Low-Maintenance Plants for Easy Landscaping

Consider these easy-to-grow shrubs, trees, and perennials to create a worry-free foundation in your landscape. For each, we’ve included planting, watering, fertilizing, and pruning tips for every gardening zone.

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Doreen Wynja/Monrovia

Photo By: W. Atlee Burpee Co.

Photo By: Horticopia

Photo By: Walter's Gardens, Inc.

Photo By: Shutterstock/Kathryn Roach

Photo By: Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

Photo By: Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

Shrub: Barberry

Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is deer-resistant and deciduous, with thorny stems that make it a good foundation plant for increasing home security. Once established, this compact, dense shrub is drought tolerant. We like the variety Sunjoy Tangelo (shown here) for its bright orange new growth that turns chartreuse on the leaf margins as the season progresses.

Some barberries are invasive and may not be grown in some states. Check with your local extension service office before you plant.

Plant barberry in spring in part sun, or full sun for the best foliage color, and in moist but well-drained soil. Sunjoy Tangelo grows to 3-4 feet high and wide and is hardy in USDA Zones 4-8. Prune to shape in summer, if desired, and fertilize in spring after the last frost and when new growth appears. In all zones, mulch in fall; in Zones 4-5, mulch heavily after the first frost and pull back the mulch in spring.

Shrub or Small Tree: Smoke Tree

Smoke trees (Continus coggygria) can be grown as large, deciduous shrubs or small trees. Their reddish-purple leaves turn scarlet in the fall, and airy, smoky-purple seed clusters add to their beauty. One of our favorite varieties is 'Royal Purple' (shown here).

Plant smoke trees in full sun, in average garden soil that drains easily. Hardy in USDA Zones 4-8, they can reach 12-15 feet high and 10-12 feet wide.

In Zones 4-5, plant in spring. In Zone 6, plant in spring or early fall. In Zones 4-6, apply extra mulch after the first hard frost and pull back the mulch in spring. In Zones 7-8, plant in fall and provide extra water in dry spells.

Flowering Perennial: Peony

Known for their fragrant spring flowers, herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) are deciduous. The double pink variety shown here, 'Sarah Bernhardt', is popular in mixed borders and as a specimen plant.

Plant peonies in spring or fall, in full sun or in morning sun and afternoon shade in very hot summer regions. Plant the eyes, or growing points, 2" deep in cold regions and 1" deep in warmer ones. Peonies need well-drained soil mixed with compost or other organic materials. Work in a little fertilizer at planting and then apply organic, all-purpose fertilizer and top-dress with compost yearly.

Hardy in Zones 3-8, peonies vary in size, depending on the variety. 'Sarah Bernhardt' grows 30-36 inches high and wide. Herbaceous peonies die to the ground in fall; cut any remaining plant parts to the ground and discard them. Divide in fall, if desired, but dividing is not necessary.

Tree: Hawthorn

Hawthorns (Crataegus viridis) are native to parts of the U.S. Their leaves turn purple to red in fall, and their white spring flowers are followed by orange-red fruits that may remain on the tree into winter. One of our favorite cultivars is 'Winter King' (shown here), an upright, deciduous tree hardy in USDA Zones 4-7. Despite its name, it has only small, occasional thorns.

Plant in full sun, in average, well-drained garden soil. 'Winter King' tolerates urban pollution, light shade and drought. It grows 25-35 feet high and wide.

In Zones 4-5, plant in spring and apply extra mulch after the first hard frost. In Zones 6, plant in spring or early fall. In Zone 7, plant in fall and provide extra water in dry spells.

Groundcover: Liriope

Hardy in Zones 5-10, liriope (Liriope muscari) is a clumping groundcover with grass-like foliage and blue-violet summer flowers. We like 'Big Blue' (shown here). It stays evergreen in mild winter climates and is useful as a border or groundcover, especially on hard-to-mow slopes.

Plant in full sun to part shade and average to fertile soil that is well-drained. Liriope is drought-tolerant once established, and deer and rabbits usually leave it alone. Prune liriope in late winter or remove brown tips with shears or a mower set on high. Divide the clumps every 2 or 3 years. 'Big Blue' grows 12-24" high and wide.

In Zones 5-6, plant in spring. In Zone 7, plant in spring or early fall. In Zones 8-10, plant in early fall. In all zones, mulch after the first frost and pull back the mulch in spring. Liriope may be deciduous in Zone 5.




Ornamental Grass: Feather Reed Grass

Ornamental grasses add color and movement to the landscape. We like 'Karl Foerster' (Calamagrostis x acutiflora, shown here), an herbaceous grass with reddish-brown, feathery stalks that turn golden-brown to buff in fall.

Plant this ornamental grass in full sun, or in light shade in hot summer climates, in rich, moist soil. Once established, it tolerates some drought. It grows 18-24 inches high and wide with stalks that can reach 6 feet. Cut the foliage to the ground in late winter.

'Karl Foerster' is hardy in USDA Zones 4-9. In Zones 4-5, plant in spring in full sun. In Zones 6-9, plant in spring in full sun to light shade. In all zones, mulch after the first frost.

Ornamental Grass: Ribbon Grass

Deer-resistant ribbon grass (Pharlaris arundinacea) is a perennial that can be grown as a groundcover or for erosion control on slopes. Ribbon grasses can spread aggressively, so check with your local extension service office to be sure the plants are not banned in your area.

'Strawberries & Cream', shown here, is one of our favorites. Plant ribbon grass in average soil in full sun to light shade; its colors are better in full sun, but the sun in hot climates may bleach the flowers and foliage. Prune to the ground in late winter.

Hardy in USDA Zones 4-9, this variety grows to 24 inches tall and 24-48 inches wide. In Zone 4-6, plant in spring. In Zones 7-9, plant in spring or early fall. In all zones, mulch after planting and again before the first frost.



Ornamental Grass: Fescue

Like ribbon grass, this ornamental fescue is a perennial that's useful as a groundcover or for erosion control. 'Elijah Blue' (Festuca glauca) has a clumping growth habit with fine, bluish foliage and buff-colored flowers.

Plant in full sun in moist, well-drained soil. The plants are drought tolerant when established but need watering during periods of extreme heat or if they're grown in containers.

This variety, which is hardy in USDA Zones 3-8, reaches 6-10 inches high and 8-12 inches wide. In Zones 3-5, plant in spring in full sun and mulch after the first hard frost. Plants grown in containers may need extra protection in winter. In Zones 6-8, plant in spring in full sun and mulch in fall. In Zones 7-8, plant in spring or early fall in full sun and mulch in fall.

Shop This Look