Horticulture Magazine

12 Low Maintenance Plants for Care-Free Gardens

bunches of yellow black eyed susan flowers

Keep your backyard beautiful – without putting in the hard yards – with these laid-back and low-maintenance garden plants.

There are many reasons why you might prefer a garden filled with plants that don’t require too much in the way of maintenance or tender loving care.

Perhaps you struggle with a disability or injury, or maybe advanced years make the labour involved too strenuous.

It could be that you need to maintain a property that you rent out to others or only occupy for part of the year, or perhaps you’re new to the gardening scene and want to just get the tips of your fingers green at the outset.

Or possibly, you just crave the aesthetic results without any of the legwork.

While there are no such things as zero-maintenance plants, there are plenty of options that lend themselves well to those taking a more hands-off approach.

Whether it’s resilient evergreens that are happy enough when left to their own devices, longer blossoms that give you the lengthiest bang for your buck or twice-blooming flowers that double up on their displays, you should be able to find a cultivar that suits the colour scheme you’re going for and the amount of time and effort you’re willing to invest.

The following list is by no means an exhaustive one, but should give you a good starting point for some ideas of low-maintenance options that offer attractive floral returns for minimal exertion.

Below you’ll find a mix of shrubs, perennials and annuals that can help you to cultivate a carefree but captivating garden without the stress or fuss of more needy alternatives.

1) Black-Eyed Susan

Rudbekia Goldstrum flowers
Rudbekia fulgida var. sullivanti ‘Goldsturm’

The bright yellow petals of Black-Eyed Susan surround a dark oversized centre in a cheerfully attractive display, blooming in August through to October to add a splash of colour to your garden’s palette later in the year.

It works best as a border plant between other species, since it’s quite happy in partial shade.

The Goldsturm variety is particularly conducive to hands-off horticulture. It’s not too tall that it requires staking, but it doesn’t self-propagate at such a rate that division is needed on more than an occasional basis.

What’s more, there’s no need to prune seed heads at the end of the season, since birds love to feast on the tasty treats inside.

While in full bloom, it’ll attract butterflies by the bucketload, as well, making it great for biodiversity year-round.

2) Blue Star Juniper

Juniper Blue Star in focus
Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’

A far more mild-mannered member of the family than some of its other invasive counterparts, Blue Star juniper is a perfect evergreen addition to your back garden.

The metallic blue needles of its year-round display make it attractive from an aesthetic perspective – especially when the new shoots accentuate its colours with brilliantly bright points of growth – but this low-lying shrub has far more in its locker than just its looks.

For starters, it’s resistant to drought, resilient against disease, fends off pests like rabbits or other mammals admirably and doesn’t require serious pruning for it to adopt a pleasing structure.

It doesn’t grow above half a metre in height or wider than a full metre in spread, so it never becomes too much of a nuisance, while its ability to cope in almost all soil types makes it a dream for the laid-back gardener.

3) Erysimum Bowles’s Mauve

purple Erysimum Bowles's Mauve with bumblebee
Erysimum bicolor ‘Bowles’s Mauve’

A delightful perennial wallflower, Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ gives its owners a longer and more vibrant floral display than many other species.

Its woody stems bear a carpet of mauve blooms from mid-February onwards (and sometimes even earlier in mild years), not fading away until late summer.

In southern parts of the country, it’s even been known to bloom all year round.

Erysimum can handle all soil types with relative ease and flourishes in both sun and shade, though it will require some sunlight to keep it healthy.

4) Geranium Rozanne

purple Geranium Rozanne in bloom
Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Also known as cranesbill, this hardy geranium is the perfect choice for that shady corner of the garden where nothing else wants to grow.

It positively thrives in darker environments and the striking tones of its pink, purple and blue flowerheads will brighten up the dimness of its surroundings with ease.

Not that it shies away from the sun, either. In fact, Geranium Rozanne is likely to do well wherever you plant it, provided the soil isn’t waterlogged, and it makes a particularly fetching ground cover option at the front of a border.

It’s another flower that bees, butterflies and other pollinators can’t get enough of, so planting it liberally in your garden is good for the environment as well as your aesthetic.

5) Hosta June

Plantain Lily 'June' leaves
Hosta ‘June’

Hostas are a lazy or lesser-abled gardener’s best friend.

Like the cranesbill mentioned above, they love their shade and revel in moist soil, making them ideal for the persistent precipitation of the Great British climate.

They’re generally grown for their eye-catching foliage, with the June variety pictured above a perfect illustration of why their broad-leaved, multi-coloured appearance is such a popular choice in gardens around the country.

Hostas’ thirsty nature means that they require continual watering when potted, but they should be able to cope outdoors without hardly any attention at all (unless a prolonged period of drought descends on your garden).

They’ll do well in all soil types and even draw bees to your garden, but the one blot in their copybook is their toxicity to dogs and cats, so keep an eye on your pets around them.

6) Hydrangea Endless Summer

blue Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’

The delicate petals and pastel tones of mophead hydrangeas mean they are among the most popular varieties of garden flowers in UK homes.

