How to Grow a Low-Maintenance Garden

We've all heard the excuses before -- "I don't have time" or "I'm never home." Worse than that is "I just wasn't born with a green thumb" or "I've killed every plant I've ever owned!" Well, it's time to put all of those excuses aside and learn about planting a garden that you, too, can maintain.

Low-maintenance gardening allows you to enjoy the time you spend tending to your plants because you won't suddenly find yourself in the middle of an all-weekend project. All it takes is careful consideration of what you plant -- basically, plants that don't require a ton of care.

You can also cut back on gardening chores by considering the style of garden you plant. For example, native meadow grasses and flowers that only need to be mowed once a year are a great addition to a good-size backyard. This way instead of trying to outdo your neighbor by having the most green grass that needs to be mowed every week, you can sit outside and enjoy your native meadow grass and watching your neighbor sweat.

This article will touch on the various ways you can create a low-maintenance garden that meets your needs. Sections include:

  • Trouble-Free Planting

    Learn how to choose the right plants, taking into consideration not only the layout of your yard and the climate of where you live ,but also how much time you have to give to your plants. For example, you'll want to avoid fast-spreading perennials such as yarrow or bee balm and opt instead for an easy to grow shrub like compact azaleas or heather.

    This section will also touch upon how to establish a planting style that jives with your lifestyle. If you don't have a lot of time to fertilize, water, and mow, you'll definetely want to plant an area of your yard with a thick-growing ground cover like pachysandra or wild ginger. A self-sustaining meadow filled with black-eyed Susans, Shasta daisies, coneflowers, and the like is another great option that looks great without much effort.

  • Container Gardening

    This style of gardening is great because you can use a number of containers that you may already have at home. We'll provide you with helpful tips for creating a unique garden out of various containers, including window boxes, hanging baskets, strawberry pots -- really anything that inspires you. Best of all, container gardens are easily maintained by even the most novice of gardeners. Strong candidates for container gardens include annuals like pansies and sweet peas as well as such perennials as daylilies and oxalis.

    In fact, you don't even need to have a yard to create a beautiful container garden. Decks, balconies, front porches -- you name it -- can become a garden oasis with a few well-chosen flowers and some beautiful and unique pots. Because of this, container gardens are also a great option for areas that have very poor soil.

  • Annuals and Perennials Container Gardening

    Once you figure out just how you want your container garden to appear, then you get to choose the type of flowers to place in your containers. Annual flowers are great choices for container gardens. The majority of annuals nicely fill out the container they are placed in, creating a nice effect for the eye. Perennial flowers can also work in the container garden, and we'll give you tips to help keep them beautiful and healthy.

    Some great annual and perennial flowers for container gardening include yellow coneflower, morning glory vine, big blue lily turf, and multiple species of marigold.

Let go of the excuses and find a garden option that works for you. The healthy, vibrant flowers that greet you every day will be all the reward you need.



If you are used to cutting your lawn every week and shearing your shrubs once a month, you may be relieved to know that there are easier ways to keep your yard looking nice. Low-maintenance gardening begins with choosing plants ideally suited for your yard's conditions so they won't need coaxing to stay alive. Another low-maintenance but beautiful option is container gardening. Just choose your favorite annuals or perennials, and grow them in groups of containers -- no yard required!

No matter what your approach, there are many ways to keep gardening more fun than it is challenging. Let's start by taking a look at what types of plants to put in your garden -- and which to avoid -- for easy care.

Compact Shrubs
Following are some great options for low-maintenance compact shrubs.
  • Dwarf balsam fir
  • Compact azaleas
  • Compact barberries
  • Compact boxwood
  • Heather
  • Compact false cypress
  • Cotoneasters
  • Daphne
  • Deutzia
  • Fothergilla
  • Hydrangea, French and oakleaf
  • Hypericum
  • Compact hollies
  • Compact junipers
  • Leucothoe
  • Mahonia
  • Dwarf Korean lilac
  • Dwarf spruce
  • Japanese andromeda
  • Mugo and other small pines
  • Potentilla
  • Pyracantha
  • Roses
  • Spirea
  • Stephanandra
  • Compact viburnums

Some plants are naturally easier to keep, requiring little but suitable soil and proper exposure to grow and prosper. You can plant them and let them be without worrying about pests and diseases or extensive pruning, watering, fertilizing, or staking. Spending a little time finding these easy-care plants will prevent hours of maintenance in coming years.

  • Choose dwarf and slow-growing plants to eliminate the need for pruning and pinching. Tall shrubs just keep growing, and growing, and growing . . . sometimes getting too big for their place in the landscape.

    Lilacs, for example, commonly grow to 12 feet high. If planted by the house, they could cut off the view from the window. The only solution is regular trimming or replacement. A better option is to grow dwarf shrubs or special compact varieties that will only grow 2 to 4 feet high. They may never need pruning and won't have to
    be sheared into artificial globes.

    Tall flowers and vegetables may not be able to support the weight of their flowers and fruit. They might need staking, caging, or support with a wire grid to keep them from falling flat on their faces.

    Flowers such as delphiniums, asters, and Shasta daisies are now available in compact sizes that are self-supporting. And shorter types of daylilies are less likely to become floppy in light shade than taller types. Compact peas and tomatoes, while not entirely self-
    supporting, can be allowed to grow loosely on their
    own, or they may need only small cages or supports to be held securely.

