By Paul James
Not everyone fancies themselves a hardcore gardener. I get that. A lot of folks are simply homeowners who want a nice looking landscape but don’t want to spend hours on end taking care of it. That’s why I came up with this list of what I call Foolproof Plants. These are plants that practically thrive on neglect, will tolerate all types of soil, are bothered by few if any pests and diseases, and, as if all that weren’t enough, they’re also beautiful.
But let me be clear: There’s not a plant on the planet that you can just stick in the ground and ignore. All plants must be watered the first year so that they become established, meaning they develop a good root system that’s able to support the plant. Beyond that initial period however, nearly all of the plants that follow will do fine with little if any supplemental watering or fertilization.
Note: Not included in this list are annuals, because few are available at the moment. I’ll present my list of Foolproof annuals in an upcoming post.
Trees and Shrubs
Chinese Pistache, Lacebark Elm, and Shumard Oak are three of the toughest, most adaptable trees you can plant in this area, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Virginia Sweetspire is an awesome shrub with four seasons of interest. Lime green leaves emerge in early spring, then turn darker green. White panicles of flowers make the plant look as though it’s covered in snow. And in winter, the red stems are extremely attractive. Grows in sun or shade and loves wet soil.
Abelia is a great group of shrubs represented by several excellent, carefree candidates, many of which are evergreen and all of which flower. Give them full sun, and they’ll give you years of delight.
Spirea is another great group of shrubs. They’re deciduous, but they’re tough as nails and beautiful.
Chaste Tree is the greatest pollinator magnet ever, and bumblebees in particular absolutely love it. Plant in full sun, water well the first year, and simply enjoy for years to come.
Rose of Sharon is a snap to grow, it’s tough, and its flowers – which are available in several colors – last and last.
Oak Leaf Hydrangea is a must for any garden. Whereas other types of hydrangeas can be a bit finicky, this one will grow in sun or shade and bloom prolifically.
Nandina used to get a bad rap because the species that was so commonly planted years ago tends to get gangly with age. Not so with the many new – and colorful -- introductions.
Yucca loves the sun and heat, and once established it requires next to nothing in the way of care. In fact, it’s so tough it’s tough to kill! The foliage – both solid green to blue green as well as variegated, gives way to striking flowers atop long stalks.
Boxwood has been a mainstay in the gardening world for decades because it’s so easy to grow and maintenance free. Few evergreens are as dependably carefree.
Autumn Fern has always been my favorite of the lot. It’s evergreen, produces beautiful bronze foliage in spring that matures to dark green, and grows to about two feet. It does need shade in the afternoon, but that’s true of all ferns.
Daylilies could easily be considered the most foolproof plant. They’ll grow in just about every soil type and take all the sun and heat nature has to give.
Heuchera (and the related Tiarella and Heucherella) are among the best plants for shady spots, and the variety of colors available is impressive, from lime green to purple.
Ornamental Grasses are about as carefree as plants get. They do need a haircut once a year in late winter to early spring, but that’s about it.
Verbena offers beautiful foliage and flowers and stays low to the ground. It needs sun, but little more.
Yarrow loves sun and hot weather, and rarely if ever needs to be watered once established. Its foliage is almost fernlike, and it’s available in several different flower colors.
Liriope and Mondo are excellent for covering large, shady areas. Their grasslike foliage is evergreen, and although both can spread, neither is invasive.
Pachysandra is a dynamite, evergreen, deer-resistant ground cover that forms a thick mat. Perfect for mass planting beneath large, mature trees.
Angelina is a gorgeous sedum with golden-green foliage. It’s super easy to grow, and it thrives in dry, sunny spots.
There are actually several more plants that fit the Foolproof definition, but I had to stop somewhere! Besides, the ones I’ve listed will get you off to a good start.