that focus on fun and functionality, not fuss

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Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 1:00 am | Updated: 3:45 am, Thu Jun 12, 2014.

(BPT) - One of the first questions new empty nesters face is: what do we do with the nest? Some are eager to downsize and sell. Others like where they live and choose to stay put.

No matter the decision, the property, new or old, is likely in for a makeover aimed at making routine upkeep more manageable. One of the key areas to tackle is the yard and garden. The following are tips for transforming a yard’s maintenance-hungry features, especially the lawn, into alternatives that offer fun and functionality without the fuss.

* Create no mow zones – The lawn is often a yard’s highest maintenance feature. One simple way to reduce lawn maintenance is to strategically stop mowing certain parts of the yard, while continuing to maintain more desirable areas. Un-mowed areas needn’t look messy. Delineate the divide between mowed lawn and wilder spaces with a strategically placed stone wall or wooden fence. Adding clusters of ornamental grasses or shrubs along the new lawn’s edge also works to soften the border transition. For a bit of fun, sow some un-mown areas with wildflower seeds. Add green trails for impromptu strolls or heart-pumping walks by cutting a circular path through the no-mow zone. Post birdhouses or feeders along the route for bird watching.

* Swap some turf for landscape beds – Freestanding landscape islands of trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials are appealing low-maintenance features that can reduce lawn area. Landscape beds are also a solution for difficult to maintain stretches like steep slopes, rough terrain and curbside strips. It’s important to cover exposed soil with mulch to stop weeds from growing. To go from low to practically no maintenance, sprinkle a weed preventer like Preen on top of mulch to stop weed seeds in the mulch itself from sprouting. Better yet, use Preen Mulch Plus, a premium bagged mulch with added weed preventers already mixed in. Available at Lowe’s stores and independent garden centers, it’s guaranteed to prevent more than 100 types of tough weeds, including dandelions, for up to six months.

* Switch to lawn care “lite” – With less lawn why hang on to over-sized lawn care equipment? Today there are new compact choices scaled to yards under 1/4 acre including cordless electric mulching mowers, battery-powered edgers and programmable directional lawn sprinklers. There’s also a new spreader designed for small lawns, slopes and tight spaces that’s ergonomic too. The Ready2Go Spreader is a lightweight, hand-carried and battery-powered unit that comes pre-loaded with popular lawn products from Preen, Greenview or Vigoro to feed or treat up to 2,500 square feet. Each is refillable and pre-calibrated, so no settings are ever needed.

* Deck the yard for fun and folly. Converting open spaces to outdoor entertaining areas is another way to reduce yard maintenance. Paved patios and decks make perfect places to sit, barbecue, dine or simply enjoy being outdoors. New composite decking, bricks and paving stones are definitely low upkeep installations. Other ideas include fire pits, outdoor fireplaces, gravel paths and terraces. Don’t just look at spots close to the house: come up with reasons to hang out in different parts of the yard.

* Uncontained enthusiasm for containers – Downsizing elaborate garden beds is another area to explore. But don’t give up seasonal flowers: plant in containers. A booming trend among boomers, container plantings add accent color and seasonal drama to decks, patios, paths and other outdoor spaces. For lower maintenance choose fewer but bigger pots. Just a few large containers of colorful plants will have a major impact. They also retain soil moisture better than smaller pots and need watering less often. Except in coldest areas, large frost-resistant resin or fiberglass containers can be left out year-round. For long-term plantings, check plant labels for USDA winter hardiness zones. Potted plants are more exposed to the elements, so choose ones rated one zone colder than usual.

Life in an empty nest can be a time of rediscovery. Reducing lawn and garden upkeep is one way boomers can free up time for other more entertaining pursuits.

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