Maintenance-Free Gardens

This time of year blooms are pretty scarce in my gardens.  As I prepare my clients’ garden beds for the fast-approaching winter, I take note (mentally) which perennials are best for maintenance-free gardens.  That feature is in great demand for busy gardeners.

Heucheras are one of these.  They look great all year, even after the first few touches of frost turn other perennial stalks and leaves to mush.  They are absolutely perfect for maintenance-free gardens in the fall and require next to nothing in the spring.  Remove any crispy leaves and they are good to go.  I particularly love the dark burgundy colored varieties, but there are many others, including rusty orange and chartreuse. More and more I am using them as edging plants in my gardens…

zone 4,5

Other (almost) maintenance-free perennials include the ornamental grasses that are so popular today.  One of the reasons they are so popular is the fact that cutting them back to the ground first thing in the spring before new growth appears is the only maintenance required.  Another reason for their popularity is the growing number of gorgeous varieties available.  Remember though to check tags for their hardiness before purchasing. Here are just a few…

blue oat grass

Although sedges look like they belong in the ornamental grass family, they don’t.  They are grass-like in appearance and grow in tufts, especially well in wet marshy areas.  Unlike the ornamental grasses, they don’t do well in the hot dry conditions of full sunspots in your garden.  They do however look great in shadier spots and tolerate part sun conditions.  Remaining green all year, they are maintenance-free.  Another bonus is that they are very easy (unlike the ornamental grasses) to divide and move around.  So easy in fact that I have even used them in winter containers with evergreen boughs.

maintenance free

Although roses are not completely maintenance-free, the newest varieties are pretty close.  Some don’t need any pruning (shrub roses) and others need only minor pruning after the last frost date in spring.  Many of the newest varieties bloom all summer long too.  Shrub roses do not need winter protection and many are hardy to zone 2!  To protect other hardy roses I mound soil around the base/crown of the plant after the ground freezes.  This prevents damage from freeze and thaw cycles through the winter.

Take your pick.  Most of these perennials pictured here are relatively maintenance-free.  Just what busy garden lovers want.

Drought tolerant perennials

Drought tolerant perennials are popular these days, especially with those of you in the midst of a heatwave as we are here in Ontario. 

Irrigation Systems

Even if you have an irrigation system, these hardy perennials should be a staple in your garden to avoid wasting your money on plants and water.  Just be sure to place the hoses or plants (whichever you install last) strategically.  For example, ornamental grasses do not appreciate wet feet.  In fact, the quickest way to kill them off is to overwater them.

Read the Labels or Research to Find Drought Tolerant Plants

One way to determine if plants (annuals or perennials) are drought resistant is to read the labels at the nurseries or stores where you purchase your plants. Some (larger) nurseries even have separate drought-tolerant sections to make your search easier. I have discovered asking nursery staff which plants are suitable is hit and miss.

Another, more proactive, plan is to research drought-resistant plants hardy to your garden zone before you head out the door to shop for plants.

Here are a few of my favourite outstanding perennials that I rely on in my gardens for hot summer color:

  • lavender
  • Russian sage
  • ornamental grasses
  • tickseed
  • stonecrop and sedum, available in multiple colors, great for hot borders
  • daisies

If you haven’t already, consider adding some to your gardens. Just be sure to wait until the heatwave is over to do so!

Spring Garden Clean-Up in Ottawa (zone 4 or 5)

As soon as this last storm is over, you can get started cleaning up your gardens in the Ottawa area.  I refer to Ottawa as zone 4 or 5 because it depends on which part of Ottawa you live in, as well as which direction your gardens face.   I live up on the hill in the suburb of Kanata, where my front garden faces south and is sheltered by my garage and house, allowing for plants hardy to zone 5.   My back and side gardens face north and east, where I have to stick with plants hardy to zone 4.

I spent a few hours earlier this week cleaning up my front garden, as it  has been free of snow for a while now.  The following is a list of the things you can do to clean up the perennials in your garden when the snow disappears,  even though the temperature is still on the cool side:

-cut back perennial ornamental grasses to the ground (this should be done BEFORE new growth starts).

-give tufted grasses (blue fescue, sedges, blue oat grass etc) a haircut, shearing back to approximately 3 inches from the ground, removing any loose and dry foliage.

-remove  all stems and leaves from  perennials such as coneflowers, hostas, euphorbia, daylilies, sedum, and black eyed susans, cutting them back to their base. (they should be dry and brittle, coming off in your hand).

-remove only the old large leaves and stems from semi-evergreen perennials such as heuchera and hellebores,  leaving small leaves at the plant center intact.

-cut back woody perennials such as artemsia, salvia, russian sage and lavender to 6 inches from base.

-prune/trim most roses (except for shrub type that bloom only once; wait until after they have bloomed), as well as sandcherries,  spirea, dogwoods, smokebushes, burning bushes,  euonymus, and some hydrangeas (PG type only, the rest should wait until summer)   Remove all crossing, diseased or damaged branches.   To shape or control size, cut back one quarter of old stems to where they meet the central branch or right  back to the ground if need be.  Then cut all remaining stems back to one half their length.  If new growth shoots up too quickly and gets out of shape in summer, cut off the tips.

-empty any pots/containers you had annuals in, dumping the soil into a large garbage can or bucket.   Add some peat moss and compost to the bucket, and stir it up.  This soil can now be used for your containers this summer.  While your pots are empty, clean them out with soapy water and air dry until you are ready to fill them again.  Unfortunately, you will have to wait until mid/late May for that.

Even though it is miserable out today in the Ottawa area, with freezing rain and snow pelting my window, next week promises to bring better gardening weather….


Loreeebee is the mother of three sons, residing in Kanata, Ontario, Canada.  She is the proud owner of GARDENS4U, and spends most of her time designing, planting, and restoring gardens.  Her other interests include reading and writing.  Please check out her website at