Need suggestions for NO maintenance plants

laurie_ky6(z6 KY)August 15, 2008

I am about to submit some plans to the condo association where I live for "beautifying" a narrow strip of land next to my home. I need virtually no maintenance plants because the association needs assurance that the lawn and gardening company we employ will not have extra work to do. I can be responsible for getting the plants established during the first year or two; but if I were to move, the association can't expect the next owner to take care of the plantings.

I'm working with a 3' x 55' strip of slightly sloping land, bordered on one side by a thin veil of trees and on the other side by concrete curbing. The soil is poor, rocky clay. The area gets southern and western light. The tree branches were recently cut back; so the sun is fairly direct all day. Drought tolerance would be very helpful.

My first thought was a combo of naturalizing daffodils, day lilies, and ground cover; but the browning leaves of the daffodils and lilies might be a no-no. Also, I don't have boundless energy. I'd prefer stuff that's easy to get into minimally amended soil. None of that "dig 18" down" routine for me!

Thank you.

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christinmk z5b eastern WA

If you drive around retail buildings youll see a lot of good ideas in there little landscape plots. They hardly every take care of them (aside from water now and then and a yearly pruning/weeding).

Here are some common plants you can find at Wal-Mart and Lowes that dont cost much.
There are daylilies of course...Stella de Oro will take anything and is reliable.
Ornamental grasses that are drought tolerant. Festuca, Calamagrostis, and Helictotrichon come to mind.
Knock Out roses
Gaillardia (blanket flower)
Rudbeckia is fairly drough tolerant

If you were willing to go with more expencive plants...
Penstemon (I cant get these to grow)
Silver Carpet Artemesia
Belemcanda chinensis
Eryngium (sea holly)
Kniphofia (torch lily)
Phlomis (Jerusalem Sage)
Russian Sage
Echinops (globe thistle)
Scabiosa ochroleuca

It might also be good to throw some seed from Annuals out ther and let them reseed all the time.

For shrubs Golden Spireas are good space fillers, as are Barberry. Evergreens are also nice, as long as you go with a tough, drought tolerant one. You could also go with carpet evergreens.

There are lots of options; im sure others will have some great ideas too.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 1:08PM
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There's no such thing as "no" maintenance plants, unless you count plastic ones :-) Anything worth growing and that has visual attraction will need periodic attention, if nothing more than watering to establish and routine mulching to keep weeds at bay. There is an informal hierarchy relating to plant maintenance requirements and most perennials tend to fall into the higher maintenance end of things, as most are herbaceous and need at least an annual tidying, if not more often. They also tend to need division and deadheading. Evergreen anything will lead you towards lower maintenance and an evergreen groundcover that is drought tolerant when established is probably the lowest maintenance-requiring plant you can use. Cotoneaster dammeri, kinnikinnick, fragaria, Lonicera pileata, Rubus calycinoides or stonecrop sedums would all generate minimal maintenance.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 2:09PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Also, in climates where it rains, very few, if any, groundcovers are capable of truly smothering out weeds. This is one of the major problems with institutional landscaping - they rely on a heavy annual mulching that doesn't control the weeds.

If the idea is to provide you with a space to garden, you might try a different tack like offering to resod the area before you move.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 3:01PM
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I think I agree with previous for yourself and agree to resod the area when you move.

There are a number of low-maintenance plants. If you can make it drain well, lavender might be a good choice. I'm not sure which one works in your zone. It will attract a lot of honeybees. To me, that's a great thing. To those allergic, it's a serious problem. So, you have to consider anyone walking by that strip.


Here is a link that might be useful: my plants in southern sun in my blog

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 5:04PM
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jannie(z7 LI NY)

My big three easy no-maintenance perennial flowers are black eyed susans and pink and white coneflowers, aka rudbeckia and ecchinacea. This is from the twenty year experience of my own front yard, zone 6/7 mostly sunny. Good luck! I find that if I walk around my neighborhood, I get some ideas by looking at what other people are growing. Use a walk thru the neighborhood to inspire you. See what is found most frequently, what looks good, combinations, etc.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 10:57PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

There is no such think as a no maintainance plant. B ut you might geta round it by suggesting to the association that a yearly cut down would me less expensive than mowing the area....not to mention making it more attractive to furure renters.
rudbekia and a sedum or 2 ought to be better than whatever is there now.
Linda C

    Bookmark   August 16, 2008 at 1:03AM
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LOL... "there is no such thing as no maintenance plants"... tell that to all the plants growing wild in my woods!

There are plenty of no maintenance plants, but most I would suggest aren't going to be very happy in clay.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2008 at 9:05AM
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laurie_ky6(z6 KY)

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful suggestions. I know there aren't NO maintenance plants, which is why I'm offering to get them established. The association's concern is what happens when I sell in X number of years.

I wanted to think through my proposal carefully because I'm not sure the people who review it have much knowledge on this topic. This year they choose those ugly red begonias as the primary landscape flower for the development. Ick.

Currently there is NO sod on this strip. It's just dirt and some straggly vines. Because there's so much rock in the soil, it does drain quickly. Lavender would work, and as luck would have it, I still propagate lavender every year from my plants on another property. I've had a lot of success with intermedia 'Grosso'. The plants do much better, though, when severely pruned after they've bloomed - a time-consuming task.

Well, maybe the way to go is offering a couple of design options.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2008 at 10:59AM
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cayuga2008(zone 5)

What about a combination of shrubs, sedum and grasses?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 12:12AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA


I am always trying to come up with NO maintenance garden arrangements and just when I think I have it, I've overlooked something that will be work for me. [g] But I have been trying for at least ten years.

