My Favorite Low-Maintenance Perennials for Sun & Shade

posted by Andrea | 04/24/2012

During our Spring Break Staycation, Dave and I did tons of yard work — it was SO much fun!

Yes, I’m weird and think yard work is fun…

Surprisingly, I never really did any yard work until after we were married, and almost everything I’ve learned about plants and gardening is a result of lots and lots of trial and error — which is often the most effective way for me to learn.

We tore out all the landscaping in our first home and transformed our yard from THIS…


 And from THIS…


I learned so much during the 4 years we gardened at our old house. And now that we’re in our new house — with tons more land area — I’ve been itching to start doing a bunch of yard work.

However, since I’ve learned quite a bit about plants these past few years, I know that while I love planting, I don’t love all the maintenance involved in taking care of my plants — especially now with a baby and all the other projects we’re working on INSIDE our home.

Because of that, I’m focusing most of my planting efforts this year on perennials.

Why Perennials?

I love perennials because they come back year after year with little to no effort on my part. I also love that after a couple of years, they are usually big enough to split — which means I quickly get double and triple the number of plants for a very small initial investment.

If you are interested in starting a low-maintenance garden this spring/summer, here are some of my favorite low-maintenance perennials.

Here are five of my favorite low-maintenance SUN-loving perennials:

1. Lilies

Lilies have got to be the easiest plant to grow… ever! I’ve even tried to kill lilies in the past, but they just keep on growing. Plus, they multiply like crazy so it’s really easy to cover a large planting bed with these lovely blooms.

2. Sedum

I went a little crazy with Sedum at our old house… and recently introduced it around the mailbox at our new house. There are just so many different varieties, sizes, and colors of sedum — it’s hard NOT to go crazy. Especially since it needs very little water, it grows quickly, and its dried “flowers” look great all winter long too.

If you are unfamiliar with Sedum, you can see lots more pictures here.

photo source

3. Iris

I absolutely loved growing Iris at our old house (and was really sad to leave all my plant behind). They are excellent flowers for cut arrangements and they just look so beautiful — especially in large clumps.

4. Peonies

So many people told me peonies were hard to grow… but I’ve always had great success with hardly any effort. Plus the blooms look and smell fantastic!


5. Black-Eyed Susans

Personally, I feel like Black-Eyed Susans just scream “country farmhouse” to me — which is probably why I love them. I remember purchasing 3 small pots of these sweet yellow flowers from a greenhouse the first spring in our old house. Four years later, I had already split them several times to fill a large corner of our yard.


Here are five of my favorite low-maintenance SHADE-tolerant perennials:

1. Hostas

Hostas are probably the easiest type of shade perennial to grow — at least in my experience. They don’t get a great flower, but they have fantastic green/white/blueish foliage from early spring through late fall which makes them a great “filler plant” for your perennial beds.

2. Ferns

I LOVE ferns! We had a bunch at our old house but only 3 little “stray” ferns here at our new house. Again, they don’t have a flower, but their bright green foliage is so pretty, I don’t even miss the flower!

3. Hydrangeas

Hands down, hydrangeas are my all-time favorite flower… and we actually have a bunch on the North side of our house. I can’t wait to plant more!

So far, the only maintenance they’ve required is to trim the “old wood” and to cut off any dried blooms in the spring — but they usually don’t have many dried blooms left because I decorated with them during the winter.

4. Rhododendrons

We have two HUGE Rhododendron bushes outside our bedroom window and our nursery window so they are literally the first thing I see when I open our blinds every morning. They are in full bloom right now and absolutely stunning!

5. Columbine

Columbine was the very first “plant gift” I ever got. After we moved into our old house, a plant-savvy neighbor stopped by and gave me a small Columbine plant. I was amazed by how pretty it was when it bloomed and knew I wanted to incorporate more Columbine into our landscaping. I can’t wait to introduce it here at our new house!

So if you’re like me and love the LOOK of beautiful flowers without all the maintenance, try a few of  these perennials the next time you’re at the greenhouse!

What are your favorite low-maintenance perennials?


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Leave a comment


  1. Kimberly Norris


    Can crhysanthimum and hydrangeas take full sun all day?


    Andrea Reply:

    mums… yes. Hydrangeas… it depends on the type. They usually prefer at least some shade, but we have several Limelight hydrangeas that can tolerate full sun.

    Also, it depends on where you are located, what your climate is, and what your gardening “zone” is. You’ll probably want to look into all of this too.


  2. Ron Wagner


    Rose of Sharon, Janes Magnolia, and Forsythia have been the big winners for me. In other words they flourish even though my soil is mostly oak mold, and not the good soil I used to have in a normal Central Illinois property. We have 100 year old Burr Oaks, which create a lot of shade in most spots so I have to work around them, looking for the sunniest spots. Fruit trees are my other priority and I have fifteen young ones, most still in cages to protect against deer. The above are all low on the edible priority for deer also. The fruit trees need to be caged for deer protection though, as does the vegetable garden, except for tomatoes and potatos.


