Increased job workloads and family responsibilities have gardeners looking for...

Increased job workloads and family responsibilities have gardeners looking for easy-care, low-maintenance landscapes. Wooly thyme can be used as a substitute for a high-maintenance lawn. Credit: Stepables.com photo

Whether you're new to gardening or are an old pro, here are 2010 trends, which will help you plant for flavor, beauty and ease.

1. GARDEN FOR WILDLIFE 

We need the birds and the bees more than they need us. Encouraging them to stick around will benefit you and your garden. Birds play an important role in the ecosystem. When they eat berries, their droppings, often deposited far away, contain the seeds, which sprout and grow new plants. And they do a stellar job of keeping insects in check. Stock a feeder with black sunflower seeds and set out some water to help them make a home on your property. And plant seed- or nectar-rich flowering plants, like black-eyed Susans, zinnias, sunflowers, coral bells and butterfly bushes, which also provide shelter for feathered visitors. Honeybees pollinate fruits, vegetables and flowers. Simply put, without bees, food would be scarce. Lure them to your garden by planting sweetly scented single-flowered varieties of flowers like heliotrope, larkspurs and violets, and herbs like borage. And plant plenty of milkweed for the butterflies. Small mammals, like rabbits, and ground-nesting birds, like doves and thrushes, make their homes in dense shrubs. Plant Japanese yews, junipers and Chinese hollies to provide the protection they need.

SUGGESTED READING For more tips, pick up Brooklyn Botanic Garden's "Wildlife Gardener's Guide" ($9.95).

2. CREATE MIXED-USE GARDEN SPACES

Instead of dedicating separate plots for vegetables, herbs and perennials, gardeners are making areas multi-task, incorporating edibles into the landscape and selecting plants for their taste as well as their visual appeal. Chives, after all, look every bit as good as they taste. If you need a shade tree, make it an apple, a pear or a pawpaw, and underplant it with nasturtiums, which also are edible. Plant a blueberry hedge along your foundation, and border a perennial bed with a row of cabbage or chard. Let raspberries climb a fence, and zucchini or cucumbers vine their way up a trellis along the back of a perennial border. You can even grow cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets by the front door.

SUGGESTED READING: The new "Easy Container Combos: Vegetables & Flowers" (Color Garden Publishing, $19.95) provides author-tested plans for creating 18 easy-care mixed planters, along with cultural information and profiles of dozens of plants that grow well in containers. Color photos on every page illustrate plant selection, arranging and troubleshooting.

3. REPLACE PRIMA DONNAS

High-maintenance perennials that require constant deadheading, watering, dividing and weeding are giving way to drought-tolerant, low-maintenance and native plants, especially spring-through-fall bloomers that are "self-cleaning" and those that don't require supplemental irrigation once established. Try drifts of native purple coneflowers (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), or day lilies (Hemerocallis) and Knockout roses, which practically grow themselves. 

4. SHRINK THE LAWN 

Increased job workloads and family responsibilities have gardeners looking for easy-care, low-maintenance landscapes. For some, that means minimizing or eliminating lawns, which require constant watering and mowing, and replacing them with ground covers planted close together. For a ground cover that can handle foot traffic, try Irish moss, woolly thyme or blue star creeper.

5. THINK 'YEAR-ROUND' 

To get the most bang for your landscaping buck, look for shrubs with four-season interest, instead of those that bloom for only one season and then fade into the background. If you plant forsythia, which puts on a big yellow show in spring, you'll likely have to plant summer- and fall-blooming shrubs nearby to keep the space interesting the rest of the year. But if you go with Viburnum, you'll get spring flowers, summer berries, fall foliage and interesting bark in winter. Likewise, planting Callicarpa will reward you with pink flowers in summer, yellow foliage in fall and showstopping clusters of bright purple berries into winter.

6. MULCH FRUGALLY

A little creativity can go a long way toward saving money. If you cover unpaved walkways with thick layers of newspaper topped with thin layers of mulch, you can get away with buying far less mulch. And you'll see the added benefit of improved weed suppression.

7. GROW GROCERIES

Growing your own food can cut down on grocery bills, and more people than ever are expected to grow vegetables this year. Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist at the National Gardening Association, recommends starting with tomatoes, squashes and cucumbers, which "can produce pounds of vegetables for your kitchen." Nardozzi points out that a head of organic loose-leaf lettuce can cost $3, which is roughly the same as the cost of a seed package that can yield hundreds of heads of lettuce, and a 20-foot-by-30-foot vegetable garden can yield more than 300 pounds of produce valued at more than $600.

8. VERTICAL GARDENING

Outdoors, creating a vertical garden can be as simple as allowing a vine to climb a trellis on the ide of your house - where it will provide shade in the heat of summer - or as elaborate as encapsulating plants in specially constructed walls with piped water-circulation systems. Living walls have been used for more than 20 years in outdoor commercial spaces, where they've been valued for their aesthetics as well as for the insulation they provide, which lowers energy consumption. Indoors, they've been used in office buildings and shopping malls to help prevent sick building syndrome, as plants are selected for their air-purifying capabilities. Now, indoor vertical gardens are becoming popular with homeowners. Succulents and tropical lowlight plants like pothos and aglaonema are ideal for living walls, but herbs would grow nicely, too - and come in handy - on a sunny wall in the kitchen. Once installed, the level of care required is determined by the plants selected, says Anthony Caggiano of Plant Connection, a Riverhead-based nursery and nationwide distributor of green roofs and living walls.