A few days ago I mentioned that I've fallen in love with ornamentals for reasons beyond color. Another one of those new plant qualities I'm interested in is: low maintenance. Yes, hard work and consistent labor in your garden can pay off and give you a yard that is the talk of the town... but honestly, who has the time? Or the energy for that matter. This may come as a shock to most, but low maintenance doesn't just mean yews and oak trees. You can get a colorful, low maintenance garden by following three simple rules: plant natives, plant long-lived perennials, and plant them in the right spot!   

Natives are plants that originate from your area. These guys are well suited for your yard because well, they were growing here all on their own, long before you ever existed. They are adapted to your climate and need minimal to no inputs for success in your garden.

Perennials are plants that keep coming back year after year (versus annuals that only last one growth season). However, you will find that some perennials tend to "burn out", get scraggly and die out in the center while still expanding outwards. That's where the LONG-LIVED part comes in - these perennials go above and beyond, coming back again and again, just as strong as the year before.

Placement is key when designing a low-maintenance garden. Sure, black-eyed Susan's are stunning but unless you have a spot with full sun and excellent drainage, you are going to have to put a lot of effort into keeping that plant happy. Effort = high maintenance. I know it's hard to give up the plants you really "want" but imagine how much money, time and energy you will save by not having to water, fertilize and replace plants every year.

Here are some of my new favorite plants for the low-maintenance southern garden:
  • Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' a perennial flourishes on infertile soil and blooms from summer to frost. Low maintenance.

  • Sanguisorba officinalis - Herbaceous perennial that blooms from May to June and is known for its ornamental seed heads. But this plant isn't just pretty to look at, it has an extensive root system great for erosion control, it leaves are edible, great in salads and soups, and it is very low maintenance... just don't let it get too dry.

  • Veronicastrum virginicum a long-lived, slow growing perennial that blooms from May to August. Tends to grow in tight clumps and are very low maintenance.

  • Baptisia australis - one of the most durable (once established) and long-lived natives. Blooms from May to June with showy flowers that attract butterflies. Tolerates all soils from clay to shallow and rocky, rabbit resistant, fixes nitrogen and is a great option for erosion control. Not easily moved once established.

  • Cirsium rivulare 'atropurpureum' is the ornamental thistle, not to be confused with the garden thistle that so many hate. This thistle produces elegant long leafless stems each topped with a magenta thistle head. Due to its height, it's prone to lodging so plant with sturdier grasses for support

Remember: low-maintenance DOES NOT mean maintenance free!

Photos complements of Pinterest

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