However, many varieties require complicated and continual pruning and a complex network of supports in order to achieve the optimum effect – but thankfully not all of them. Endless Summer is a more relaxed alternative that offers repeat blooms on both old and new stems.

It will bear its beautiful blossoms between July and October and the colour produced will depend largely on the acidity of the soil it is planted in.

Having said that, it copes well with almost all soil types and doesn’t mind too much whether it’s placed in full sun or dappled shade – while it also makes a gorgeous cut flower.

Just beware that it too is poisonous to pets. See our hydrangea growing guide for more information.

7) Iris White City

White Iris germanica in a lush landscaped garden
Iris ‘White City’

White City is a bearded iris, meaning it has a so-called “beard” on each of the lower layers of its petals.

In this particular specimen, the large, floppy petals start out as pale blue, gently fading to a striking white as the plant matures, while both colours are beautifully complemented by the orange-white beards.

While irises can be a bit fussier about the conditions they thrive in (preferring rich soil that’s regularly mulched and full exposure to the sun) – the bonus they offer is secondary blooms later in the year.

The first wave will arrive in May and June, before a second coming in September and October will provide your autumnal display with some much-needed panache and pizzazz.

8) Japanese Pachysandra

evergreen Japanese spurge groundcover plant
Pachysandra terminalis

On the hunt for some eye-catching ground cover that doesn’t require a whole lot of elbow grease to cultivate?

Look no further than Japanese pachysandra (sometimes known as Japanese spurge).

This evergreen perennial shrub has lush green foliage that’s topped by dainty white flowers in the springtime, making it a pleasing addition to any bare patch of your backyard.

Its predilection for acidic soils and shady conditions makes it a great choice for planting beneath other plants, such as rhododendrons, since they can form a symbiotic relationship with one another.

Although it’s just a dwarf shrub at the outset, it grows quickly and densely to form a lavish green carpet that will withstand the paws of rabbits and other small mammals, the hooves of larger deer and even the occasional feet of human traffic.

9) Paeonia Buckeye Belle

red Paeonia Buckeye Belle
Paeonia ‘Buckeye Belle’

Perhaps more commonly referred to simply as an herbaceous peony, this enchanting specimen provides colourful intrigue throughout the year.

It will begin to push up through the soil in early spring, with its stems towering to a height of nearly one metre by the end of the season.

In early summer, its sumptuous blood-red flowers begin to blossom, offering a stark contrast to the deep green of its foliage, before withering back all the way down to ground level in the colder months.

It’s perhaps a little more demanding than other options on this list, given that it can be a bit fussy in poorer quality soil and insists on enjoying full solar exposure.

It’s also toxic to cats, dogs and horses, but its aesthetic qualities – plus the extraordinarily varied nature that they embody – make it well worth that extra little effort.

10) A Shropshire Lad Rose

a duo of pink Shropshire Lad roses
Rosa ‘A Shropshire Lad’

The breath-taking beauty of the rose means that it’s often assumed to be a high-maintenance creature, but that’s not always the case.

This climbing cultivar from England can be trained to creep up a fence, trellis or pillar if you wish, but it can also be left to its own devices and will develop into a medium-sized shrub.

To make matters even easier, A Shropshire Lad even dispenses with most of the thorns that its brethren are so infamous for, so you needn’t worry too much about incurring injuries while handling the plant.

Its peachy-pink flowers will blossom throughout the summer, repeat flowering with reliable regularity.

The blooms also carry an unmistakably fruity aroma, meaning it’s an olfactory delight as well as a visual one.

11) Russian Sage

purple russian sage in a garden
Perovskia atriplicifolia

Russian sage is a sight for sore eyes at any time of the year, even in the midst of a desperately cold winter, when its silver-tinged stems will sway in the wind hypnotically.

It’s at its best, however, during summer and early autumn.

At this time, the bobbing stems are topped by masses of lavender blossoms that will offset other colours in your display with elan.

It’s of particular interest to less motivated gardeners due to its ability to thrive even in poor soils, and as long as it’s given enough sun, it’ll flourish without much help.

It might be an idea, however, to trim back its stems in late spring in order to fashion its knotty network of boughs into a frame upon which new shoots can grow.

Expect it to grow to around one metre in spread and just over the same distance in height, making it ideal for herbaceous borders and gravel displays.

12) Syringa ‘Bloomerang’ Pink Perfume

pink clusters of syringa
Syringa ‘Bloomerang Pink Perfume’

The pun in the name of this resilient Syringa does do a pretty good job of explaining the plant’s flowering habits.

After producing opulent blossoms of pinky-purple flowers in spring, it comes back and repeats the trick once more in autumn with just as much vim and vigour as it brought to the table first time around.

The other clue in its title alludes to the delicate fragrance that the plant will impart to its surroundings, which is why it’s so popular among UK homeowners.

It’s also incredibly easy to grow, even lending itself well to pots and containers. That makes it a strong choice for amateur gardeners or those with less time on their hands, since all it really requires is careful pruning in mid-summer and thorough mulching come spring and it’ll reward you with fantastic floral results year after year.

It’s also one of the smaller specimens on this list, so it’s appropriate for small gardens where space is at a premium.

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