Low Maintenance Perennials

When referring to low maintenance perennials, the term means different things to different people and can vary from area to area. For most of us however, it means plants that don't require a lot of fussing over, pruning or frequent division and that will return reliably from year to year. If that fits your style of gardening, you'll be happy to know that there are low maintenance perennials that will brighten your landscape year after year.

Pay Attention to the Basics
No plant will be low maintenance if it is struggling to survive. You must choose the correct species of plants to suit the conditions on your site. If you live in a dry climate, don't choose plants that require moist soil to do well. If you live in a northern area don't choose plants that will need special care to survive in your zone. Choose plants for the light conditions your site has, sun or shade.

Look over the area you want to plant and see what space is available. Then pay attention to the mature size of the plants you are choosing so they won't quickly outgrow their site and need to be pruned or replaced. Give yourself a little wiggle room here. A plant may take up additional room if it flops or leans, or if it is exceptionally happy where it is. In the latter case, you could find yourself dealing with an invasive plant that becomes a perennial nuisance.

If you can't afford plants that are their mature size, it may take a while before the space looks full. Don't be tempted to fill in with additional plants if you want low maintenance. Crowded plants will require more care or need to be removed later.

Read all you can about plants you are considering for your landscape. Plants that produce fruit or seeds are often poor choices for low-maintenance areas. Plants that spread rapidly are also not good choices unless you want them to quickly cover a large area. Plants that are susceptible to certain diseases, like powdery mildew, may grow well but never look good unless you spray them.

Sometimes there are varieties of a plant species that are low maintenance in comparison to others in the species. Many roses require a lot of care, for example, but some of the new landscape roses are very hardy and carefree. If you have deer or other pest problems, you will want to choose plants the pests don't normally bother.

Preparation and Early Care
Even the hardiest and best suited plants will need some care as they get established. The site may need to be carefully prepped up front to minimize care needs later. It is especially important to test the soil and amend it before planting, if necessary. Start with a weed-free site and use mulch or landscape fabric to control weeds after planting. This is especially critical when establishing groundcovers. If weeds take over the bed before the plants are big enough to smother them out, you will have a major maintenance problem.

Even the hardiest plants are vulnerable when they're young. If the weather is dry, they will need to be watered until they establish a good root system, even if they are drought tolerant when they're established. In the early years they may also need some training or corrective pruning.

Most low-maintenance perennials will not require fertilization. If you are wish to speed growth in the early years, then fertilization appropriate for the species may be helpful.

Low Maintenance Perennial Suggestions
For types of plants that are considered low maintenance in your area, examine the landscapes of commercial buildings around you. There you will generally find plants that require a minimum of care. You may not want to copy a commercial landscaping theme exactly, but it allows you to see the plants growing in a low-maintenance setting.

If you want groundcovers, consider pachysandra, sweet woodruff or vinca in shady spots. Low growing sedums are excellent for dry, sunny areas. Ground-hugging junipers or other evergreens are good in the sun. Other good choices include be ajuga or lamium. Some of the new low-growing landscape roses can cover ground with a carpet of flowers and little care is needed. The various thymes are also good, low-care groundcovers.

Low-care perennials for the shade include hosta, tiarella and heuchera. If the shady area is moist enough, ferns and astilbe can also be added. Polygonatum in its various forms is also good. In hot, dry, sunny regions, agaves, yucca and sedums can provide low-maintenance interest. Baptisia is a flowering choice for arid areas. Daylilies, landscape roses, coreopsis, gaillardia, lavender, Russian Sage, verbena and lantana are flowering plants for sunny, moderately moist areas. Carex, sedges and some low, clumping ornamental grasses like "Elijah Blue" might also be added.

Narcissus and allium bulbs are seldom touched by pests and will multiply each year to offer spring color. In some situations Asiatic lilies, tiger lilies and lycoris, or surprise lilies, are quite effective and don't require staking.

For small trees and shrubs with low maintenance, try compact spireas, low-growing sumacs such as Gro-Low, barberry, euonymus varieties including "Burning Bush," potentillaa or pyracantha. If you have an area where larger, less-formal shrubs can grow, hydrangeas, viburnums, dogwoods, lilacs, rhododendrons and camellias are easy keepers.  

Many evergreens in the juniper, yew and pine family have dwarf or compact varieties that will require little care. If you have lots of space, most evergreens are easy on maintenance. Deciduous shade trees require little care other than raking leaves, and even that can be avoided if you can let them decompose where they fall.

Care Is Needed
Proper plant choices keep garden maintenance to the minimum, but no yard is totally maintenance free. Expect to trim off the occasional dead branch or replace a failing plant.  As your experience with gardening grows, or you have more free time, you may want to include other plant species in your landscape that require a bit more care. If you become truly addicted to gardening, no plant species that will grow in your zone will be off limits, no matter how extravagant its maintenance needs are.

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