The best low maintenance shrubs for your garden

Low maintenance shrubs: 18 choices for your garden

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Whether you’re putting in a brand-new shrub bed or planting more shrubs into an existing landscape, low maintenance shrubs are a must-have for today’s time-starved homeowners. They offer beautiful natural plant forms that require little to no pruning, are pest and disease resistant, bloom reliably, and are tolerant of different growing conditions. Some are evergreen while others offer colorful blooms, but all low maintenance shrubs require little care beyond making sure they are well watered until they’re established in their new home.

Low maintenance shrubs for the landscape

Below are profiles of 18 of my favorite low maintenance shrubs for home gardens. Each has its own merits, and I’ve separated them into categories based on their most noteworthy traits. As a professional horticulturist, I’ve worked with may shrubs over the years, and these easy-care selections are among my personal favorites.

Early spring-flowering low maintenance shrubs

Weigela is a great low maintenance flowering shrub.

Weigela is a great low maintenance flowering shrub the hummingbirds adore.

Weigela: Weigela florida and hybrids

A deciduous native of China, weigela is a real garden stand out, known for its prolific bloom production and easy nature. Hardy to -30 degrees F, weigela reaches 6 to 10 feet in height with am9 to 12-foot spread. Pink tubular blooms that attract hummingbirds appear from April to June. Prune weigelas as soon as the plant is finished flowering as it blooms on branches grown the previous season. Full sun is best but weigela will tolerate some shade. It’s remarkably pest and disease free. Some varieties have wine-red foliage or variegated foliage. The lovely arching growth habit when the shrubs are mature means little to no pruning is required. Compact varieties include ‘Variegata Nana’, ‘My Monet’, ‘Spilled Wine’, ‘Minuet’ and ‘Dark Horse’, among many others.

Dwarf Korean lilacs are an easy are shrub.

Dwarf Korean lilacs offer fragrant spring blooms and a compact habit.

Dwarf Korean lilac: Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’

A deciduous shrub that’s hardy to -40 degrees F, this lovely easy care shrub reaches a max height of 4 to 5 feet, with a spread of 5 to 7 feet. Pale pink to purple flower clusters appear in April, May, and June, are slightly fragrant, and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Full sun provides the best flowering, but Korean lilacs will tolerate partial shade. Prune immediately after flowering, if you have to prune at all. Deadheading the spent flowers keeps the plant looking clean and may improve flowering the following year. Slow growing, compact and rounded, this species is not known to grow in the wild, but rather was found growing in a garden in China and then vegetatively propagated for sale in the nursery trade. A stellar low maintenance flowering shrub!

Mid-spring flowering shrubs

Smokebushes are excellent choices for low maintenance landscapes

Smokebushes come in green and red-leaved varieties. Their wispy spent flower heads look like smoke on the plant.

Smokebush: Cotinus coggygrai

Smokebush is a distinctive deciduous shrub that’s hardy to -20 degrees F. It reaches a height of 10 to 15 feet with an equal spread. The blooms appear in May through July and are wispy clusters of yellow flowers that turn into fluff when they are spent. They look frothy and smoke-like, giving these low maintenance shrubs their common name. Full to partial sun is preferred. The foliage can be bluish-green or wine-red colored, depending on the cultivar. Smokebush are deer resistant, though you should avoid poorly drained soils. Prune this native of Europe and Asia in early spring as needed. If you’re looking for a dwarf cultivar that doesn’t need to be pruned and stays smaller, look for ‘Lilla’ or Winecraft Black.

A selection of low maintenance shrubs for the garden.

Virginia sweetspire is a North American native shrub that requires very little care.