  3. Christina


    My list would look nearly identical! We too have just moved into a new house and are excited to see what is coming up around us. We had SOOOO many hostas at the last house but none here. I can’t wait to adopt some from my friends and bring them home! Thanks for your great advice.


  4. Claire


    I love flowering shrubs because you can bring some of them inside and force them as a sort of prelude to spring. My favorite was ornamental quince, in coral or red; pussy willow; forsythia; climbing hydrangea, one variety of which is evergreen; sweet autumn clematis. Also had weigela, mock orange and a lovely, early blooming buttercup winter hazel. Witch hazels provide color in off season. Edgeworthia or paper bush have 4-season interest and amazing fragrance. Camellias are gorgeous if planted in the proper conditions. In Portland, OR I saw varieties that grew as high as the roof line. Depending on your space, these may not even require pruning. A whole hedge-like row in spring has amazing visual impact.


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  6. Liz @ Love Grows Wild


    Thank you for sharing! I have never had much of a green thumb, but we’re moving into a new house and I can’t wait to get started planting some blooms! Low maintenance is perfect for me!


  7. Allison


    Hi Andrea! I really enjoy reading your blog. You’ve got great ideas. 🙂

    I live in the deep South and my favorite perennials for this part of the country are:

    agapanthus, amaryllis, day lilies, ferns, hostas (must put in deep shade!), hibiscus, salvia, snapdragons, echinacea, black-eyed susan, blue daze, calla lily, canna lily, blanket flower, blue plumbego, sunflowers, shasta daisy, gerber daisy, iris, to name a few!



  8. Debra Kapellakis


    I enjoyed this very much. thank you


  9. Jenni / Life from the Roof


    This was really really helpful. I think the first time I ever came to your site was from a link to the “top ten things we don’t spend money on,” and even then I was impressed by what you had done with your landscaping. We are in our first home (pseudo-owned – we rent, but it’s from our in-laws, so we have more freedom) and I have never done landscaping before, so I’m going to keep these in mind for what we could do. We have a hydrangea bush in our backyard, but it isn’t blooming right now. I’d love to do more in the front like you did to add some pep to the facade.

    It is amazing what can be accomplished in 4 years – thanks for sharing these pictures!


  10. Brooke


    As usual your before/after photos of your hardwork are incredibly inspirational (not to mention motivating!).
    I have a few questions regarding your first home.
    It is fairly similar in style to the home in which we are renting at the moment (and will be until summer 2013, when we believe we’ll be “ready” (is one every truly ready?) financially to purchase a home).
    However, with that said, even though this is not our forever home – nor even “our” home (another topic for another day, as I believe while we are living here, it is our home – and I enjoy taking care of it as if it really were our own home…), I like it to feel comfortable & be able to take pride in the home in which we are living. Of course, we don’t want to invest too much financially in things that we won’t be able to bring with us when we move.
    Having a nice yard & yes, some curb appeal is important to me.

    So – my question(s)….
    In your first home it looks like there was an “overhang” on the left side next to the garage (front of house). We have an “overhang”, and when we first moved into this home it was just filled with rocks, brush (looked gross), and it’s right next to the front door.
    The 1st summer we lived here (2010), we were able to convince (not without a TON of effort on our part) to at least have new bark put in. That looked great for the summer – yet, now coming upon 2 years later, the bark is done (we have a LOT of neighborhood cats who love to use this space as their litter box – yes, disgusting!).
    So – I’m fairly certain the landlords are not going to go for another dump of bark (& I’m thinking that is just a bad idea, with the cat situation anyways).
    Like I said, it has an overhang, is next to our front door, as well as next to the sidewalk leading to our front door & we have a big window in our living room directly above this “mess of an area”.
    Due to the overhang & location it gets very little sun – so planting prob isn’t an option.

    My thoughts have been to level out the bark that is there & using pavers – just make it into a “larger” front porch area – however, that goes against my husbands feelings of investing in a home that isn’t technically ours.
    Sorry this is so lengthy!
    Any help/suggestions/thoughts from you or any other readers would be SO APPRECIATED!
    This area has been a thorn in my side since the day we moved in & I’m just at a loss of what to do. I do know, that I can’t stand it being the neighborhood litter box any longer!


    Ann Reply:

    River rock would be an option but would cost $.
    You could plant myrtle or another creeping plant that thrives in shade to cover the area.
    If you pour vinegar in the area periodically, the cats will leave it alone.
    I wonder if you put down pavers if you could take them with you when you go?


