I?d like to replace my lawn with a low-maintenance mix of shrubs, rock and mulch. I already have a Japanese maple and a mature birch clump. How do I avoid weed problems? What shrubs would work? I?m in Zone 5a.

?Mary Mulholland, Guelph, ON

What a sensible solution. Be sure to add lots of organic material to the soil you are prepping for the new plants. Think of putting in structural native shrubs or small trees such as serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) and buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) would
be your best bet for drought tolerance. To keep weeds out, use a thick mulch of well-rotted manure, compost and ground-up leaves.

?Marjorie Harris, Editor at Large , Gardening Life