Here are 11 of the best, tried-and-true easy care plants to grow in your yard and garden that will provide all-year-around interest - and a few you might want to stay away from.
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Do you need plant recommendations for your garden that are really real? Not just some list that's been reworked from a magazine or garden website - a tried-and-true list of plants to grow in your garden that you can trust are the lowest maintenance, longest living, and provide a long bloom or garden backbone. That kind of list?
I thought so - me, too! So I took a long, hard look at our garden and am sharing the list I came up with based on what I think is the ultimate plant criteria:
What would I always plant again - and what would I avoid?
Of course, under that are a few other must-have criteria like:
- easy care (does it need a lot of cutting back, spraying, training, does it become weedy, etc.)
- long bloom time or seasonal interest
- lives a long time (so, obviously, this isn't a list of annuals...)
The other thing that I think you'll appreciate about this list is that these 11 perennials and shrubs provide all-season interest. Meaning, if you planted only the plants on this list, your garden would have something blooming from February through October (maybe even November in milder climates) and even have some evergreens to provide winter interest!
This is different from my previous favorite easy care plants lists (which you can see here and here to compare!), and time has sharpened my view of good-vs-bad plants, which is why I'm also adding a few plants to the end of this list that I will NEVER plant again. Live and learn, right?
11 Easy Care Plants for Every Garden
Listed in order of bloom time in my Pacific Northwest Garden, zone 8:
1. Spring Bulbs: Daffodils (February-March), Grape Hyacinth* (March-April), and Tulips (April-May)
I will never have a garden, even the smallest bed, that doesn't include these bulbs. The only- and I mean only- hard part of planting bulbs is to remember to plant them in the fall. They are truly one of the only "plant and forget it" flower, coming back every year (well, some varieties of tulips don't, but you don't have to plant those...) with no further care other than cutting back the leaves after they've turned brown.
Best Varieties: Any daffodils and grape hyacinths, but for reliable yearly blooms look for Darwin Hybrid Tulips. They are larger and come in a lot of colors (the pink tulip above is a Darwin) and never have to be replanted - a true perennial tulip.
*NOTE: a reader let me know that in their area grape hyacinth are weeds that can be hard to get rid of - even in lawns. This has not been my experience at all in my zone 8 PNW garden, but you should ask around in your area to be sure.
2. Bunnera (March-May)
This pick is no surprise to those who've been reading AOC for awhile - I like to champion this little workhorse plant since it is so pretty, both when it's blooming and when it's not, since it's almost evergreen in our garden. The most wonderful thing about this, though, is that it grows happily in dry shade, one of the hardest-to-grow areas of any garden. It does need supplemental water in the driest months, but that's it for maintenance, basically.
Best Variety: 'Jack Frost' Brunnera, pictured above has glowing variegated leaves - and most importantly, doesn't reseed everywhere like the common green brunnera does.
3. Hardy Geranium (April and even into fall, depending on variety)
There are so many varieties of this popular perennial in shades from white all the way to deep purple and blooming from just a month or so, to all summer long, that you'll easily find something for your garden. I've grown a couple and they are a pretty perfect low-growing plant.
Best Varieties (highly subjective, as most are great!): purple 'Rozanne' (June-Sept.), white-pale pink 'Kashmir White' (May-July), and pink 'Tiny Monster' pictured above (April-July, with sporadic blooms after shearing into October). Note to 'Tiny Monster'- it really does get huge, so the price for the longer bloom is that there's more maintenance to keep it in check with shearing - I actually use a hedge trimmer for this plant!
4. Daylilies (1-2 months bloom, most varieties May-June, some all summer)
I've grown a lot of daylilies over the years and my favorites are the pinkish varieties like I show here, just because they're different from the normal orange or yellow. I do, however have the small Stella d'Oro yellow daylilies, since they bloom all summer long and the leaves just look great in a bed with other plants. I've had to deadhead and pull off brown leaves, but that's about it for maintenance - and when they're blooming, they're stunning.
