Chazz is an Interior Decorator/Consultant/Retailer, amateur photographer, cook, gardener, handyman, currently restoring an 1880 Victorian.
Top 10 Low Maintenance Perennials for Easy Care Summer Gardening
New gardeners often think that growing perennials is time consuming and beyond their abilities. However, carefully chosen perennials can provide years of multi-season interest in the garden with minimal maintenance and plenty of time to enjoy other summer activities.
The maintenance requirements of perennials may vary depending on weather, location and growing conditions, but if you select plants specifically for your location and site conditions and give them one to three years to establish themselves, you will find these plants flourish with little attention and are more than worth the small amount of care they may require.
We have chosen ten of our favorite low-care perennials. Since we live in the Northeastern United States, the list consists of plants that are suitable for zones 5-6, but most of these have a much wider range.
Our aim was to include plants of different sizes and colors across a range of growing conditions. We've included our own photos and reviews of these plants as well as general growing information. We've avoided plants that tend to be overly aggressive or invasive in our experience. Although some of the perennials here will provide you with plants or divisions to share, they will not require more than cursory vigilance to keep in check.
Low-maintenance Perennials Selection Criteria
The perennials on this list were chosen on the basis of the following criteria:
- They are long-lived (Plants should survive and thrive for at least 5 years)
- They are healthy (disease and pest resistant)
- They do not need to be divided frequently
- They are generally well-behaved (not overly aggressive; won't take over your garden)
- They are cold hardy (do not need winter protection in recommended zones).
What does LOW-maintenance Mean?
Although these are low-maintenance perennials, I have yet to find a garden plant that is no-maintenance, so this is what easy-care involves:
- Unless you want a plant to go to seed, plants that rebloom should be deadheaded (removal of spent blooms) to encourage more flowering
- Most plants will require an annual feeding of appropriate organic matter to give them necessary nutrients depleted by growth and blooming.
- Most perennials will need to be divided eventually. That will give you at least two plants for every plant you divide. Carefully dig out the plant you intend to divide, including as much of the root system as you can. Take a clean sharp knife (I find a hori-hori best for this job) or axe and cut or chop the plant in half. (If still very large, you can cut each half in half again.) Plant one section where the original plant was and either plant the others elsewhere in your yard or pot them and share with friends or neighbors.
Enjoy an Easy Care Year-Round Garden
1. Astilbe Add Architectural Interest to a Garden
Astilbe (aka False Spirea) is a deceptively delicate looking plant that is actually quite strong. This hardy perennial for zones 4 through 8, is available in colors ranging from burgundy, red and shades of pink, salmon and peach to lavender, amethyst, white and ivory.
Sizes vary from dwarf astilbe (such as chinensis Pumila, a late-blooming mauve pink 12 inch tall plant) to giants (such as Arendsi Amethyst, a mid-summer bloomer that can reach 4 feet tall).
Astilbe also have different bloom times so you can stretch the season from several weeks to the whole summer if you buy some that bloom sequentially. Even when not in bloom, the foliage is attractive and you can leave the dried plumes in place to add interest through the winter.
All you need to do to grow astilbe successfully is plant them in light shade or filtered sun and consistently moist soil. They should be fed with organic matter ever season to replace nutrients. You may need to divide them every 3 or 4 years to maintain their vigor, which gives you free plants to fill in elsewhere or to share with your neighbors.
Astilbe require a little more attention than the other plants here, but they add so much to the garden that you won't mind at all. Check out some of the different types of Astilbe below and add some to your garden this year.
2. Baptisia aka False Indigo and False Lupine
Baptisia Australis or False Indigo is a vigorous shrub-like perennial that boasts sweetpea-like blue blooms, blue green foliage, and interesting seed heads. Baptisia is heat, drought, rabbit, and deer resistant.
Baptisia does not need to be divided and, because it has a deep taproot, that is a good thing because the root makes that difficult to do. The tap root is also why you should choose the spot to plant Baptisia carefully as it is difficult to move. Although it prefers sun, Baptisia will tolerate partly shady conditions but it should get a minimum of 6 hours sunlight per day. They get floppy if there is not enough sun.
Baptisia Australis mature to about 2 feet wide and can grow to about 5 feet high. Baptisia minor, also a native plant, is a smaller scaled plant that does not exceed 2 feet tall. Both are well-suited to zones 3 to 9. Baptisia blooms mid-summer for several weeks, followed by seed pods that turn black and are often dried and used in flower arrangements.
In addition to the beautiful blue shown in the photo above, Baptisia can also be found in purple, yellow, or white. We like Baptisia Australis with peonies, iris, and chartreuse plants like Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla Mollis), or sun-tolerant chartreuse leaved hostas.
Baptisia Australis Comes in a Wide Range of Colors - These are just a few of the varieties available
3. Buddleia (Butterfly Bush, Summer Lilac)
Buddleia is aptly known familiarly as the Butterfly Bush! Their honey-like fragrance and abundant nectar also attract hummingbirds. Buddleia have a long history of usefulness to humans as well, especially in Chinese and Korean medicine.
