12 Plants For a Low Maintenance Garden
Beautify your garden with only minimal effort
Create a beautiful low-maintenance garden
By the team here at DIY Gardening.
Not everyone has hours of spare time to spend in the garden tending to plants and lawns. However, with careful planning, you can easily achieve a beautiful garden with minimal effort.
In this guide, Daniel Woodley chooses 12 plants that are difficult to kill, require only occasional pruning (if any), don’t need an excessive amount of watering or feed and are generally good at resisting pests and diseases.
A word of warning though; the old saying “great plant, wrong location” should be at the forefront of your mind. Almost all of the plants listed on this page are low-maintenance provided they are grown in an ideal location. Pick a great plant and put it in the wrong place, and you’ll need to spend more time maintaining it.
Below you’ll find a mixture of beautiful flowering plants that bring colour to your garden and a selection of ground-covering weed-suppressors.
1) Hydrangea Macrophylla
Hydrangea Macrophylla is one of the easiest plants to grow and a staple of many low-maintenance gardens.
They are generally pest-free and require only a once-yearly feed with a slow-release fertiliser or organic material top-up.
You only need to prune them once a year, and you can leave the dead flowers on over winter as they look dazzling when covered in frost.
With little maintenance and care, you can expect dozens of large flowers that’ll last all the way through into autumn.
Hydrangeas can also be grown in containers; we suggest mixing perlite into the compost to help with water retention; this will reduce the amount of water needed.
DO – plant in a spot with light shade, so you don’t need to water them so frequently. Dig in slow-release fertiliser in spring as it’ll last all through the growing season. Prune no more than 20% of the stems to just above ground level once per year (flowers will only grow on old wood so don’t prune every branch). You can mulch the base once per year to keep the soil moist, thus reducing the amount of water needed.
Don’t – place in a very sunny, dry spot in the garden as you’ll need to water it more frequently and hydrangeas can be very thirsty if located in very dry soil. Don’t prune aggressively as flowers only bloom on old wood, that’s stems that are at least one year old.
Not sure where to start? Hydrangea Guide is a website that contains everything you need to know about Hydrangea Macrophylla and is a great place to start.
English lavender is a very low maintenance plant; it doesn’t require any fertiliser and rainwater is usually enough to keep it hydrated.
Very few pests or diseases bother lavender, and it can be grown in poor, low-nutrient soil. You don’t need to add mulch or organic matter to lavender, even if grown in containers.
Choose English lavender for borders and French lavender for pots that can be moved to a sheltered location for winter.
Lavenders only need pruning once per year, usually to a point just above the woody stems.
DO – Locate this low-maintenance plant in a very sunny spot in well-drained soil. Elevated positions are perfect for lavender as water won’t pool near the plant. Do add grit to loosen up soils that contain lots of heavy organic matter.
DON’T – Fertiliser or excessive amounts of organic matter isn’t needed, and too much can cause the lavender to become woody. Only water lavender during very hot weather, it copes well with dry soil. Don’t locate in shaded areas or moist parts of the garden; this is a plant that loves full sun and dry, gritty soil. Don’t locate near plants that require lots of water and feed as the runoff will affect the lavender.
3) Ornamental Grasses
Thousands of varieties of grass can be grown to add texture, movement and structure to any garden, so there’s plenty of choices.
These low-maintenance plants are resistant to most pests and diseases and can be grown in a variety of locations; from shade to part-shade through to a full-sun position. Most cope well with drought and are forgiving when it comes to watering and feed.
You don’t need to prune back evergreen ornamental grasses, just pull out any dead stems as and when you have the time.
We think grasses go very well with alliums, check out these beautiful photos.
The BBC’s Gardener’s World website has a practical selection of ornamental grasses for small gardens and is an excellent place to start.
4) Hostas For Shaded Low-Maintenance Gardens
There is a hosta to suit every taste, and these unique, low-maintenance plants are grown for their foliage which can vary in shape, texture and colour.
Hostas are very easy to grow, and last for years with very little maintenance. Most are suited to damp, moist, shaded areas of the garden, and for this reason, hostas made into onto our list of the best plants for north-facing gardens.