5. Spirea Japonica (shrub pictured blooms June-August)
There are quite a few spirea shrubs, many of which bloom in spring like Bridal Wreath (which I have too), but I love this pink blooming shrub pictured above the most. It's about 4' tall and wide, it blooms June-July and then will bloom again if sheared back. And although they're listed as full sun, I have 4 that are in partial to almost full shade and still bloom. Love.
Best Varieties: Unfortunately, I can't find the name of the spirea pictured above, but there are a lot of similar varieties like 'Little Princess' (3 ft. tall) and 'Shirobana' as well as the fun pink and white 'Peppermint Stick.'
6. Hydrangeas (June until frost)
Hydrangeas hold a special place in my heart, as I know they do for many others. Blooms that start out blue, white, pink, and green will change colors as they age to purples and mauves. They provide so.much.beauty for so little little time investment. Basically, you cut them back in winter and that's it other than basic soil improvement like papering & mulching. If you have no other blooming plant, this one will give you enough for cut flowers all summer long.
7. Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia (July-September)
Black-eyed Susans are so cheery and provide color at a typically dry time in the garden, July & August. I would always have a stand of them in any garden for that reason alone. They also spread nicely - not enough to overtake anything, but just enough to fill in borders, like in my garden above.
8. Sedum (July [green buds] through October)
Not the cacti-type sedums, the perennial sedums like Autumn Joy are soft with fleshy leaves and long-blooming flower umbels that start out green and slowly change colors through pink to dark copper. They fill a great spot in the late summer-autumn garden and make good cut flowers, too.
9. Aster (August-October) and 10. Japanese Anemone (September to frost)
Most people think of autumn flowers as mainly hot colors like orange, red and yellow. These two fall blooming perennials prove that pastels can work in autumn, too. Asters are classic fall plants and come in a number of colors (including red), though the purple is my favorite, and I appreciate the texture from the needle-like foliage.
And Japanese Anemones? They will steal your heart with their happy blooms swaying in the fall breeze high above their leaves. Found mostly in pinks and whites, they make wonderful cut flowers. To be honest, the anemones take a bit more maintenance than the others on this list, since they spread pretty rapidly and have to be pulled up pretty consistently. But totally worth it.
11. Dwarf Boxwood (year-around interest)
To provide a bit of winter interest when the perennials have died down and the shrubs are sticks, boxwood is my go-to evergreen. I have planted full-sized boxwoods in some places, but they do require regular shearing so they don't look scraggly or take over an area. Dwarf boxwoods always look great so they are perfect for any size garden bed.
Best Variety: True Dwarf English boxwood
Plants to Avoid
1. Lamb's Ears
This is probably not popular, since they are a really fun plant and edge a bed with a gray-green color that seems to go with everything, but they are SO invasive that I will never plant them again.
I've actually had them in my gardens for many years, trying to make them work because I just love the fuzzy leaves and glowing color. I even keep the flower stalks cut down to help them look a bit neater. But I'm just tired of trying to keep them in check, and the hours it takes to refresh them each spring. I'm just saying no - finally.
Here's another that many may not agree with, but I cannot get these to grow nicely for me. They are planted in a moist shade area (it usually grows moss nearby, a-hem) and get regular water during our dry July-September months and they're still dried up brown stubs by the end of July. With no blooms. Not worth it.
Oh, it's sad for me to write this, because I'm in love with quince blossoms which are not only pretty, but bloom in February when I'm so ready for their sweet pink flowers.
But this shrub is horrible, really. It's full of inch-long thorns that hurt, it suckers like mad - even into the grass and nearby plants, AND it grows out of control when planted where it's happy. This shrub you see above? I used a hedge trimmer last summer and hacked it back (and got some nice scratches to go along with it) to a nice 4' x 4' size that I thought would last awhile. Um, obviously no.
"But they're so sweet - look at those little periwinkle blooms!" Just don't do it, no matter how quaint and old-fashioned they seem. They start out small and sweet and soon take over your garden - and any other garden space their clingy little seeds can find. I'm trying to forget them.
What are your thoughts on this list? I hope you'll chime in with your favorites and those you won't plant again, too- either here, on AOC's Facebook page or Instagram!
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