A list of easy care shrubs and perennials that you may want to consider as you cruise the garden shops and nurseries over throughout the gardening season, looking for new plants to add to your gardens. Find out where to buy plants and what I've found to be the easiest, no-fail, tried-and-true plants to bring lasting beauty to your yard and gardens.
A couple of years ago, I listed my favorite garden tested, no fail perennials along with my thoughts on a national magazine's list of so-called no fail perennials. It's still a good read and pretty much on target with the perennials I still grow consistently.
To that list of seven, though, I need to add these easy perennials you will find throughout my yard because they are just as easy care as the others. I'm including both flowering and evergreen because you need both in your landscaping for interest all year long. Even in the winter, evergreen shrubs provide some height for the snow to lay on, ha!
What is a perennial?
A perennial is a plant that you plant once and even though it usually dies down to the ground in winter, it will come back every year for you. Since you plant only once, it's a great way to have pretty flowers for a lower cost than buying annuals (plants that bloom one summer and then die completely) each year.
What is a shrub or evergreen?
A shrub is a plant that typically grows larger than most perennials and often on a woody stem. It doesn't die back to the ground in the winter. The flowering shrubs mostly lose their leaves in the fall, and if it doesn't, it's an evergreen. These plants provide the backbone and year around interest in gardens.
Where to buy Shrubs and Perennials
I get my plant mainly at garden centers and nurseries. The garden centers will have the basics at great prices and the nurseries carry more unusual varieties, and still better prices than mail order.
At one time I bought quite a bit through the mail, but prices have gone up lately so it's not the savings it once was. Plus I've had a much lower success rate.
Note: The only exception to mail order would be certain varieties of fruiting plants and shrubs like raspberries, currants, grapes, and such that are harder to find. For these, I suggest you buy from mail-order nurseries that are in your region to have the best chance of growing them to maturity since they are grown in your specific zone.
As you will see, these no fail plant choices aren't unusual, hard to find, or expensive. I can't justify spending large amounts just to have the newest or most unusual plants. I look for beauty, longevity, and low initial cost all wrapped up in the easiest care possible. And these plants all fit the bill.
No-Fail, Tried-and-True Perennials & Shrubs
Stella D'Oro Daylily
Nothing fancy here, just putting out green sword-like leaves (that are a great contrast to other leaf shapes) and yellow flowers all summer long. I bought two plants at a nursery the first year I started redoing the backyard beds and have used those to populate many other beds because they are so easy to divide and grow.
Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla)
Yep, I love this cottagey, airy plant for the front of borders. I don't have a problem with it seeding too much for me, but then again, I have a lot of soil to fill and I keep it in my dryer shade area. I might feel differently if I were on a small patch of land or if it were in it's moist shade it prefers.
From two plants I started from seed, I now let them grow all over the garden and I love the effortless show they put on all through the summer - even the dog days.
'Autumn Joy' and similar sedum varieties provide a nice season-long show, first with green buds and then color-changing large blooms. They are easily separated from the mother plant to be planted throughout the garden.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Yes, it's a normal, regular, done everywhere type of plant. But there's a reason - it blooms when the garden needs some color (July-August), is not fussy about soil, and comes back reliably each year - even when it doesn't get watered (a-hem...).
I love, love, love it for its subtle small leaves, its easy to control shape, the way it lends itself as a partner to so many plants as it stays green and lovely all year long. Oh, and how the dwarf varieties are also plant-it-and-forget-it plants. Well, as close as you can get with plants, that is.
They are indispensable to provide interest in winter beds like pictured above and as green backdrops to flowers in season. They do the same thing in containers so that you aren't left with only empty containers for 3-4 months of the year.
Hydrangeas are probably my favorite shrub of all (and I know I'm not alone!). I have lace caps, mop-heads, all-season bloomers, oak leaf, and a Pee Gee standard. It wasn't enough apparently - I had to go and get this one last year, and it's my new favorite.
All I can say about hydrangeas: SO much bloom, SO lovely, and SO perfect for vases and drying. And it all makes up for the barren sticks it becomes in winter. And combined with boxwoods? Sigh. There's a cottage combo for you.
This three-season shrub blooms in the sun or shade, has large and small varieties, and comes with green or glowing yellow leaves. It's another plant-and-forget it shrub I would never be without.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce
The conical slow-growing shape is perfect for containers and in beds as a counterpoint to round boxwoods and sprawling flowering shrubs. It's evergreen needles provide some shape and interest to the garden in winter and early spring.
I have about 10 planted around my house in beds and pots and they last for years in containers and forever practically in the ground. At around $3-5 for a gallon sized plant, it's a lot of consistency for your dollars.
A large shrub that once planted doesn't need anything but watering (if planted in a space where there's room to grow). It comes in a pretty variegated leaf variety pictured above and also fully green leaves.
It blooms for about a month, which isn't long, but it is lovely when it does and it's arching branches look great as a background in a large back border. The leaves also make great vase fillers to summer bloomers.
What would you add to this list?
This article has been updated - it was originally published in March of 2013.
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