Plants to use

Choose a few big, architectural plants to become the framework of your garden. If they have good foliage this will also shade the ground around them and suppress weeds, meaning you need fewer plants and less variety of plants to maintain. Shrubs are a great choice as they are generally low maintenance and often offer great value for money in terms of year round structure and interest. Choose your plants well – if there are going to be fewer of them each one must really earn its place in your garden.

Grow your plants in ‘drifts’ of the same plant, particularly your perennials. This will mean that you can carry out any maintenance to them all at the same time, plus large groups of the same plant have more impact than dotting them about the place.

Above all, make sure the plants you choose don’t require constant maintenance, such as complicated pruning, constant cutting back, deadheading, can survive drought conditions and have disease resistance. Don’t select plants which aren’t right for your climate or soil type, otherwise you’ll have a constant battle to keep them growing well.

Here are some suggestions of particularly low maintenance plants. Why not check out our database of plants for more ideas?


Trees are (mostly) the ultimate in low maintenance gardening. Most of them will need a little care and attention in their first 3 years’ of growth (staking, watering and pruning), after that they are generally self sufficient. Make sure, however, that you select a tree which will never out-grow your garden or you will have a pruning nightmare on your hands trying to restrain it!

Many trees can also bring fantastic colour and interest to a garden, which is invaluable if you’re limiting the number of plants you have, to reduce the maintenance time. Here are a few which need little looking after, would suit a smaller garden and give good value:

  • Amelanchier lamarckii and Sorbus cashmirana or S. aucuparia provide blossom, fruit and autumn colours.
  • Cupressus sempervirens ‘Totem Pole’ is a Mediterranean style cypress which will naturally grown into a pencil thin tree up to about 6 metres high.
  • Betula utilis var. jacqumontii has catkins in spring, followed by yellowing autumn foliage which drops to reveal wintery white bark.
  • Prunus serrula starts the year with white blossom, then bears red, cherry like fruit followed by yellow autumn colour. The glossy, coppery bark is revealed in the winter.
  • Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ is a beautiful weeping pear tree.


Select hedging which needs cutting only once a year and has small leaves so it can be cut with a hedge trimmer (larger leaved hedges should be cut with pruners so the leaves aren’t severed). Reducing the height of the hedge can also reduce the area to trim, but ensure that established hedges will grow back from hard pruning before you try this! Alternatively, go for an informal hedge which doesn’t require trimming – this can also become a great source of shelter and food for wildlife.

Formal hedging suggestions:

  • Buxus sempervirens is a slow growing plant excellent for low hedges, such as for edging a border.
  • Fagus sylvatica (beech)
  • Fagus sylvatica Atropurpurea Group (copper beach)
  • Ilex aquifolium, the common holly, makes a lovely hedging plant, especially for a splash of winter colour from its red berries.
  • Taxus baccata (yew)
  • Thuja plicata is a slow growing conifer suitable for hedging.

Informal hedging suggestions:

  • Berberis darwinnii, which has glossy leaves and bright orange flowers.
  • Berberis x stenophylla has golden yellow flowers on arching stems.
  • Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spectabilis’ displays bright yellow flowers and requires simple pruning once a year.
  • Rosa rugosa will require cutting once a year, but is simple to prune and has summer/autumn display of large, dark pink flowers followed by red hips.

Dwarf conifers

Dwarf conifers are excellent low maintenance plants and can look very effective when planted en masse with varieties of different colours. Make sure that you buy conifers which really are dwarf – many gardens are plagued by huge conifers planted in the 60s and 70s as dwarf species, which were actually just very slow growing giants! Varieties we’d recommend include:

  • Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica ‘Compacta’ has grey/green foliage which looks particularly attractive in early summer.
  • Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’ forms a perfectly miniature bush, as does the yellow foliaged Chaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Minima Aurea’.
  • Cryptomeria japonica ‘Spiralis’ retains its bright green colour all year.
  • Juniperus communis ‘Compessa’ is a petite conical shaped bush.
  • Juniperus horizontalis ‘Glauca’ hugs the ground and provides great year round ground cover.
  • Pinus mugo ‘Gnom’ is a low growing pine with a low dome of spiky stems bearing bright green needles.
  • Thuja orientalis ‘Rosedalis’ is a small, rounded shrub with soft foliage which goes from purple brown in the winter, to bright butter-yellow in spring followed by light green in summer.


