Ground Cover and Low Maintenance Perennials

Ground Cover and Low Maintenance Perennials
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Ground Cover and Low Maintenance Perennials

Low Maintenance Plants for Gardens, Groundcovers, and Borders

I love low maintenance plants. In fact, my yard would be a disaster without them. 

purple ajuga flowers with dark foliagepurple ajuga flowers with dark foliage

Spreading Ground Covers

The ground covers make open areas attractive and reduce weeds, without mowing or fertilizing or pruning. Thyme (Thymus) forms a lovely “lawn,” green from early spring to late fall with intense purple flowers in late May. Creeping veronicas (Veronica), like ‘tidal pool,’ fill in around my thyme, complementing it with their round leaves and bright blue flowers. In my back yard ajuga (Ajuga, also called bugleweed, pictured) is expanding into a gap and will soon surround the flagstone path for a stepping-through-the-meadow look. The leaves of my ajugas are a slightly variegated deep green (ajuga varieties have amazing leaf colors). The first of my ajugas to flower, barely taller than the leaves but intensely purple, appeared in late April. Elsewhere, I am letting stonecrops (Sedum) and hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum) spread between the rocks I put in to make a rock garden from a spot too dry for most plants; they are doing really well. 

bright green creeping Jennybright green creeping Jenny

More Low Maintenance Ground Covers

I have several creeping junipers (Juniperus) which are spectacular evergreens that stay low and fill space. I love that they require no work on my part and are green all year. The cute little round purplish fruits are an added plus. Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) and creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia, pictured) are excellent ground covers for me in the dry harsh conditions of the Colorado Front range, but are too energetic—weedy, invasive—in some wetter regions. 

white violas with purple marginswhite violas with purple margins

Violets & Violas

The plant that surprised and delighted me lately is the violet (Viola odorata in my case); it has spread in a difficult shady spot under the maple, to produce a green carpet where before it was weedy and unkept. Then in early spring it flowered turning the area purple…well, violet. 

silvery gray lamb's ear foliagesilvery gray lamb's ear foliage

Lamb's Ear

In several difficult spots, I added lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). Lamb’s ear is very hardy and spread steadily to make a gray green carpet with its long soft leaves. 

All of the above are low-growing plants that self-maintain in my climate. I planted them, watered them a little to be sure they survived transplanting, and then let them go. They grew into beautiful plants.

pink spreading ice plantpink spreading ice plant

Hardy Ice Plant

There are other low maintenance ground covers, for example the hardy ice plant (Delosperma) growing well in the intense sun of my neighbor’s front yard. I have not begun to exhaust the possibilities. 

orange daylily flowers on  mature plantorange daylily flowers on  mature plant

Taller Low Maintenance Plants

For taller low maintenance plants, for example, in the corner by the fence that I would like to be filled with easy-to-grow handsome plants, I have daylilies (Hemerocallis). The tall narrow leaves make a dense, nice-looking stand. I love the big flowers, even if they only last a day. My daylilies are orange, but there are varieties from white to yellow to nearly red to bicolored. 

bright pink peony flowersbright pink peony flowers

Long Lived and Low Maintenance

I also love peonies (Paeonia). They are wonderfully low maintenance: you plant them and they appear and flower, in white or pink or red or yellow, for decades. With a wonderful scent. If you just leave the big dead leaves in fall, by spring they are so shredded they are inconspicuous. 

purple iris flowers in a fieldpurple iris flowers in a field

Kathy's Favorite Low Maintenance Perennial

My go-to low maintenance plant is iris (Iris), though. I have too many irises because I like them so much. They are easily transplanted and very hardy. If a spot seems bare, I find an iris to put there. Some have two-foot leaves and three-foot flower stalks. These make striking stand. Others are half that size, producing a shot of purple or yellow in flower and then look like a green ground cover the rest of the year. One of the joys of iris is that there seems no end to the colors and color-combinations, from solid white, yellow, orange, red, blue, purple, almost black to two-toned or variegated flowers. Can you really have too many iris?

row of young thuja treesrow of young thuja trees


Many common garden shrubs are low maintenance as well: shrub dogwoods (Cornus), barberry (Berberis), hydrangea (Hydrangea), redbud (Cercis), beautybush (Kolwitzia), honeysuckles (Lonicera), rose mallow (Hibiscus), most small pines (Pinus), junipers (Juniperus), false cypress (Chamaecyparis) and arborvitae (Thuja, pictured). My garden does not have quite all of these at the present, but I have grown and neglected them over the years and loved that they grew well despite me. 

black-eyed Susanblack-eyed Susan

Low Maintenance Once Established

For garden focal points, low maintenance after they are established, I like the mints agastache (Agastache) and monarda (Monarda): bright flowers and lovely scent to flowers and leaves. Pollinator magnets. I also have a spectacular stand of tall white veronicas (Veronica) which make their display every year with no work from me. Larkspurs (Delphinium), black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), and echinacea (Echinacea) also provide reliable handsome flowers year after year with little care. 

I pull weeds and trim branches off paths but otherwise, I can just wander around, enjoying my plants. With the right low maintenance plants, the yard is a place of relaxation, not another source of chores.