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Beautiful low maintenance bulb garden

How to Plan a Low Maintenance Garden with Perennials

A low maintenance garden can add color and interest to your yard without a lot of work. Including perennials in your garden is a great idea, as they continue to grow year after year, so you only have to plant them once.

Even better, perennials usually don’t need a lot of maintenance, which means they’re perfect for busy people like you!

If you’re thinking about adding a low maintenance garden to your yard, there are a few things you need to know before you get started.

In this article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about planning a perennial garden you’ll love. I’ll also give you some tips on choosing the right plants and caring for your garden.

Why Choose Perennials?

Most low maintenance gardeners have a love affair with perennials – and for good reason! Perennials offer so much for so little investment. Here’s why we can’t get enough:

  • Perennials are a great choice for the landscape because they come back year after year, require little maintenance, and give a variety of color, texture, and form throughout all four seasons.
  • Because they continue to grow and multiply, perennials can be split and replanted to form new gardens and shared or traded with friends. Some perennials are handed down for generations and become heirloom plantings.
  • Perennials are also incredibly resilient; they’re able to withstand huge weather swings – and many are resistant to deer, insects and disease. Also, many perennials are drought-tolerant, making them less fussy about watering schedules and perfect for drier areas.
  • Finally, perennials often provide an important food source for birds and beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, which is essential to a healthy ecosystem.

Steps for Planning a Low Maintenance Garden

1) Choose resilient or native perennial plants

Start by selecting plants that are low-maintenance and growth-friendly in your region.

If you’re not sure which plants are best for your climate, check with your local nursery or agricultural office for advice.

Plant species that are native to your area are best suited to survive with irregular watering and maintenance efforts.

My favorite book to help with this is Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies. I’m thrilled to brag that this wonderful book is published by the great folks at AdventureKEEN, my 9-5 “real” job! It’s a truly important book with everything you need to plan your low maintenance garden, and we’ve published one for every major region of the U.S.

Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies: Upper Midwest (Nature-Friendly Gardens)

Consider plants such as ferns, daylilies and coral bells, as well as shrubs and trees like spireas, barberry, American cranberry, and peonies.

Additionally, some wildflowers and grasses, such as black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower, are wonderful choices.

Finally, to give your garden staying power, choosing hardy and evergreen plantings is a great way to make sure your garden stands the test of time. This includes plants like boxwood and creeping junipers, as well as some ornamental grasses.

2) Choose plants based on hardiness, sun, shade and other growing conditions

Group plants of the same type together in the garden so that each group is receiving the same level of care, light, and water.

Purple Coneflower in a Low Maintenance Garden

When choosing perennials for your low maintenance garden, it’s important to research which plants will thrive in the climate and space you have. You should also learn if each plant prefers sun or shade and if it needs a certain amount of water.

Once you understand these basic requirements, you can start exploring plants that fit the bill.

Many flowering perennials need at least six or more hours of direct sunlight a day, so make sure your garden gets plenty of sun if your plants call for it.

And if you’re planning your garden in winter months, remember that leafy trees might block the sun once their leaves return – even if the garden spot is super sunny in winter!

If your yard doesn’t have a lot of sun, you can opt for partial- or deep-shade plants instead. Astilbe, columbine and bleeding hearts are all gorgeous perennials that brighten a shady spot. Other shade plants like hostas and heuchera (“coral bells”) are known for their beautiful foliage and come in dozens of striking varieties.

Many flowering perennials need at least six or more hours of direct sunlight a day, so make sure your garden gets plenty of sun.

By the way, don’t be afraid to throw a few accent plants in containers! They’re good for tucking into places that need a little extra color or height. Just make sure to choose ones that are suitable for container gardening, and choose a good potting soil mix.

This means using varieties with shallow root systems that don’t need a lot of space to thrive. You may also need to adjust the watering schedule and fertilizing schedule for container growing.

3) Consider bloom time and plant maturity height for visual appeal

When you’re planning your garden, you should consider the bloom time for each plant. The goal is to create a garden that will be in flower all season long.

To do this, you should look for plants that have a staggered bloom time. This way, when one plant is finished blooming, another one will be ready to take its place.

Low Maintenance Flower Beds

You also need to think about the mature height of each plant. Selecting varieties with different heights will help create an interesting garden.

Think of your garden as a giant bouquet. Consider color, height, bloom size, shape and foliage. Do the plants complement each other? The overall effect should be balanced and visually striking.

Finally, when planning a low maintenance perennial garden, you want to make sure the plants have enough space to grow and spread out. Perennials will be in the ground for years. They will likely grow 3-4 times their initial size or larger!

It’s tempting to place young plants too close together, but this is a mistake. They will quickly crowd each other and compete for water, air circulation and soil nutrients. Crowded plants invite mildew and disease.

Let your young plans grow together naturally and healthfully. This will ensure you get the lush, full look you’re after.

4) Analyze Soil Quality and amend as necessary

Once you’ve chosen the plants you want to include in your garden, it’s important to analyze your soil quality.

Tools for flower garden
Tools for Low Maintenance Gardening
  • Consider the soil type required for each perennial. Some may need humus-rich, well-drained soil while others might require sandy, dry soil. You can use a soil test kit to determine any deficiencies in the soil. These kits can be found at garden nurseries, local ag departments and, of course, online.
  • If the existing soil is too sandy or clay-like, you can add amendments such as compost, sand, peat or lime to make it more welcoming for your chosen perennials. Your local nursery can help you choose the right products based on your soil.
  • You should also make sure the soil is not compacted. Loose, fluffy soil will promote good drainage and help the plants take in the nutrients they need. To reduce compaction, you can use a hand trowel to loosen the soil and mix in organic matter like compost or mulch.
  • Finally, make sure to add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture in the soil and discourage weed growth. Regular testing will also ensure that your garden beds remain pH balanced and disease-free.

Getting the Most out of Your Garden with Minimal Effort

Once your garden is planted, there are a few things you can do to get the most out of it with minimal effort.

Peonies in perennial garden
Peonies in perennial garden

Mulch well and stay ahead of watering needs. It’s much easier to care for healthy plants than to revive drooping ones that are gasping for water. And they look nicer, too.

In the same token, walk through your garden regularly and yank any weeds before they can really take root. Or worse, re-seed themselves and infest your garden!

And speaking of infestations, be careful what you plant. Some spread like a virus and are impossible to contain. Remember, even friendly plants are weeds when they misbehave. (I’m talking to you, mint family!)

Dead-head spent flowers to extend their bloom season and refresh the garden. Remove any dead or dying plants to keep your garden healthy.

And finally, instead of chemical fertilizers use organic compost, bark mulch and manure to nourish the garden soil. This helps discourage weeds and pests, while providing necessary nutrients to the plants.

Enjoy Your Low Maintenance Perennial Garden!

Now that you know all the basics of planning a low maintenance perennial garden, it’s time create your dream garden! Soon you can sit back and enjoy the results of your hard work.

Perennial gardens are a great way to bring color and life to your yard, and you can maintain them with minimal effort.

With a little bit of planning and care, you’ll be able to enjoy your garden and the beauty it brings to your yard for many years to come.

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    1. This is great information! I recently moved into a new house and am thinking about what to do with the flower beds. This gave me some great ideas to think about – thanks for sharing!