Shrubs are another good bet for low maintenance planting, although you need to select with care to ensure you aren’t planting a ‘needy’ specimen. Many shrubs need annual pruning, so choose carefully to ensure you aren’t accidentally giving yourself another job. Just a few of the low maintenance shrubs we’d recommend include:

  • Choisya ternata – this Mexican orange plant has evergreen foliage and white, fragrant flowers in flushes throughout the year. Try the cultivar C.t. ‘Aztec Pearl’ for more delicate foliage.
  • Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, the twisted hazel, is great value particularly for winter interest when its contorted stems are displayed. Needs minimal maintenance, just cut out from the base any stems which have reverted to ’straight’ growth.
  • Heathers such as Erica x darleyensis ‘White Perfection’ add some winter interest (heathers also look excellent when combined with dwarf conifers).
  • Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ an evergreen shrub with green leaves splashed with gold in the centre. Needs very little maintenance, just cut out any stems with leaves reverting to plain green.
  • Escallonia cultivars such as E. ‘Iveyi’ will provide a wonderful summer floral display.
  • Euonymus fortunei isn’t exactly a rarity in gardens, but its popularity is well earned. It’s evergreen and has variegated cultivars such as E.f. ‘Emerald and Gold’ and E.f. ‘Emerald Gaiety’ which are pefect for brightening up a difficult, dark patch of the garden.
  • Hibiscus syriacus bear white flowers from late summer to early autumn. Try H.s. ‘Red Heart’ which has a dark red centre to each flower.
  • Mahonia aquifolium, the oregon grape, offers dense heads of yellow flowers in spring and reddening leaves in cold winters. The only maintenance it needs is to remove the oldest stems when they start to go bare lower down.
  • Olearia x haastii is evergreen and bears fragrant white flowers in summer.
  • Potentilla fruticosa which produces yellow flowers throughout summer.
  • Viburnum davidii bears small white flowers and, if both sexes are grown, fabulous metallic blue fruits.

Herbaceous perennials

Many herbaceous perennials need staking, cutting back and other maintenance tasks. However, a few of them are quite happy to get on by themselves:

  • Alchemilla mollis is a low growing decidous plant which can provide good ground cover.
  • Astilbe cultivars produce plumes of tiny, star shaped flowers in summer. Try A. ‘Bressingham Beauty’ for tall, rich pink flowers.
  • Carex elata ‘Aurea’ is a medium sized, lime green grass which simply needs its dead stems cut back in early spring.
  • Dianthus cultivars are easy to grow, come in a wide range of colours and make great cut flowers. Try D. ‘Forest Treasure’ for deep purple and white flowers, or D. ‘Aldridge Yellow’ for light yellow blooms.
  • Echinacea purpurea, the purple coneflower, gives a great shot of colour and has attractive seed heads that last into the winter. Try E.p. ‘Magnus’ or E.p.‘Art’s Pride’.
  • Hemerocallis cultivars, the day lily, displays each of its spectacular flowers for one day only.
  • Stipa gigantea is a tall, golden grass which is great for adding height and texture. All it needs is a bit of a tidy up of any tatty looking leaves in early spring.
  • Verbena bonariensis is a tall, vigorous perennial which will thrust up stems topped with small purple flowers throughout summer and into autumn. It just needs cutting back in the spring.

Ground cover

If you can cover every inch of soil with low maintenance plants which will be in leaf most of the year, then you shouldn’t have a major weed problem. If not (or if you’re looking to cover ground under a tree), then mulching will help, but ground cover plants can still prove useful. These are some evergreen ground cover plants we recommend, but be warned that they can be very difficult to get rid of once established, so make sure you like them before you plant them!

  • Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’ has glossy, purple/bronze evergreen leaves and sports small blue flowers in spring.
  • Cerastium tomentosum is suitable for a hot, sunny, bank and bears small white flowers in late spring and summer, hence its common name of “snow-in-summer”.
  • Dianthus cultivars of old-fashioned pinks are low growing and evergreen, so provide good ground cover as well as welcome summer flowers. D. ‘Gran’s Favourite’ has white flowers with dark pink edging, while D. ‘Musgrave’s Pink’ has a single, very simple flower in white with a green centre.
  • Hedera (ivy) varieties such as Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’, Hedera canariensis ‘Variegata’ and Hedera helix ‘Green Ripple’. Ivies grow well in shady spots including under trees.
  • Pachysandra terminalis, which is happy in shade and bears tiny white flowers in early summer above the evergreen foliage.
  • Thymus serpyllum, covers the ground with small, oval leaves and can be planted in dry soils.
  • Tiarella cordifolia has evergreen, spreading foliage and bears spikes of white flowers in late spring and early summer.
  • Waldsteinia ternata creates a mat of semi-evergreen foliage with toothed edges. It has saucer-shaped yellow flowers in late spring and early summer.


