Your idea of high-maintenance may be another’s normal routine. When it comes to the garden, we can all agree on some basic principles of low-maintenance. Gardeners consider plants low-maintenance if they thrive without special care. In the south, that may translate to heat and drought tolerance, but here it more typically means cold resistant. The brutal winters in Madison sometimes play havoc on local landscapes. That’s why it’s important to choose low maintenance plants that thrive in Madison gardens. They’ll show off perennial beauty without asking much in return. (main photo is James Madison rooftop park)
Once peonies are established in favorable conditions– in well-drained soil with full sun– they require little to no care. A healthy peony will produce copious blooms each spring, like clockwork. This is a classic favorite of gardeners and homeowners, thanks to their prolific flowers that you can cut for floral arrangements. While some prefer to deadhead (cutting back spent bloom stems), this will not result in more blooms, but it does make for a prettier plant. These magnificent shrubs can live up to a century. You can even divide them every couple of decades to encourage strong blooming. Now, that’s what you call low-maintenance.
For homes with shaded areas, there are so many perennials that can provide rich color, texture, and ground cover, but the hosta rules supreme. In low-lit areas where flowering plants struggle, hostas thrive. Their fleshy, textured foliage comes in a multitude of colors, from steely blue to lime green, so it’s easy to create a varied palette. Tall stalks of white, blue, or lavender flowers shoot up in late spring, attracting butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. You’ll find many varieties of hosta, so it is important to choose the right one for your location for a low-maintenance experience. Some species prefer dry conditions while others tolerate a high level of moisture. Some can take full sun and others will not.
Russian Sage is an exceptionally hardy plant well suited to areas where it seems like nothing else will grow. This perennial ornamental will send out blue-silver plumes of tiny, fragrant lavender flowers in midsummer. The flower stalks resemble those of lavender, but without being anywhere near as fussy or sensitive to the weather. This is a beautiful bloomer that can thrive without any irrigation during the hottest, driest summer months. It can also survive even the harshest winters.
This elegant, flowering perennial performs best in the shade. Moist soil is ideal for astilbe, which makes these show-stopping blooms a perfect fit for areas with poor drainage. Some varieties, like chinensis, are more tolerant of sunlight and heat than others. The ‘Rheinland’ variety takes no effort to grow. In favorable conditions, astilbe can live up to a decade, or longer, if they are divided every few years. You can also deadhead spent blooms to encourage secondary blooms and extend their flowering season.
Dianthus, also known as ‘pinks’ are very low maintenance if planted in full sun with well-drained soil. In hot and dry times they may need a little supplemental water, and every few years, they’ll do better if you divide them. Otherwise, this is a beautiful, cheerful flowering perennial that requires very little attention. Bear in mind there are hundreds of dianthus varieties, some requiring more care than others. If you choose your variety wisely, you can enjoy a bright, bursting color that returns year after year.
This list is in no way exhaustive but covers some of the hardiest and colorful members of the low-maintenance plants for Madison. None of these plants require more seasonal care than the average lawn in the region demands.
Francesca Singer is a former farmer & landscape architect who is passionate about plants, design, and travel. When not writing, she can be found working in the garden, wrangling a toddler, or wielding power tools.