Gardeners looking for an attractive, low-maintenance flower bed should consider a gravel garden, according to a Madison-based horticulturalist.
Jeff Epping, director of horticulture at Olbrich Botanical Gardens on Madison's east side, said that these types of gardens require less water and no chemicals to make them flourish.
"We're trying to keep gardening easy for everyone these days and trying to keep down the environmental impact," said Epping.
The concept of gravel gardening came out of Germany about 20 years ago. The gardens feature plants that like dry conditions and don't need rich soil, he said.
Epps said dry prairie plants and plants that come from mountainous and other dry regions do well in gravel gardens.
To create a gravel garden, Epping suggests adding 4 to 5 inches of gravel to the top of the soil. The gravel shouldn't be one that breaks down easily. He recommends a quartzite or pea gravel.
The gravel acts as a weed barrier and help to keep the soil cool. He said it's the air spaces between the rocks that make it difficult for weeds to root.
It's important to water regularly for the first few weeks. Once the roots reach down into the soil, Epping said they are on their own and shouldn't need water.
The only real maintenance, besides pulling an occasional weed or two, is to cut off the plants in the spring and rake the gravel lightly.
"What we want to do is prevent any organic matter form piling up. It becomes a germination medium," said Epping.
For this reason, it's best to select a site for the gravel garden that is away from trees.
It is very important to keep the gravel in the garden at a uniform depth. He said edging like sidewalks and rocks work well for containment. If the gravel tappers out, that’s where the weeds will grow.