    Brooke Reply:

    Ann –
    Thanks for the tip regarding vinegar. I have learned that vinegar, baking soda and olive oil can do just about anything! (alone, mixed together, etc.).
    We could potentially take the pavers with us, I’m sure… yet, I have no idea if we would need them at our new home. And… honestly, the owners of our home don’t seem to care much about the “curb” appeal of the house… so I had decided whatever we do (as we’ve GOT to do SOMETHING!) that it would stay with the house, for the next renters or buyers. We do have a Habitat for Humanity Re-hab Store close by, and I was thinking of stopping in over there, to see if they have any inexpensive pavers… and now, thinking to see if they have any river rock. As I know purchasing that retail, would be a bit too spendy.
    I’ve never thought of planting something. Honestly, I think the whole area would need to be resoiled ????? And, it is a fairly big area…. I think prob. approx. the size of what it looks like Andrea’s front (1st home) is/was.
    However, I’m open to anything at this point. I guess it’s now a matter of finding the supplies that are not too expensive, and of course, deciding what I’d like to go with… I do really like your idea of river rock… it would look really nice in the space.
    Thanks again!


    Demaroge Reply:

    You could try a small water-feature (the non-permanent kind,) or make it a decorative spot … like a small wheelbarrow, a milking bucket, a wagon wheel, a Gnome picnic area …. you get the idea. Just shop at your thrift stores a bit and see what you find that is your ‘style’ of creative.

    If it is a small enough area to dump rocks there; that would be better than the bark (it wouldn’t need replaced) and maybe you could even get the landlord to pitch in for it because it would be more permanent; especially if it would eliminate the litter box. Certainly they would want the litter box gone!

    Also ….. sometimes you can get plants from sweet neighbors (or even strangers!) who have plants they need to split. I have seen websites for people who have plants to share. Also, I have even just gone up and asked someone when I saw a huge area of Tiger Lilies and they were happy to give some if I did the work. (Those wouldn’t work in the shade but Star Lilies do.)


    Demaroge Reply:

    Oh, and the house may not be yours … but it IS your Home. 🙂


    Julie Reply:

    You could try planting hostas. Perhaps someone is willing to split theirs. They do fill in pretty fast. As far as soil goes,perhaps just add fresh soil and mix in the holes that you would plant. Just a thought. Another thought I just had was…google plants that cats don’t like and see if there are some inexpensive you could plant.


  11. Margaret


    Phlox is nice, especially the kind that grows about a foot and a half tall. They’re hardy, non-invasive and a pretty green plant with little flowers on top. And the greenery lasts from late spring to early fall. Creeping phlox is also good, but doesn’t grow well where I live. If you have something you want to cover up, turn to the Virginia Creepers. They grow like crazy. Pig squeal is a fun border plant, little pink flowers on a spike (a big version of hyacinths?). And I’ve had good luck with Delphiniums, although they can be a little finicky. Good luck!


  12. Melody


    I also love Lily of the Valley! They multiply and spread like crazy and look amazing with ferns!
    Also, what is the small pink plant in the corner of the picture with Sedum?


  13. Beth


    I have a row of hostas in front of our porch and I agree – they are so low maintenance and are great fillers! Plus after a couple years they are usually large enough to split and you can use them to fill in somewhere else without having to buy anything new!
    My very favorite flower is the hydrangea! My husband worked in landscaping and golf course maintenance for years when he was younger and knows a lot about how to treat the soil so you can get different color blooms. It all has to do with the pH (is what he tells me!).


    Demaroge Reply:

    Maybe giving your hydrangeas leftover (cooled!) coffee and/or coffee grounds would change the ph. Baking soda and vinegar have opposite ph values … but I don’t know if they would work. Just thinking ‘out loud’ here. 🙂


  14. KJ


    I love my irises and lilies… I also have chrysanthemums and gladiolus, both easy-care perennials.


  15. Heather


    Also LOVE hydrangeas! Did you know you can change the color of them by adding chemical to the soil? Pretty cool flower, I don’t know any other flowers you can change their color!

    One flower that I enjoy is Purple Coneflower. it is drought resistant and low maintenance! I have mine planted by my Black Eyed Susans and they really compliment each other!


    Demaroge Reply:

    Purple Coneflower is also known as Echinacea. it is gorgeous with the Susans! Love your combination, Heather!


  16. Lauren K.


    I have several of the ones you mentioned, in addition to azaleas (LOVE!), tulips and hyacinths. Those are all pretty low maintenance for me, plus they came with the yard!


  17. Julie @ The Family CEO


    I have many of the plants on your list. I especially love hostas. We have a huge tree line in our yard and were going to plant ground cover underneath, but we’ve decided on a ton of hostas instead.