As a general rule of thumb, green hostas love full-shade while yellow and blueish leaved varieties prefer more dappled sunlight.
Expect good groundcover when established, which is great for suppressing weeds in your low-maintenance garden.
DO – Plant in moist, shade, north-facing locations in the garden, preferably with lots of organic matter. Watch out for slugs and snails, one of the few pests that affect hostas (try these rainproof slug pellets).
DON’T – Very few hostas are full-sun tolerant and those that do, will require weekly watering, so avoid these and stick with hostas suited to moist, shaded locations.
Check out this in-depth guide to growing hostas by Longfield Gardens.
5) Lamb’s Ear
Lamb’s Ear is a perfect low-maintenance plant; it requires very little care and provides excellent ground cover for weed suppression.
You can place this plant under taller plants such as roses, alliums and ornamental grasses as well as trees.
Grow in full sun you’ll be rewarded with years of hassle-free growth. The grey/silver fur-like coating is particularly eye-catching.
Lamb’s Ear is a delicacy for slugs but otherwise is pest-free, few diseases affect the plant and it self-seeds if not pruned.
DO – Grow in full sun and well-draining soil. Locate anywhere in full sun where you need to suppress weeds.
DON’T – Lamb’s Ear doesn’t like overly moist soil or full-shade. There’s no need to fertilise as this low-maintenance plant thrives in poor soils.
Gardening Know How published a quick guide to growing Lamb’s Ear; it’s a good place to start.
We’ve had 14 Dianthus plants in our border for two years, and they’ve been almost maintenance-free. We deadhead every week or two to encourage new blooms, but this isn’t essential as most Dianthus will bloom profusely even with less frequent deadheading.
Slugs and snails have ignored them so far, and there’s been no sign of disease or damage from other pests.
We rarely watered this plant beyond the first few months after planting and have been rewarded with flowers that keep coming all summer and into the autumn.
Dianthus prefers a sunny spot in well-drained soil so is perfect for raised flowerbeds, containers or rockeries.
You can fertilise Dianthus once per year, dig in a slow-release fertiliser in the spring and top up the soil with some compost later in the summer if needed.
Our only gripe is that perennial Dianthus may only last between 3 and 5 years at which point the plant should be split or propagated from offshoots.
DO – Locate in a sunny spot with at least 6 hours of sunlight to achieve the best results. Grow in well-drained soil and fertilise once or twice per growing season. Split or propagate every few years.
DON’T – Avoid overhead watering as this can rot the crown. Don’t grow in overly moist and compact soil.
7) Skimmia Japonica Combo
Skimmia Japonica is one of our favourite winter plants and even made it onto our list of the best plants for winter colour.
A compact and evergreen shrub that produces small white or yellow flowers followed by bright red berries on the female plant, Skimmia Japonicas are perfect low-maintenance garden plants.
The berries will stay on the branches throughout most of the winter, creating much-needed colour at an often dull time of year.
There is a catch, though; the female plant will only produce berries if planted near a male plant. For this reason, we’ve selected two Japonica Skimmias for your low-maintenance garden.
We think “Rubella” and “Obsession” would be a perfect match.
Both plants are generally free from pests and diseases and can be grown in the shade and most soil types. They don’t require any special pruning other than a tidy up when needed.
You can find more information about this low-maintenance shrub on the RHS website.
Alliums mix well with hundreds of plants, but we think they look best mixed with taller plants such as grasses, lavender and coneflowers or grown over weed-suppressing groundcover plants such as hostas.
Alliums will come back year after year and don’t need much attention once established.
Next year we will be experimenting with the Alium Globemaster and a selection of 5 or 6 shorter alliums including the ever-popular “purple sensation”.
Choose a sunny spot that’s sheltered from the wind and with well-drained soil, and you’re good to go. Alliums, once established, are drought-tolerant, low maintenance plants and very popular in cottage gardens and borders.
