In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
January, 2011
Regional Report

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Daylilies are among the most rugged and low maintenance perennial flowers.

Are There No-Maintenance Plants?

Every now and then a caller or audience participant will ask me for a no-maintenance plant. This individual is generally not a gardener, because every gardener, except perhaps the very newest, knows that there is some sort of commitment required to grow a plant. As you may know from my books, you have to think like a plant to be successful in growing it. Usually when people refer to no maintenance, they really mean low maintenance. And I can understand with our busy schedules of rushing here and there to get things done, there's little time left to garden.

Gardening, like much of life, is not a one-way relationship. If a plant is to provide us beauty or yield a bountiful harvest, we must in turn provide it with the basics to grow. This includes the right light (sun, part sun, shade, etc.), soil that is adequate, water and nutrients as needed, and compatible plant companions.

Are there no-maintenance plants to help those making such a request? In my 30 or so years of hosting "Gardening with an Altitude" I have yet to discover any true no-maintenance plants, unless it is the "plastic" or "silk" kinds. But even those need an occasional brushing or hosing down to remove the dust!

There are those plants, however, that clearly do require less maintenance than others. There are plants in my garden and those of my family that are true survivors, and which I consider low maintenance. I will mention a few that have, over the years, needed the minimum of care. Just keep in mind that while the geography of Colorado and its climate have affected my choices, most of the plants can be widely grown in every part of the region except the driest and highest elevations (above 8,000 feet).

Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) have a good track record for low maintenance. There are literally hundreds of cultivars to choose from, so study up on the ones best suited to your area. Check with gardeners in your area to discover kinds that are most dependable. Sometimes daylilies are overused in borders, resulting in a crowded mass and poor flowering. Contrary to conventional wisdom, some attention is needed during the bloom period to provide the best appearance, for spent blooms will cling to the stalks giving a ragged look if not deadheaded.

Durable bearded irises (Iris germanica) are among my favorite low maintenance perennials, even though they don't bloom for long, can be plagued by borers, and do best with periodic division and replanting. Siberian irises (Iris sibirica), however, are resistant to insect invasions. They tolerate moist soil conditions at a pond's edge or in a sunny border setting. Their bloom period is limited to a week or two, but the narrow foliage alone is an asset to the garden and makes wonderful sounds in a breeze. Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis), with large, grayish-green, maple-like foliage and delicate chartreuse flowers makes an attractive companion with Siberian irises.

These are only a few starter suggestions, but you can discover more in my book, Rocky Mountain Gardener's Guide (Cool Springs Press). Now is a great time to plan ahead, so you'll be less busy with garden maintenance. But not, unfortunately, no maintenance!


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