Virginia sweetspire: Itea virginica

I love this deciduous shrub that’s native to Eastern North America. I have three of them in my front garden. Hardy to -20 degrees F and reaching a height of 3 to 5 feet with equal spread, sweetspire blooms in May and June. The flowers are draping panicles of white blooms that smother the plant. Sweetspire prefers full sun to partial shade. It’s best to prune these low maintenance shrubs just after the plant is finished blooming in late spring or early summer. Sweetspire tolerates “wet feet”, making this low maintenance shrub a perfect fit for low-lying areas or rain gardens. To add the icing to the cake, the blooms are fragrant, and sweetspire offers brilliant red foliage in the autumn. It has a rounded growth habit with arching branches and no disease or pest problems. Plus, it’s deer resistant. Compact forms include ‘Little Henry’ and ‘Merlot’.

Summer flowering low maintenance shrubs

Spirea is a spring-flowering easy-care shrub.

Japanese spirea produces flat-topped bloom clusters and requires very little maintenance.

Japanese spirea: Spiraea japonica

A deciduous native of Asia, Japanese spirea is hardy to -40 degrees F. It tops out at a height of 4 to 6 feet, with a spread of 5 to 7 feet. Flat-topped clusters of pink blooms appear in June and July in full sun. These low maintenance shrubs are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. Prune the plant back just after it blooms for a second flush of flowers. Heavier pruning should occur in late winter to early spring when this shrub can be cut all the way back to the ground every few years to keep the plant’s lovely form intact. It’s one of my favorite summer blooming low maintenance shrubs. Compact varieties include ‘Goldflame’, ‘Golden Elf’, ‘ Lil’ Flirt’, and Double Play Candy Corn, among many others.

Oakleaf hydrangeas are among the most reliable bloomers.

Oakleaf hydrangeas are my favorite hydrangea, producing large cone-shaped blooms.

Oakleaf hydrangea: Hydrangea quercifolia

A deciduous shrub that is native to the Southeastern United States, the oakleaf hydrangea is one of the most easy-care, low maintenance shrubs available to gardeners. It has large, cone-shaped clusters of white flowers in early summer that eventually fade to pink. The height is 6 to 8 feet with an equal spread. Oakleaf hydrangea thrives in full sun to full shade and is very showy. In the autumn, the large oak leaf-shaped leaves turn beautiful shades of orange, red, and purple. It does great in moist soils, but average garden soil will do. Prune only immediately after blooming, though I suggest not pruning at all. This is a reliable bloomer unless extreme winter temperatures kill the buds. Dwarf varieties include ‘Ruby Slippers’, ‘Pee Wee’, and ‘Munchkin’.

Clethra is one of many low maintenance shrubs

Clethra produces white blooms in mid-summer. It’s tough as nails in thrives in wet and dry soils.

Summersweet clethra: Clethra alnifolia

A deciduous shrub native to the Eastern US and hardy to -30 degrees F, these low maintenance shrubs reach a height of 3 to 8 feet with a spread of 4 to 6 feet. Upright and slender panicles of white to pink flowers appear in July and August. Summersweet clethra thrives in full sun to part shade and tolerates both average and wet soils. If pruning is needed, do so in the late winter. The dense branches are smothered in blooms that are attractive to butterflies and bees. A great choice for shade if summer color is needed. Dwarf cultivars include ‘Hummingbird’, ‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘White Dove’, and ‘Crystalina’, among others.

Shrub roses require little care.

Shrub roses are prolific bloomers that are disease and pest resistant.

Shrub roses: Rosa species and cultivars

There are many types of shrub roses that are considered to be low maintenance shrubs. Most shrub roses reach between 3 and 4 feet tall with an equal spread and offer non-stop blooms. You may recognize some varieties by their trade names, including the popular Knock Out series. Others, such as rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) are a specific species. Some of my favorites include ‘Bubbilicious’, ‘Snowcone’, and ‘Simplicity’. All shrub roses are easy-care, hardy, and produce prolific blooms with little care required. Most are pest and disease resistant and bloom in summer. Shrub roses prefer full sun, though some require as little as 3 to 4 hours. Pruning is best done in spring, though removing the spent flowers throughout the bloom period encourages the production of more blooms.

Annabelle hydrangeas are a top-performing hydrangea for the garden.

‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas bloom on new wood, making them reliable bloomers whose buds never freeze out.

