At this time of year, two words spring to mind: low maintenance. Even if they don’t pause to say so, gardeners are grateful for plants in their landscapes that cause no trouble – especially in the heat and humidity of summer.
Some of these plants are more utilitarian than anything else. Liriope, for example, makes a hard-to-kill edging in difficult places and produces lilac-hued spikes of bloom in late summer. But many other plants possess ornamental value that enhances their worth.
Consider mature height
However, a low-maintenance plant such as forsythia, deutzia or beauty bush can turn into a difficult one when it is planted in the wrong space. When that happens, the shrub turns into a chore of regular pruning to keep it from covering up windows, intruding into driveways or sidewalks and otherwise getting in the way. That is when these easy plants become high-maintenance.
The key is knowing the mature size of the plant when you select it. A forsythia in a 3-gallon pot at a garden center may seem quite small, but once established, it will grow rapidly and surprise you with its eventual height. Check the tag on the plant, which will show the mature height.
Of all the lovely landscape plants that suffer from being in the wrong place, gardenias lead the list. That is the plant people have questioned me about most often over the years.
A gardenia is not strictly a low-maintenance plant, since it is subject to a few ills caused by insects and nutritional deficiencies, such as magnesium. But its problems get magnified when the plant grows too tall, which cannot be remedied except by pruning or transplanting to a better location.
While selecting for the correct size is important, it is just as important to choose plants that do not fall prey to insects and diseases or create a lot of litter with messy fruits or broken branches on the ground.
Some of the best choices in landscape plants are low-maintenance. Though their bloom season is short, forsythia, deutzia, mock orange and beauty bush are beautiful in spring and cause few problems. I have found azaleas and camellias to be low-maintenance, too. And most hollies, osmanthus, nandina and mahonia also bring colorful or textured foliage or seasonal berries.
After choosing the right size and picking shrubs that are not very susceptible to insects and diseases, the third factor is correct planting.
Good soil liberally laced with compost and well dug so the roots can spread nicely help a plant develop vigorously. This robustness will help a plant become more resistant to problems and recover from any that do occur.