Alliums can be deadheaded or pruned at any time. There’s no need to excessively water established alliums and fertiliser is rarely needed; in fact, they thrive in low nutrient soils.
Explore our in-depth guide to planting and growing alliums here
Coneflowers are daisy-like perennials that produce cone-shaped heads with petals around the edges atop of long stems.
Once established, coneflowers are trouble-free and very easy to grow and very few pests and diseases affect them. They are drought resistant, don’t require regular feeding, and as a bonus, they attract butterflies and bees.
Locate coneflowers in a sunny spot with well-draining soil, and they should flower from June through to late September or even October.
This low-maintenance plant is one of our favourites and is often grown with dahlias, alliums, grasses and Russian sage.
We prefer the popular purple coneflower, but all look stunning.
You can plant in swatches for dramatic effect in borders or simply grow in pots.
DO – Plant in a sunny, well-drained part of the garden. Add organic matter no more than once a year; coneflowers do just fine in poor to moderately fertile soils.
DON’T – Avoid excessive watering or fertilising, don’t grow in shaded parts of the garden or overcrowd them as they don’t like being crowded.
Catmint is as tough as old boots and is an excellent alternative to lavender and nearly as aromatic too!
With little maintenance, this herbaceous perennial will flower from spring through to early summer with a possible rebloom in autumn.
Grow in a sunny spot with well-draining soil and avoid permanently wet ground conditions and deep shade.
Catmint is often found in rock gardens, herb collections and along border edges and paths, it also makes for a great filler plant.
Expect growth up to 90cm (3feet) and once established, they require only occasional watering beyond natural rainwater. Fertiliser isn’t usually needed as they tolerate poor soil well.
Catmint has a few pests but is also very effective at repelling mosquitoes.
Gardening With Charlie has published an excellent introductory guide to catmint.
11) Hardy Geranium
Hardy Geraniums produce beautiful saucer-shaped flowers from late spring through to autumn and will grow well in full, partial or dappled sunlight.
A great weed suppressor that doesn’t need too much maintenance, this flowering perennial is perfect for filling space in borders.
Please don’t confuse these plants with annual geranium bedding plants; they are entirely different. Hardy Geraniums will die back to ground level each winter then reappear in the spring for another year of growth.
Some varieties will reach heights of over a metre but most average around half a metre.
As a low-maintenance plant, you don’t water it regularly, only when the soil is very dry. You can apply a layer of organic mulch or compost to the surface each spring, and that will provide enough nutrients for the growing season.
Few pests or diseases affect this plant, slugs may attack young plants and overwatering can lead to fungal disease, but once established, Hardy Geraniums are genuinely low-maintenance.
12) Coral Bells
Coral Bells are an excellent choice for low-maintenance gardens. They can be grown in partial, dappled or even full sun and perform well in moist, well-draining soil.
Expect growth to reach around 0.5 metres with tubular, bell-like flowers blooming on upright stems in late spring to early summer.
While the flowers are small, they are complemented by the truly unique ground-covering foliage.
Coral Bells go particularly well with Hostas and ornamental grasses, both are low-maintenance plants and make perfect companion plants for Coral Bells grown in shaded gardens.
You’ll find lots of images and details about coral bells here.
If you want to achieve a beautiful garden that’s also low maintenance, here are some pro tips:
- Mulch the soil surface or cover with gravel to keep the soil moist, thus reducing the amount of water needed.
- Group plants by their water and feed requirements, i.e. don’t plant thirsty plants next to ones that prefer a drier soil.
- If one section of your garden contains thirsty plants, invest in a timed irrigation system, they aren’t expensive.
- Increase the density of plants in your flowerbeds to crowd out and suppress weeds.
- Avoid most annual bedding plants (petunias, pansies, etc.) as they need regular water, feed and attention in general.
- When digging in any plant, first sprinkle Mycorzial Fungi into the hole. The plant will then develop a strong secondary root system that will improve water and nutrient uptake, reducing the amount of watering and feeding you need to do.
- Apply a slow-release fertiliser in the spring, this lasts for months and is less time consuming than applying liquid or powder fertilisers every few weeks.
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