Over 100 species of Buddleia are native to Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Most are flowering shrubs but some qualify as trees and recently dwarf Buddleia have been hybridized. They are not fussy and as long as you give them a sunny spot and well-drained average-to-fertile soil they will do fine.
Besides being pest and disease resistant, Buddleia tolerate drought, deer, hot humid weather, pollution, rabbits, and seashore growing conditions.
Maintenance involves pruning the bush back annually to about 12 to 20 inches in late winter or early spring. Don't let that scare you - canes will come back quickly. Remove spent flowers (deadheading) to encourage more blooms and remove seed heads, if applicable, to prevent self-seeding.
PLEASE NOTE: Most Buddleia davidii will self-seed and can be invasive if planted near a natural area. They are not a problem in more urban areas, but if your property borders a stream, park, or undeveloped area, plant responsibly. Other species of Buddleia (B. alternifolia, B. fallowiana, B. japonica, B x weyriana, B. crispa) do not seed as readily and pose less of a problem. Some varieties are also sterile and do not produce seed at all ( B. davidii 'Asian Moon', B. davidii 'Lo and Behold Ice Chip' and 'Purple Haze', Buddleia 'Silver Anniversary').
Bodacious Buddleia for Every Garden
A Cornucopia of Coreopsis
4. Coreopsis (Tickseed)
Coreopsis is part of the aster family and a native U.S. wildflower. They can be grown in any type of soil as long as drainage is good, they tolerate drought, heat and humidity and are pest (including deer) and disease resistant. Plus they attract butterflies and make long-lasting cut flowers, two of my favorite plant attributes.
Coreopsis are happiest in sun to light shade, and bloom their heads off from mid-to-late-spring through summer in zones 3 to 9. Ours continued to bloom sporadically into fall until the first frost. You will find coreopsis as small as 12" high and wide through 36" high and 18" wide. Blooms may be single or double, with most perennial coreopsis (there are also annual varieties) a cheery bright yellow. Newer cultivars include pinks and white with colorful accents
Coreopsis spread moderately via underground runners but can easily controlled if you want to keep it from doing that. Dividing is recommended every 4 or 5 years and deadheading will keep the plant covered in blooms. Feeding is not required. A light dressing of balanced fertilizer may be applied in early spring, but be sure to use a light touch as too much fertilizer will result in leggy, sprawling stems and few flowers.
5. Cranesbill (Hardy Geranium)
Geranium is an abundantly flowering plant that requires very little maintenance. It makes a wonderful edging plant and thrives in full sun to part (and sometimes mostly) shade. Hardy Geranium have few disease and pest problems but they do spread.
Here in zone 5-6 they spread slowly and are not a problem, but a few growers do find them somewhat aggressive. You can check with your local cooperative extension for types recommended for your area if that is a concern. Some can spread quickly, which is desirable if you are planting them as a groundcover, but others spread very slowly or almost not at all.
Most cranesbill are suitable for zones 4 through 8, but some such as the deep magenta Max Frei are said to grow in zones 3 through 9.
Hardy geranium bloom in colors from white to pinks from the palest tint to deep magenta as well as multiple shades of lavender, purple and burgundy. They are clump forming and generally bloom from June to August, although some, such as Rozanne, often bloom into October for us. Sizes range from 4 inches high (G. dalmaticum Little Monster) to 36 inches or more (such as G. pretense Victor Reiter), with most in the 12 to 18" tall range. A versatile plant, cranesbill can also be grown in containers, which keeps them constrained. Or try planting some under roses, along a path, or under trees that have an airier canopy which allows light to filter through. Feed them once lightly in spring but that's it. Too much fertilizer will make cranesbill lanky.
If your plants get scraggly after blooming, shear them back to basal growth and they will fill in quickly and beautifully, perhaps even blooming again. After about 5 years you may find the center dying out, in which case you should divide the plant to reinvigorate it.
Find the Best Hardy Geranium for Your Site
6. Eryngium (Sea Holly)
Striking spikey Eryngium not only have a unique appearance, they are one tough-as-nails plant! Dramatic Sea Holly will grow in zones 2 through 10 and range in size from 1 to 6 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide. They vary from shades of white/gray to a variety of blues.
Sea Holly are drought, deer, disease, pest and salt resistant, tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and are among the easiest sun-loving perennials to grow - even from seed. (Ours also does nicely in part shade with afternoon sun.) Like Baptisia, they have a long tap root and are difficult to relocate once established.
Eryngium look great with daylilies and with yellow flowered yarrow or coreopsis. If you select a variety that produces seeds, be sure to deadhead to prevent self-seeding. Otherwise you can leave the heads to add winter interest. The flowers can also be dried to use in arrangements or wreaths.
See & Shop for Sea Holly Plants and Seeds
7. Hellebores (aka The Christmas or Lenten Rose)
Hellebores are among the first plants in our garden to flower, often raising their bowed heads above the snow in late winter or early spring. These shade lovers have foliage that is evergreen in all but the coldest areas and provide foliar interest in the summer garden and beyond. Plant at least one if you live in zones 4 through 8 or 9, depending on variety.