  • Avoid fast-spreading and aggressive perennials such
    as yarrow, plume poppy, 'Silver King' artemisia, and
    bee balm. Although these plants are lovely, they have creeping stems that can spread through the garden, conquering more and more space and arising in the middle of neighboring plants. Keeping them contained
    in their own place requires dividing -- digging up the plants and splitting them into smaller pieces for replanting. This may need to be done as often as once a year. It's better to just avoid them.

  • Avoid delicate plants such as delphiniums, garden phlox, and hollyhocks, which need extra care and staking. Although spectacular in bloom, these prima donnas require constant protection from pests and diseases, plus pampered, rich, moist soil and, often, staking to keep them from falling over. If you simply have to try one, look for compact and/or disease-resistant cultivars, which are easier to care for.

  • Turn a low, moist spot into a bog garden for plants that need extra moisture. You can even excavate down a little to create a natural pond. Plant the moist banks with variegated cattails, sagittaria, bog primroses, marsh marigolds, and other moisture-loving plants.

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Meadow Plants
Here are some great meadow grasses and flowers that will do well in your low-maintenance garden.

Selecting the right style of planting for any given area can also reduce maintenance. Instead of lawn grass that needs regular fertilizing, watering, and mowing, a self-sustaining meadow area can be appealing and leave you with plenty of time for your other interests. This and other tips will help your landscape look great with less effort.

  • Plant weedy spots with thick-growing ground cover to avoid becoming a drudge to weeding. Ground cover works well on banks, in sun or shade, under fencing where it's hard to keep weeds down, beside outbuildings, and even under trees where it's too shady for grass to grow.

    It's important to start the ground-cover bed in weed-free soil, however, so the ground cover can take over without competition. Another option is to clean up the soil. Turn it over with a rototiller or spade, let the weeds sprout, and then turn it again. Repeat the process until the weeds are almost gone.

    Choose a ground cover that will thrive on the site. It needs to spread vigorously and grow thickly enough to crowd out any weeds. In shady areas, try pachysandra, barrenwort, or wild ginger. In sun, try creeping junipers, daylilies, ground-cover roses, or other plants that are specifically suited for your climate.

    For good results fast, buy plenty of plants and space them relatively close together. If this is too expensive, spread plants farther apart, and mulch the open areas to discourage weeds. Plan to keep a close eye on the new garden for the first year and pull up or hoe down any weeds that appear. Water and fertilize as needed to get the ground-cover plants growing and spreading quickly. Once they've covered the soil solidly, there won't be any space for weeds.

  • In areas distant from the house, plant native meadow grasses and flowers that only need to be mowed once
    a year. Then have fun watching meadow garden flowers come and go throughout the season.

    You can find seed mixes or prestarted turflike carpets
    of meadow plants specially blended for different regions
    of the country. To feature your location's unique meadow plants, just let the area grow wild, and meadow plants will come on their own. (Be sure to explain what you are doing to your neighbors so they won't think your lawn mower is broken!)

    While they are getting started, newly planted meadows will need weeding and watering. Once in the late fall -- after the flowers and grasses have all set seed -- mow them down and let the seeds scatter to come up next year. Purchased wildflower carpets and mixes may contain colorful flowers that disappear after several years. You can sprinkle new seeds or plug in new clumps of a wildflower carpet to reintroduce them for color if you want.

  • Mow down old flower stalks in late fall to clean up a flower garden. Before mowing anything but grass with your mower, make sure it has a safety feature that will prevent debris from being thrown out at you. Using suitable lawn mowers can save you plenty of time compared to cutting back the flower stalks by hand. If you allow the old stems to scatter around the garden instead of bagging them, you may find an abundance of self-sown seedlings arising in springtime.

  • Speed up the compost-making process by chopping up leaves and twigs before putting them on the compost pile. The smaller the pieces are, the faster they will decay. Chopping can be easily done with a chipper-shredder or a mulching mower.
Wild sunflowers, though not as showy as these hybrids, are beautiful in meadows and gardens.



Probably no other form of gardening allows more versatility than container gardening. Growing plants in containers makes it possible to garden in situations where there is no yard or soil available: on a rooftop, a high-rise balcony, a deck, a fire escape, or even in an area that's covered with concrete.

Container gardening can be an ideal solution for people with physical limitations that prevent them from working down at ground level. It can also be the answer for those with soil problems. For anyone, growing annuals in containers can provide an extra dimension of gardening pleasure, both outdoors in summer and indoors in winter.

Container gardening allows for a variety of plants, placed exactly how you wish you display them.




You can also plant a container garden by flower type. Grouping annual flowers together in containers are especially beautiful because they are almost perfectly-suited for container plantings. While perennial flowers grow best in the ground, there are some perennials that do very well in containers.

Annuals in Containers

Annuals are particularly well-suited for use in container plantings. They quickly fill and overflow the planters. You can also plant them in masses of a single species or in a mixture of different kinds and colors.

Planters full of annuals can be used singly or in groups. They can be mixed with houseplants brought outdoors for summer or inserted here and there in between shrubbery. Container plants can be hung from a garden fence, a low-hanging tree limb, or a porch rail. Even a small apartment balcony can be turned into a colorful garden by filling it with annuals.

Group your pots of annuals together for more visual impact.