I love having beautiful flowers blooming all around the house in the spring and summer, but I’m no green thumb! And a lot of the DIY garden articles I love to read and google do not have the same definition of “low maintenance” or “easy-care” that I do! I don’t even bother with indoor plants anymore and I have a long history of killing outdoor plants by neglect. I just get too busy for all the weeding, trimming, deadheading, watering, splitting and replanting. Besides, our vegetable garden takes up most of my time in the summer.
So I need a flower garden plan that looks nice and grows just fine without me 99% of the time.
Over the years, I’ve hit on a couple flower gardening principles that really work for us. I’ll never be featured in Better Homes and Garden, but hey, our house looks nice!
Tip #1 Keep it Simple
We have a lot of flower garden spaces, but if you look closely, you would see that I use the same handful of plant types everywhere. I go back to the same species that I know do well for me over and over, and just change the color. This means there’s not much to keep track of and everyone needs the same care. By mixing your layout like I’ll explain below, no one will notice that it’s only a couple different plant types.
Tip #2 Start with a Perennial Evergreen Base
Perennial meaning it comes back every year without you doing anything. Evergreen meaning you have color even in the winter. Space them out evenly through your garden area. They’re your permanent background. For example, we have four spaced out in our front foundation and three spaced out along our side foundation.
You’ll have to decide what style works for you and your local geography, but a couple that I haven’t managed to kill yet are Holly, Camellia, Spirea, and Nadina. Azaleas are a toss up for me. I’ve killed several, but I’ve got two hanging on, and they are beautiful.
Remember, keep it simple. I have the same four Nadina at the front porch, and I planted a row of all Azaleas down the side foundation. I have two Azaleas left and I replaced the ones that died with a white Camellia. That’s it, just 3 evergreen species for over 80 feet of foundation beds.
Tip #3 Add a Couple Perennial Flowering Shrubs
They’ll come back every year, but they’ll die off in the winter and look like dead sticks. Just disperse a couple in empty spots, corners, next to steps or porches, or in between your evergreens. To keep it simple, plant the same kind of shrub, just different colors.
Butterfly bushes are the easiest ones I know of. They grow like crazy just about anywhere, bloom all summer long, and you can trim them to nothing without hurting them–so they can be a good choice in front of your water meter! You can get them in all different colors, so you can plant four bushes that all need the same care, but it looks like four different plants. They give a lot of punch to the garden with very little work. They are drought tolerant and love the heat. Just be careful because they have shallow roots. So if you get a lot of wind, don’t put them on a corner, or give them a support rod.
I’ve also had really good luck with perennial lantana (Miss Huff variety). There’s only one perennial variety that I know of, and our’s grow huge and colorful every year and blooms in the heat of the summer without any watering. I don’t even bother weeding over there anymore because the bushes just shade out the weeds. I have four planted on our fence line.
Last year I finally took on a lilac. Our area is not good for them, so I knew it was going to be a project. It’s survived two bloom seasons so far, but I worry about it constantly. That’s the opposite of my normal flower garden plan!
Tip #4 Pick a Couple Perennial Flowers and Stick Them in Between
I have the same five plants all over our gardens from the foundations to the flagpole, around our well cover, by our garage, at our gate entrances–the same five plants over and over again in different colors. They die off in the winter and come back to bloom all spring and summer without any help from me. Spiderwort, Daylilies, Irises, Hostas, and Butterfly Weed. I just stick them wherever there’s an empty spot. I’ve got daylilies planted between all my shrubs. I’ve got Butterfly Weed at all my corners. I’ve got Spiderwort and Irises at all my downspouts and hose bibs. And I’ve got Hostas taking up ground space around all my flowering shrubs.
Over time I have added climbers to our porch and fence lines and if you’re interested in that, I would recommend Jasmine or Clematis. Wisteria, Trumpet Vine, and Honeysuckle are all aggressively invasive--plant Jasmine instead! Click To Tweet
I also got a peony plant for Mother’s Day one year and felt obligated to put it somewhere. So glad I did! Once established, they are very hardy. And they look lovely floating in a bowl of water on the table! To simplify, I put it in a small, contained area by our gate and filled that whole bed just with peony plants. If I keep them mulched, the peonies can outgrow the weeds and then shade them out over the summer.
Tip #5 Keep Annuals in Pots
Watch for end-of-the-season gardening sales and get some big, colorful pots! I do all our annuals in pots. The pots add a spot of color when the garden is empty in the winter, and they’ll be easy to replant when the season comes around again.
I’ve tried several different iterations of fancy pot arrangements over the years and they all take on-going maintenance to look as nice as the pictures. So now I just get a flat of pretty, bright-colored, petunias and stick them in all the pots around the garden beds. They grow like crazy over the summer and since they’re outside I still don’t have to do anything special for them. Next year I just get a new flat of colorful annuals and refill the pots.
Tip #6 Garden Accessories Don’t Require Maintenance
Painted metal or composite garden accessories are another great way to add color and beauty to your garden without adding work! We have two bird baths that stay filled from rainwater or the kids. I don’t worry about them. We have some funky metal chickens and recycled metal pigs that add a lot of interest in the winter seasons. Garden spinners on a shepherd’s hook and colored glass hummingbird feeders also add color in our garden. (Yes, bird feeders and bird houses take extra maintenance. That’s something we make time for as part of our family nature study.) You could also add a Toad House, a Mason Bee house, or a Butterfly House for fun.
These accessories add visual interest without requiring any additional work and are very fun for the family.
Tip #7 Use Down Time Minutes for Maintenance
Even with low maintenance plants, there’s still some maintenance. Once established, most of our plants require almost no maintenance to survive, but deadheading and pruning will keep them looking nice longer, so I’ll use the time I wait at the bus stop with the boys to either clip deadheads or pull a few weeds. (Our “bus stop” is the end of our driveway!)
We also don’t have to water our flowers very often here, once our plants are established–usually the first week after planting. Just a few times through the hottest part of the summer or a particularly dry spring. When I do water, I take a second to attach a fertilizer bottle to the hose and give the plants a dose of Miracle Grow–all in one step. Bus stop mornings are also a good time for a few minutes of watering.
Tip #8 Mulch. A lot.
Mulching is good for adding organic material to your soil. It’s good for retaining moisture in your plants without a lot of watering. And it’s really good at reducing the weeding! We usually mulch our flower beds every 2-3 years, and have started using our frugal, paper bag mulching system to reduce the weeding even more! It’s worth the extra time at the beginning of the season to mulch well and save yourself hours of sweating over the summer.
I enjoy our flowers. But like everything else in our lives I’ve had to learn to balance my visions of grandeur with the reality of a job, three kiddos, and a farm. As with everything else, I recommend starting small and simple and only adding new things slowly as you get older things well-established.
Do you have flower gardens? What are your favorite easy-care outside plants? And if you’re a vegetable gardener too, be sure to hop over to our post on Letting the Kids Help with Every Step of the Garden Planting, and get your FREE Family Garden Planting Worksheet!