planting perennials

Low maintenance suggests plants characterized by their ability to look good without much input from the gardener. These plants are adaptable to a variety of soils and light levels, and require minimal pruning, grooming, deadheading, staking, fertilizing and dividing. This is the definition used to choose the following plants; neither the definition nor the plant list is intended to be complete.

Drought tolerance (DT) is of paramount importance in some low maintenance gardens, but in others water is readily available, therefore, drought tolerant plants will be marked with DT.

Choosing low maintenance plants is one way to minimize garden maintenance, but there are also other considerations, including the following.

  • Replace lawn with hardscaping or less demanding ground covers.
  • Use tough spots like dry shade or boggy areas for garden ornaments or patio space.
  • Carefully designed hardscaping can help make a statement with fewer plants, which means less maintenance.

Tips for Establishing New Plantings

The future success of a low maintenance planting is heavily dependent on the growth of deep roots during the first couple seasons. Some prep work is essential, and the following are required in order to grow plants that can survive on their own in the future.
  • Choose plants carefully; the right plant grows to an appropriate size for the space and thrives in the amount of light and water found there.
  • Prior to planting, turn a couple inches of compost and some slow release fertilizer into the planting area.
  • The first season, new plantings have no deep roots and need water about once a week in warm, dry weather, delivered by a slow drip (soaker hose) over several hours (this is an estimate, never water if the soil hasn’t dried out at least a couple inches down). If drought tolerant plants have been chosen, then second year plantings may only need water 5 or 6 times, and the third year little or none.
  • Spread 1-3” of compost on the soil surface every year to hold in moisture and keep improving the soil.

Low Maintenance Plantings

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Conifers, Trees, and Shrubs require the least maintenance of any group of plants. As long as their mature size is accommodated by the space they are in, little to no maintenance should be expected once established.

  • Andromeda Pieris DT
  • Aucuba
  • Azara microphylla DT
  • Callistemon - Bottle Brush DT
  • Lonicera nitida - Box Honeysuckle DT
  • Genista - Broom DT
  • Buddleia - Butterfly Bush (sterile hybrids) DT
  • Ceanothus - California Lilac DT
  • Camellia
  • Calocedrus - Cedar (dwarf varieties) DT
  • Cedrus - Cedar (dwarf varieties) DT
  • Potentilla Cinquefoil DT
  • Cotoneaster DT
  • Crape Myrtle
  • Lagerstroemia DT
  • Daphne DT
  • Escallonia DT
  • Chamaecyparis False Cypress (NOT lawsoniana)
  • Fatshedera
  • Fothergilla
  • Loropetalum - Fringe Flower DT
  • Nandina - Heavenly Bamboo DT
  • Hebe DT
  • Tsuga - Hemlock (dwarf varieties) DT
  • Fatsia japonica - Japanese Aralia
  • Cryptomeria - Japanese Cedar
  • Acer palmatum - Japanese Maple DT
  • Juniperus - Juniper DT
  • Syringa - Lilac (dwarf types) DT
  • Arctostaphylos - Manzanita (hardy varieties) DT
  • Choisya - Mexican Orange DT
  • Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ - Mimosa Tree DT
  • Mahonia - Oregon Grape DT
  • Osmanthus DT
  • Pinus - Pine (dwarf varieties) DT
  • Rhododendron DT
  • Cistus - Rock Rose DT
  • Eleagnus - Silverberry DT
  • Convolvulus cneorum - Silverbush DT
  • Cotinus - Smoke Bush DT
  • Picea - Spruce (dwarf varieties) DT
  • Arbutus unedo - Strawberry Tree DT
  • Leptospermum - Tea Tree DT
  • Cornus - Twiggy Dogwood
  • Viburnum - (tinus and davidii)
  • Hamamelis - Witch Hazel
  • Taxus - Yew
  • Yucca DT

NW Natives have a reputation as being uniformly low maintenance. Here are some of the easiest to grow.

  • Streuthiopteris spicant - Deer Fern DT
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi - Kinnikinnick DT
  • Mahonia - Oregon Grape DT
  • Umbellularia californica - Oregon Myrtle DT
  • Sedum oreganum - Oregon Stonecrop DT
  • Myrica californica - Pacific Wax Myrtle DT
  • Ribes Sanguineum - Red Flowering Currant DT
  • Cornus Sericea - Red Osier Dogwood DT Salal Gaultheria shallon DT
  • Garrya Elliptica - Silk Tassel DT
  • Polystichum Munitum - Sword Fern DT
  • Acer Circinatum - Vine Maple DT

Grasses are a remarkably uniform group with respect to the amount of maintenance required. Deciduous grasses need to be cut back once a year in February. Most years, evergreen grasses need at least some grooming at the same time. Grasses which reseed readily should be avoided to minimize weeding.

  • Helictotrichon - Blue Oat Grass DT
  • Stipa - Feather Grass DT (short lived) Fountain Grass Pennisetum (not ‘moudry’) DT Maiden Grass Miscanthus DT
  • Cortaderia - Pampas Grass
  • Anemanthele - Pheasant Grass DT
  • Juncus - Rush
  • Carex - Sedge

Edibles as a group require a lot of maintenance and should be avoided if low maintenance is a priority, however, the following ones may be left alone and harvested from as desired.

  • Alpine Strawberry DT
  • Artichoke DT
  • Asian Pear*
  • Asparagus (cut back in fall)
  • Bay Laurel DT (protected site)
  • Blueberry DT
  • Cardoon DT
  • Chives
  • Evergreen Huckleberry DT
  • Feijoa (pineapple guava) DT
  • Fig DT*
  • Goji Berry DT
  • Lavender DT
  • Opuntia DT (plant in gravel or sand) Ostrich Fern
  • Parsley

Edibles (cont'd)

  • Persimmon*
  • Rhubarb
  • Rosemary DT
  • Sage DT
  • Seaberry DT
  • Thyme (upright varieties) DT

* These are the lowest maintenance fruit trees for the PNW, however they still require annual pruning, climbing a ladder to harvest all the fruit, and may require spraying.

Perennials as a group require generally more maintenance. They will likely need some deadheading during the growing season, cutting back in the fall, and dividing of vigorous spreaders. That being said, here are some sturdy perennials which require very little tending while still looking good over a long season. Perennials grow quickly, making a garden appear mature sooner.

  • Epimedium - Barrenwort DT
  • Gaillardia - Blanket Flower DT (lives 2-3 years)
  • Iberis - Candytuft DT
  • Echinacea - Cone Flower DT
  • Cyclamen (coum and hederifolium) DT
  • Narcissus - Daffodil DT
  • Hemerocallis - Daylily DT
  • Dusty Miller DT
  • Bergenia - Elephant Ears (DT in shade)
  • Baptisia - False Indigo DT
  • Ceratostigma Plumbagnoides - False Plumbago DT
  • Liatris - Gayfeather DT
  • Geranium
  • Hosta
  • Agastache - Hyssop DT
  • Iris
  • Phlomis - Jerusalem Sage DT
  • Helleborus - Lenten Rose DT
  • Libertia DT
  • Lithodora DT
  • phiopogon - Mondo Grass DT
  • Parahebe DT
  • Paeonia - Peony
  • Scabiosa - Pincushion Flower DT
  • Salvia - Sage DT
  • Euphorbia - Spurge (not reseeders) DT
  • Sedum - Stonecrop (short varieties) DT
  • Erysimum - Wall Flower DT