Choose These Durable Low Maintenance Shrubs for the Garden

Mike Lang shares his five favorite durable, low maintenance shrubs to landscape your homestead, including hardy vibernum, coreopsis and knock-out roses.

"Knock Out"™ rose will brighten your landscape without much fuss.

"Knock Out"™ rose will brighten your landscape without much fuss.

Photo: Courtesy All-American Rose Selections/www.Rose.org

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Learn about these durable low maintenance shrubs that make landscaping your property easy.

Would you like to add some pizzazz to your landscape this season? Are all the choices found in the plant catalogs in the magazine rack only making the decision of what to plant in the garden more confusing and difficult?

With thousands of plant options to select from to spruce up the garden, I have put together my five durable low maintenance shrubs to add color to the landscape. There are more exotic and colorful plants than those that made this list, but from the standpoint of durability, low maintenance and appeal, I think these plants will fit the bill even for homeowners with a brown thumb.

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea viginica) would be an outstanding addition to any garden. This plant offers white racemes of blooms, up to 6 inches long on arching branches in the late spring after other plants have finished up with their flowering. Glossy green foliage remains on the plant until fall, when an outstanding maroon presentation of color will appear and last well into winter. This is a native plant to the United States that can be found growing in southern and eastern states along swamps and bogs. The plant will grow in damp, dry, sunny or shady areas of the garden, although flowering dwindles a bit as shade increases. Sweetspire will grow in USDA Zones 5-9.

Some Virginia Sweetspire varieties to look for at the nursery are: "Henry's Garnet," which has better fall coloring than the native plants. Little Henry ("Sprich"), which, at 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide, is smaller in stature than "Henry's Garnet," which grows 4 to 5 feet tall. "Merlot" is a selection similar in size to Little Henry, but has a wine-red fall color.

Because it is an ordinary looking plant most of the year, Sweet Mockorange (Philadelphus sp.) is often overlooked as an addition to the landscape. White, nicely fragrant blooms cover this plant in late May. "Natchez" is one of my favorite cultivars that grows to 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide.

If you are lacking for space in a smaller garden, "Miniature Snowflake" would be a great choice for a Mock-orange selection. This compact plant only grows 3 feet tall with a similar width. This plant may be small in stature, but the double white blossoms covering the plant in the spring make it a big hit.

Mockorange plants are hardy in Zones 4-8 and prefer sunny locations and a well-drained soil.

One of the easiest ways to add color to the garden is with the use of perennials, and one of the easiest perennials to grow is Coreopsis. "Moonbeam" and "Zagreb" have been the staple Coreopsis choices now for a number of years, but my new favorite is "Crème Brulee."

"Crème Brulee" is a newer hybrid introduction that was a result of a cross between Coreopsis verticillata and grandiflora. The effect of the cross was this wonderful threadleaf Coreopsis that displays the toughness of "Moonbeam" with much larger flowers and mildew resistance.

"Crème Brulee" will grow 16 to 20 inches tall and spread to around 3 feet while showing off soft yellow blooms nearly all season long. The hardiness of this plant will allow it to grow in Zones 5-9. This is one of my favorite new plants in our garden because of its color contribution and toughness. I'm not sure if it was named for the sweet addition to the garden, or how tough the flowers are, not unlike the caramelized topping of its namesake.

There is a Viburnum selection that will work in almost any garden, regardless of geographical location or soil type. This group of plants is known for its showy blooms and bronze-red fall color. They grow to sizes that range from a diminutive 18 inches to 20 feet tall. And a selection can be found that will do well in any landscape from Texas to Minnesota.

If I were able to have only a handful of plants in my landscape, one of my first choices would be "Juddii" Viburnum (V. x juddii). This plant was developed from a cross of parents in the 1920s at The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Clusters of snowball-sized blooms adorn the plant in the spring, first showing pink shades and then maturing to a pure white color. The blossoms are astounding to the eye, but the fragrance is even more pleasing to the nose. I have never been able to come up with adjectives to properly describe the fragrance, but when I close my eyes and take in the scent of this flower, it is the closest I can get to serenity in this hectic world.

"Juddii" Viburnum is also a very handsome plant even when not in bloom. The heavy foliage keeps a nice dark-green color throughout the season and then displays fall coloring that ranges from dark-red to burgundy. It will grow 6 to 8 feet tall with a similar width, in USDA Zones 4-8.

Remember the rose that was marketed in the pink pot? I resisted the urge to jump on the bandwagon to plant that one, not that it was a bad plant, and I refused to fall for the marketing. Well, I gave into the latest new rose phenom a couple of years ago, and I must say I'm not sorry I did.

"Knock Out"™ rose is a plant that will bring color to the landscape and require very little care. Cherry-red blossoms cover this plant from spring until well past the first frost. It is a perfect landscape plant, growing to around 4 feet tall with a rounded form, that does not require the maintenance normally associated with roses: winter protection, fungicide sprays, deadheading and pampering. I have been amazed at the amount of color it provides in planting areas that do not receive any more care than the same planting of spirea would receive. This rose is rated hardy in Zones 4 to 8 without winter protection.

Since the introduction of this Red "Knock Out" rose in 2000, there is a bright pink, pink and double red selections of this low-maintenance rose now available. They are named "Pink Knock Out," "Blushing Knock Out" and "Double Knock Out," respectively. I have planted "Pink Knock Out" and the same great growing characteristics have been prevalent in this plant, yet the colorful blooms do not quite stand out compared to the almost fluorescent blooms of the original "Knock Out."

These are some of many plants that can give that landscape a little spark this season, with limited work.

Mike Lang is a lifelong resident of Kansas and is currently the landscape manager for a 1,000-acre university campus by day and caretaker of his own quarter-acre piece of the world the rest of the time.