Helleborus Orientalis come in single and double blooms in a rainbow of colors from almost-black dark purples and burgundies to shades of pink, green, white, yellow, and ivory. They grow to about 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide and can flower as long as three months. And that's not all to recommend them! Hellebores are happy in the shade and they are drought, disease, rabbit and deer resistant.
Whether you prefer to call them by their Latin nomenclature, Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose or simply Hellebores, do add some to a shade border with hosta, ferns, and other shade lovers and try them with spring bulbs, epimedium, and my favorite to pair with Hellebores, Old-fashioned bleeding heart.
Find Your Favorite Hellebores
8. Hemerocallis (Daylilies)
If you are looking for an easy-to-grow plant that is elegant and graceful as well as tough, consider the daylily. Although it does not look strong, the daylily is a hardy, drought tolerant and disease resistant perennial.
Daylilies come in almost every color from soft pastel shades to bold, bright and vibrant oranges and reds. Originally from Asia, they fit in with all types of gardens from country cottage to formal. Foliage can be deciduous or partly to completely evergreen.
Ranging in height from less than 12 inches to 4 feet tall, daylilies can be used for striking accents as individual specimens or in drifts or borders.
Although the blooms last only for one day, there are multiple blooms per stem and the bloom period can last four or more weeks. By combining varieties with different bloom times, you can extend that even longer. Spent blooms can be easily snapped off by hand to prevent the plant from forming seeds and to enable it to use the energy that would have gone into the seeds to bloom more or store it for overwintering.
Daylilies love sun but ours are quite happy in partial shade. They are not fussy about the type of soil or pH (the acidity or alkalinity of soil), but do like good drainage and a light dressing of balanced fertilizer and/or compost/mulch.
With more than 60,000 registered cultivars of daylilies, there are daylilies suitable for every zone from 3 to 10. You are sure to find the perfect ones for your garden.
Daylilies spread, but do not need to be divided more often than about every 4 or 5 years. In fact, the larger clumps will bloom longer as long as they are not over-crowded, in which case division is probably overdue.
9. Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Besides being easy to grow, perhaps no other perennial comes in such a range of foliage colors and patterns. Heuchera flowers with small red, pink or white bell shaped blossoms on spikes that rise above the mound of foliage in late spring through early summer, much to the delight of hummingbirds.
There has recently been an explosion in breeding more and more fantastic variations of heuchera with more flowers, foliage colors of silver, burgundy, red, purple, bronze, plum, orange, gold and yellow. They grow to 12 inches tall by 12 inches wide and spread very slowly. Recommended for zones 3 through 8. Plant in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil.
Heuchera add color to shady areas and complement Astilbe and Hosta.
10. Hosta (Slug Resistant)
aka Plantain Lily
While all hostas are easy care, Hostas that are slug resistant are the lowest maintenance and, with more than 3,000 licensed Hostas, you can just as easily find a variety of sizes, colors, and textures in foliage and flowers that are resistant to these leaf devouring pests as those that are not.
Hostas range from miniature size to humungous and include individual and mixed colors from yellow and chartreuse to blue, green and white with lavender or white flowers, with some beautifully scented.
Hostas like rich, moist soil and at least some degree of shade. Some new varieties can tolerate more sun. Hostas emerge in the spring and last until frost.
For lowest maintenance, look for slug-resistant plants with thick crinkly leaves. Some easy-to-find and grow Hosta to look for are
- Drinking Gourd a cup-shaped blue leaved plant 20" high by up to 40" wide
- Halcyon a blue hosta with spear-shaped leaves about 18" high by about 20" wide.
- Sum and Substance with chartreuse to golden green leaves up to 36" high and 80 inches (over 6 1/2 feet) wide.
- Bright Lights 16" high by 30" wide in Chartreuse with Blue-green margins
- Spilt Milk a White variegated specimen 20" high and 40" wide.
Those are just a small sampling of slug resistant hosta. Slug resistant hosta have leathery, thicker, more roughly textured leaves. Most tend to have blue or blue-green leaves, but other colors can be found. If you can't resist other varieties, see below for ways to control slugs without chemicals.
More Slug Resistant Hostas
Do you grow easy-care perennials?
Would you like to suggest your favorite low-maintenance plant?
Comments would be greatly appreciated.
© 2013 Chazz
How's it Growin?
Chazz (author) from New York on September 19, 2017:
Thanks, Diana -
I also grow the plants you mention in our zone 5-6 garden.
Diana Grant from London on September 07, 2017:
Very enjoyable article. I've got every one of the flowers you mention except coreopsis and baptisia.
Other low maintenance plants in my garden are ferns, pentstemon, verbena, montbretia (crocosmia) and sedum.
Sue Dixon from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK on June 18, 2014:
Excellent choices. I'm a big hosta fan .
RinchenChodron on March 09, 2014:
The only one I'm familiar with is the day lily. I live in a dry climate - Colorado. Some of these are lovely and I think I'm in zone 5? Maybe I'll try one that does not need a wet ground.