I have a bed in the front of my house, so that needs to be kept neat and attractive all year. I tried self sowers and fun sun plants for 7 years and it worked pretty well with a minimum of work, but it looked awful in the winter, because some of the plants [Butterfly Bush] needed to be pruned in the spring. The rudbeckia ran over all it's neighbors and had to come out, etc.

I did notice that some of the plants I had there looked good all year with little attention. I've learned that in the front, where I want something that always looks neat, when you plant fall bloomers, they look great all season as they are growing with the extra of fall bloom. Plants that I rarely have to do anything to are Sedums and grasses. I have Pennisetum 'Hamelin' that anchors the corner of that bed and has not been touched except for an annual cutting back of the dead foliage, for at least 7 years. Sedum Autumn Joy are fun all season, even when not in bloom they add interest. There are lots of other sedums to add color, Bertram Anderson I think is almost black, Vera Jameson is dark with a low habit, Frosty Morn is variegated, although some people don't enjoy it because it has some branches that will revert at times. I have that too, but I just prune them off. Other than cutting back the dead foliage fall or spring, I do nothing to them. They stay in their place, don't spread too much, don't reseed. A plant that asks for nothing and is just about indestructible.

A three foot strip is pretty small for a shrub, I think. That Pennisetum 'Hamelin' looks to be a little larger than two feet in diameter now. I also have Asters and Chrysanthemums in with my sedums and grass, but they require a little more, needing to be cut back at least once to contain their size, in early summer, and you have to be careful which asters you get that would be the size you want and won't reseed and cause a weed problem.

I would think even with just grasses and sedums there are enough to choose from that you could design that long 55ft strip. You could also leave a few holes here and there to add annuals if you want more color the rest of the season. You could also go to a stone supplier and incorporate a few interesting rocks.

So I second cayuga's suggestion. In my experience, grasses and sedums have required the least of me, keep coming back year after year, don't require fertilizer, don't overstep their bounds or cause any maintenance problems. Throw in a few annuals for a spot of color if you need a little more and if you move and the next person doesn't want to add the annuals, you can put in a few sedums and you are ready to move on.

Good luck...

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 7:22AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Laurie...I just measured my Pennisetum and from tip to tip, it is almost four feet in diameter. But it would certainly not be crowded in a three ft bed. The base of the plant is not that large. It also took years to get that big.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 12:20PM
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I vote for sedum "autumn joy". I also like spirea "magic carpet" and think they'd look pretty together.


    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 7:20PM
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Lavender. Can't get much easier.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 1:58PM
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Here's a thought without offering plant suggestions - maybe there are others in your condo association who would enjoy forming a little "garden club" and being able to do some small scale gardening including the planting and maintenance... especially if the strip is on common ground and the visual benefit, etc. isn't solely for your home.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 3:52PM
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laurie_ky6(z6 KY)

More great suggestions. Thanks all!

Sedum!! How could I forget that? I know "Autumn Joy" has perhaps been over-used, but it does well in this area and offers almost four-season enjoyment. It attracts all kinds of butterflies here - another plus. I've been thinking I should dig and divide some sizable AJ I stuck in my mom's garden. Now I know where to give it a new home.

The garden club is a good idea. I have met another person who's interested in this project. Some of the condo people bought here to get away from doing yard work, but maybe they'll like the results enough to contribute something other than labor.

I gave up a 2000 sq. ft. perennial garden when I sold my house two years ago. The hardest part of the decision to sell was leaving the garden. I moved my favorite plantings to the property I bought for my mother and tinker there. But I guess the urge to populate my immediate environment with plant life is bubbling up again...

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 7:37PM
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ostrich(3a AB)

Laurie, when I first bought my current (and first ever) house, I told the landscaper that I wanted something without maintenance. He immediately put me in my place by yelling at me that there was no plant that did not require maintenance!!! LOL!

Joking aside, I wanted to tell you that I saw this amazing display of Russian Sage grown in the center island between the freeways in Maryland. It was spectacular! So, if you do a classic combination of Russian Sage and Rudbeckia, it would be really beautiful. The golden yellow and the lavender would be so very pretty together. In fact, I know it is because my friends did it like that and I think it's spectacular. Both are drought resistant and fairly low maintenance.

The only thing is, would you consider something that would give some winter interest? Otherwise, you will have nothing there for the entire zone 6 cold season...

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 10:45PM
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Catmint is a nice easy plant, producing pretty little purple flowers all summer long. Sidalcea is also nice and easy, with pink flowers similar to small hollyhocks.

I think the soil should be amended just a bit to break up the clay, I know a few bags of cow manure would help make the flowers flourish, no matter how maintenance-free they are...just a thought. I know how the mention of cow manure turns people off, but the flowers just love it!!! LOL.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 3:13PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Issue with lavender....they don't like to be pruned down to the ground before winter and you have to wait for growth to start in the spring before you can prune them back. So they don't look very good in early spring. Sedum on the other hand can be cut back in fall if you like, or left for winter interest and in the spring, there are cute little rosettes to look at.

Walker's Low Nepeta is a nice idea too, but the Rudbeckia idea....well it might look good together, but in a few years, you will be digging out the rudbeckia that has started crowding out the nepeta. Although I had a clumping Rudbeckia that was nice...'Indian Summer'. Long bloom season and it didn't not encroach on it's neighbors.

The fertilizer is a good idea for some plants, but not really wanted by grasses and sedums. Isn't that correct?

Winter interest is a good point. A selection of dwarf conifers would be a great addition to the bed and you could do the whole thing with conifers leaving a few pockets to add annuals for the summer, but it would be more expensive. If you had interested people in the building who wanted to donate, it could work out really well.


Here is a link that might be useful: Rudbeckia 'Indian Summer'

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 3:44PM
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