Annabelle hydrangea: Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

‘Annabelle’ is a deciduous shrub that’s among the most reliable bloomers in the hydrangea world. Also called a smooth hydrangea, this North American native is hardy to -40 degrees F. It blooms in June through September, offering huge foot-wide balls of white flowers that fade to light pink or green as the season progresses. ‘Annabelle’ blooms on new wood so there’s no worry about the buds freezing out. Pruning should take place in the late winter or early spring. Cut the plant back to a height of 12 to 18 inches to promote good plant form. Tolerant of both wet and dry soil, ‘Annabelle’ tops out at 3 to 4 feet in height with a slightly wider spread. Partial shade is best as the plant will wilt in full sun.

In the world of low maintenance shrubs, bottlebrush buckeye is a top pick.

The elongated bloom spikes of bottlebrush buckeyes make a huge statement in the garden.

Bottlebrush buckeye: Aesculus parviflora

Bottlebrush buckeye is a deciduous shrub native to the Southeastern United States. It’s easily hardy to -20 degrees F and makes a stunning specimen or hedge plant. Wide spreading, at 8 to 15 feet, with a height of 8 to 12 feet, these low maintenance shrubs are in full glory in June and July. Upright spires of white flowers that reach 12 or more inches in length, rise above the foliage in a spectacular show. Occasionally, the flowers are followed by buckeye nuts, but they don’t often occur. The fall foliage color of the bottlebrush buckeye is a bright yellow. The plant has no common pest or disease issues. It’s best to prune this plant just after it flowers, but no pruning is preferred.

Winter flowering low maintenance shrubs

Vernal witch hazel is a great shrub for winter flowers.

Vernal witch hazel blooms in the winter, when few other shrubs are in flower.

Vernal or Ozark witch hazel: Hamamelis vernalis

Witch hazels are really cool low maintenance shrubs, with different species and hybrids blooming at different times. My favorites are the vernal witch hazels because they bloom at a time when few other plants are blooming, anytime between mid-January and mid-March in my Pennsylvania garden. Natives of North America, vernal witch hazels have a beautiful spicy fragrance, and their yellow, thread-like petals stand out on bare branches. The fall foliage color is lovely, too. They’re hardy to -30 degrees F and reach a height of 6 to 10 feet. Hamamelis virginiana is another common species that blooms in the autumn and is a native of North America.

Chinese paperbush bears yellow flowers in winter but needs a warm climate to survive the winter.

Chinese paperbush bears yellow flowers in winter and is easy to take care of if you live in a warm climate.

Chinese paperbush: Edgeworthia chrysantha

A spectacular winter-blooming shrub, paperbush produces round clusters of bright yellow flowers from February through April. The plant tolerates full sun to partial shade and reaches a height and spread of 4 to 6 feet. The showy winter interest of these low maintenance shrubs makes them much desired. Hardy only to 0 degrees F, keep paperbush in a protected site where it can receive some shade where summers are hot. Native to Asia, the flowers appear on bare stems and are followed by medium green leaves that are gray-green beneath.

18 Low maintenance shrubs for the garden

Maejima daphne’s flowers are unbelievably fragrant and lovely.

Maejima daphne: Daphne odora ‘Maejima’

Daphnes are known for their amazing fragrance and this variety is no exception. A semi-dwarf selection that offers variegated foliage and rose-pink flower clusters is a winter bloomer that is both evergreen and reliable. It’s best for warm climates as it’s only hardy to 0 degrees F. A cultivar of a native plant of Europe and Asia, Maejima daphne tops out at just 3 feet in height. This plant requires little to no pruning.

Low maintenance shrubs with decorative berries

Possumhaw is an easy to care for shrub that produces colorful berries.

Possumhaw is an easy to care for shrub that produces colorful berries.

