Parents are opting to put healthier choices on the table these days, and nothing ensures fresh, wholesome food better than growing your own. Gardening might sound like a ton of work. However, nurturing flowers and edible plants can be fun for the whole family. Use these tips to plant your own low-maintenance, garden.

Laying the Groundwork

Teaching young children important lessons in planting with a raised planter box.

Image via Flickr by John Englart (Takver) 

1. Start Small

With a little planning, gardening can be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby. It’s easy to think big in the spring, and then by fall, you find that you can’t keep up. This overwhelming feeling may lead you to ultimately give up on your garden. Begin with a small-scale plot, no more than 4-foot square, or plant just one raised bed. You’ll be surprised how much you can grow in a limited space, and you can always expand in the future.

2. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

A nice deep cover of mulch makes a busy family’s garden much easier to maintain. It eliminates the need for nearly all weeding, watering, and feeding. Add 4 to 6 inches of mulch between October and April. Use well-rotted dairy manure or bark chippings. Both are readily available at your local home and garden store or nursery.

3. Keep Plants to a Minimum

It’s a simple concept to understand — the fewer plants you have in your garden, the more time you’ll have to enjoy it. Choose only easy-care flowers and crops that you and the kids will actually eat. Experts recommend starting with five types of vegetables for your first year of cultivation.

4. Let Technology Work for You

A truly low-maintenance garden is one that’s equipped with an automatic watering system. Install it in a location that will benefit as many of your plants as possible, then sit back and enjoy the fruits of your absence. The sprinklers will save you time by doing a lot of the fieldwork for you.

Try These Fuss-Free Veggies

Two youths with farming tools, as seen from the knees down.

Image via Flickr by CityofStPete

Plant a fuss-free vegetable garden and get the whole family involved. There are plenty of edibles that don’t require a ton of work, and they can be grown year-round. Select from the two different types of vegetables:

1. Cool Season

These hardy crops can handle a light frost and thrive during early spring and fall. Cooler seasons are ideal for staples like beets, carrots, onions, peas, potatoes, and radishes. Easy-going salad leaves like chard, kale, and spinach thrive in crisp, short days and will provide a steady supply of leaves, so you’ll be happily munching on your harvest even during the chillier months.

2. Warm Season

These vegetable plants need long, sunny days, warm soil, and high temperatures to produce. Plant them after the last frost, which in East Cobb usually occurs near the beginning of April. Foods like beans, corn, cucumbers, peppers, and your kids’ Halloween pumpkins will reach the point of optimal ripeness before winter’s first frost.

Self-Sufficient Herbs

A honeybee perched on the top of a sprig of Thyme, pollinating the newly sprouted flowers.

Image via Flickr by BeesinFrance

Fresh herbs add tons of flavor to meals, and they’re easy to grow. Many savory herbs are perennials, meaning they come back every year. Thyme is a fragrant — and edible — ground cover that only needs warm weather and occasional watering.

Most of us are very familiar with aromatic mint which is more than just a tasty garnish for Friday night mojitos. It also makes a great garden mosquito repellant. This low-maintenance plant can quickly overtake your garden. Consider keeping it in individual pots that transfer easily from the windowsill to the patio. Other herbs you can grow include oregano, parsley, sage, marjoram, cilantro, and basil. They’re all  favorites of home chefs and lazy landscapers.

These Fruits Are as Easy-as-Pie

Ripe, juicy peaches, hanging from their tree, waiting to be picked.

Image via Flickr by Jess & Kate

Berries are some of the easiest fruits to grow in your low-maintenance garden. Blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries provide tasty fruits for your hungry family. Once your berry bushes are planted, their care is pretty painless — despite their thorns. Nature keeps it simple. You just need to thin the bushes once a year in late winter.

Strawberries are flavorful edibles that come back year after year. There are many different types, and some send out “runners” that root and create baby plants, increasing your berry patch naturally — for free. Everbearing varieties such as Fern, Pink Panda, and Quinault double your yield by producing one crop in spring and another in fall.

Free-standing trees such as apples and pears bear fruit and provide a bit of shade. They require minimal pruning and will provide fresh produce for your family for years. Plum trees are also an excellent choice for a low-maintenance grove. They adapt to a wide variety of conditions and are more compact than other fruit trees. No Georgia orchard would be complete without homegrown peaches. These sun-ripened goodies are a staple for pies, jams, muffins, and cobblers.

Yes, tomatoes are a fruit. They come in seemingly endless varieties that offer loads of delicious produce in every shape and size. Most household vegetable gardens have at least one tomato plant. They can even be grown indoors in plenty of sunlight. Aim to put your tomato plants near a south-facing window.

Flowering Plants

A young girl holding a potted plant around New Hartford.

Image via Flickr by National Garden Clubs

Blossoms are another wonderful addition to any backyard garden. Pick ones suited to your soil and climate. East Cobb is in growing zone 7b, which means you can plant these easy-care flowers in your garden:

  • Santa Barbara Daisy – These lovely pink and white flowers make for excellent edging.
  • Lavender – Its scent will make you swoon, particularly in the afternoon when the kids get home from school.
  • Penstemon – This flower blooms all summer and fall and only requires an annual trimming to keep it looking tidy.
  • New Zealand Flax – It adds a bold, dramatic accent and comes in a variety of lovely colors.

Can you dig it? This handy guide about planting a low-maintenance garden was brought to you by Creme de la Creme of East Cobb, Georgia. What plant varieties do your family grow and harvest? Share some of your low-maintenance gardening tips with us so we can add them to our list.