The low maintenance garden would not be possible without two things; weed membrane, bark chippings, oh, and a garden fork. Bark chippings is commercial mulch, and something that has been around for many years in one form or another. Its benefits are endless, as not only is mulch great for keeping weeds at bay, but it also looks great, smells great and has the added benefit of keeping your plants protected from the frost.
To use this product properly you will first need to lay a weed membrane before forking on the bark. The weed membrane should be laid after planting your shrubs and should be cut around and laid right up to the plants to give the best weed control possible. Once the membrane is down and is level, without any humps and bumps you can begin to fork on the bark chippings.
Bark can be purchased in a number of ways; you can buy it in your local DIY store or garden centre in small 75 litre bags. This option can be ludicrously expensive as a 75 litre bag will only give you coverage of about 1.5m2 and can cost up to 7 Euros. At that rate i would nearly be cheaper to pave the entire place. A better way to buy bark chippings is off a saw mills or timber yard. Here you can buy in amounts if one ton bag or up to 40 cubic metres at a time. Generally a ton bag will set you back 80 to 100 Euros while 40 cubic metres can cost around 1500 Euros delivered, but will cover around 1000m2, so as you can imagine your garden fork will be quite bury with an order of that size.
When laying the bark it is best to lay it 3 inches or 7.5cm deep. Just fork a load into your wheelbarrow and pile it up around your plants. Continue doing this until you have roughly enough piles and then you can start spreading the bark out. For this I would use a garden rake instead of using a fork
If you do not fork enough bark onto your beds and the bark is not deep enough then it is likely that the bark will dry up and blow away much faster. Also, less bark will mean more chance for your weeds to push their way up through the membrane and bark and ruin your low maintenance garden.
As bark can be a bit expensive there are alternatives such as gravel, straw, old leaves, wood chip and old grass cuttings. All these work with different success and can be quite effective to control weeds and protect plants against frost