Possumhaw: Viburnum nudum

If you’re looking for low maintenance shrubs with fall and winter interest, possumhaw is an excellent choice. A deciduous shrub that blooms in April and May, possumhaw is known for its beautiful fall berries that are pink to deep blue, with both colors often appearing at the same time. Thriving in full sun to partial shade, this shrub is attractive to birds and pollinators. Hardy to -20 degrees F and reaching a height of 5 to 12 feet tall with an equal spread, possumhaw has very few pests and requires little to no pruning. Planting multiple specimens results in better berry production. Native to the Eastern US. A good compact variety is Brandywine which reaches a max height of 6 feet. Another excellent choice is ‘Winterthur’.

The best shrubs that require minimal care.

The striking berries of beautyberry cling to the branches throughout the winter.

Beautyberry: Callicarpa americana

The American beautyberry has so much going for it! Not only are these low maintenance shrubs pest free, they have a lovely arching form that requires little to no pruning. Native to the US and hardy to -20 degrees F, beautyberries reach 3 to 6 feet in height and girth. The small pink flowers are followed by a spectacular show of bright purple berries that persist well into winter and attract birds. Full sun to partial shade is best. In northern growing zones, the plant may die back to the ground in winter, but since the flowers and berries are produced on new wood, it will flower later that same season. Pruning is best done in early spring. More compact varieties include ‘Early Amethyst’, ‘Pearl Glam’, and ‘Issai’.

Landscape shrubs that require minimal care.

Rockspray cotoneaster produces small red berries and looks great splayed out over a retaining wall.

Rockspray Cotoneaster: Cotoneaster horizontalis

If you’re looking for low growing, low maintenance shrubs, rockspray is great fit. Native to Asia, rockspray cotoneaster is hardy to -20 degrees F, stays low to the ground (2 to 3 feet in height), and spreads wide. The blooms appear in spring and are followed by showy red berries. A widely adaptable plant that can tolerate both drought and poor soils, it requires very little pruning. It’s slow growing and has horizontal branching. In southern regions, it’s semi-evergreen. The berries are attractive to birds. The main downside of this shrub is its tendency to have issues with lacebugs. Still, I consider it low maintenance and a great choice for areas where low growth is desired.

Evergreen low maintenance shrubs

Looking for bushes the require very little care? Here are 18 selections.

Goldthread cypress is an ideal evergreen for low maintenance areas.

Goldthread cypress: Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’

These evergreen low maintenance shrubs are quite common in modern landscapes. Their yellow-green needles offer interest all year long. Hardy to -30 degrees F, goldthread cypress is a semi-dwarf evergreen shrub with a natural cone shape. It’s slow growing and has thread-like, yellow branches that weep. Unlike its parent species which can grow to 50 feet or more in its native Asian range, this cultivar slowly grows 15 to 20 feet tall but can be pruned to stay more compact. It performs best in full sun but will tolerate some shade, though the growth will be sparser. The natural growth habit of this shrub means no pruning is necessary.

No pruning required for these great shrubs.

Inkberry is a North American native plant that requires little to no pruning and is evergreen.

Inkberry holly: Ilex glabra

This broadleaf evergreen is native to North America and is an excellent foundation plant. The dark green, glossy leaves cling to the branches year-round. Non-descript spring blooms are followed by dark blue berries. Thriving in full sun to partial shade, inkberries hit a height and spread of 5 to 8 feet. They are adaptable, and like all hollies, the plants are either female or male. In order to see the berries, you’ll need to plant one male for every 5 female shrubs. Pruning is best done in early spring, though they generally need no pruning at all unless you’re growing them as a hedge. Some excellent cultivars include ‘Shamrock’, ‘Compacta’, ‘Gem Box’, and ‘Strongbox’.

The best low maintenance shrubs

There are, of course, many other low maintenance shrubs to choose from, but these are tops in my book. I find the selections listed above to be among the most easy-care selections available for homeowners. I hope you find some of them to be a good fit for your landscape.

For more information on growing great shrubs, please read the following articles:
Shrubs for pollinators
The best compact evergreen shrubs
Spring flowering shrubs
Colorful shrubs for summer blooms
Shade-tolerant flowering shrubs

18 of the best low maintenance shrubs for the garden

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