Bulbs are another easy option. They can be grown in pots, borders or naturalised in lawns. Make sure you select a bulb which doesn’t need lifting each year – if you have heavy clay soil and a cold climate then they may struggle to survive over the winter cold and wet. A few easy to manage bulbs are:

  • Tulips come in all shapes and colours. Try dramatic Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ or pretty T. ‘Fringed Family’. Nothing beats a bright display of tulips in a pot. They can also be used in borders and even naturalised in a lawn.
  • Crocus chrysanthus ‘Snow Bunting’ or C.c. ‘Prins Claus’. Crocuses are great for naturalising and make a sweet early spring feature at the front of beds or borders. They can also be used to make low container displays.
  • Galanthus nivalis (snowdrops), or cultivars such as G.n. ‘Desdemona’ or G.n. ‘Robin Hood’ for something a bit different. Snowdrops planted in clumps naturalise wonderfully in a lawn and are also an effective addition of colour for borders over the winter.
  • Narcissi (daffodils) such as petite yellow Narcissus ‘Tête à Tête’ or white N. ‘Ice Follies’. Daffodils are brilliant in borders and can have a glorious impact when naturalised in a lawn.

Annuals/biennials/tender perennials

By their very nature, plants which are (or which we treat as) annuals are not 100% low maintenance. However, nothing beats them for adding colour to a spring or summer display (although some of the shrubs and herbaceous perennials suggested above do come a close second). The annuals suggested below will just need planting, a little deadheading and then digging out – they can be left to their own devices apart from that.

  • Begonia semperflorens has petite flowers in shades of pink and white.
  • Impatiens , or Busy Lizzies, are available in a wide range of colours to suit any palette.
  • Nigella damascena is a tall annual with blue, pink or white flowers. Try cultivars N.d. ‘Miss Jekyll’ for blue or N.d. ‘Persian Jewels’ for a mix of pink, white and violet flowers.
  • Pelargoniums are great summer bloomers, try Pelargonium ‘Lord Bute’ for dark red/purple flowers or Pelargonium ‘Delli’ for ruffled white and violet petals.
  • Rudbeckia hirta, the coneflower, will give you a firey glow in late summer. Try the cultivar ‘Marmalade’ for large, golden-orange flowers.
  • Tagetes patula, the French marigold, is easy to grow and always provides a good display of yellows and oranges.


Many climbers, such as clematis and roses, will be inappropriate to a low maintenance garden as they require quite a bit of attention to keep them tidy. If you do want them, then consider growing them through a large shrub or a tree where they can grow naturally and won’t look untidy if not properly pruned and tied in.

There are plenty of climbers which require less attention, including:

  • Spring flowering clematis, which aren’t as picky about being pruned as summer flowering ones, are a good choice for the low maintenance garden. Try Clematis ‘Helsingbord’ or, if you do want a summer flowering one, C. ‘Freda’ is happy not to be pruned.
  • Hedera heliz ‘Atropurpurea’ (purple leaved) and H.h. ‘Buttercup’ (yellow leaved) are just two of the great variety of ivies now available.
  • Lathyrus odoratus is an annual climber, so the maintenance will be the same as the annuals listed above. Just give it something to cling on to and it will be happy! There are plenty of wonderful cultivars out there, such as L.o. ‘Wiltshire Ripple’, L.o. ‘Sunset’ or heavily fragranced L.o. ‘Prima Donna’. However, to get the most flowers you do need to pick them frequently, which in some ways is a bonus as they make great cut flowers.
  • Passiflora caerula is the blue passion flower. The only care it needs is to be cut back if it outgrows its space.

Fruit and veg

Generally speaking, if you want low maintenance then you don’t want a vegetable patch! Having said that, there are some ways in which the time-poor gardener can grow produce without too much effort.

  • Potatoes grown in large containers (bags for this purpose are available from most garden centres) are pretty low maintenance. Simply plant them, put in a bit more compost to earth them up, then empty the container to harvest them. As with all containers they will need watering regularly.
  • If you’re having hanging baskets (easiest with an automatic watering system) then why not slip a tomato plant into each one? Tumbling tomato plants give a good harvest and also look very cheerful hanging out of baskets. Try ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ for colourful, tasty fruit.
  • Rhubarb plants are as tough as old boots and can survive quite happily with very little attention. Why not put a couple in the border?
  • Rocket can be sown outdoors from spring every couple of weeks. It’s easy to grow and slugs don’t seem to like it as much as lettuces!
  • Blackcurrants, raspberries, blueberries and redcurrants are all pretty low maintenance. Gooseberries are also a good bet, although slightly more prone to disease so needing a little more attention.
  • As long as you can stay on top of the watering, growing onions from sets is very simple. You don’t need a veg patch, just pop them in the border amongst other plants (but don’t forget where they are come harvest time!).
  • There are plenty of herbs which are happy to look after themselves. Try chives, rosemary, sage, fennel, bay, mint or thyme.

There are some crops we’d recommend you avoid if you’re looking to spend as little time as possible caring for them. These include strawberries and fruit trees (eg apples and pears).