Study up between planting seasons. Scan the seed catalogs for bulletproof plants that anyone with the blackest of thumbs can grow.
“Start small,” said Claire Watson, Wave brand manager for Ball Horticultural Co. in West Chicago, Ill. “Whether it’s a vegetable garden or flowers, don’t give in to taking on too much, too soon. A few small successes will give you the confidence to expand – or at least you’ll realize your limits.”
“The right plant for the right place” may be a gardening cliché, but it’s an accurate one. So, too, is the caution, “Know your (USDA plant hardiness) zone.”
“Like humans, plants will perish without water and food,” Watson said. “So plants that can survive the stress of missing a few waterings, or can withstand poor soils and extreme weather, are the ones to look for.”
Some proven low-maintenance varieties include:
• Shrubs: hydrangea (paniculata “Levana”), spiraea (japonica “Norman”) and butterfly bush (Buddleia “Miss Molly”).
• Perennials: Coneflowers (“Cheyenne Spirit,” ‘‘Som-brero”), hosta (“Sun and Substance”) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida “Goldsturm”).
• Bulbs, rhizomes and tubers: Canna lilies (“Whithelm Pride”) and daylilies (“Lilting Belle”) can endure a variety of challenging conditions.
• Annuals: Dragon Wing red begonia (full sun to full shade), zinnias (“Profusion” and “Zahara”), angelonia (“Serena,” which is deer- and rabbit-resistant) and Cool Wave pansies. “Plant them in the fall and they’ll bloom until the snow flies,” Watson said of the pansies. “Then, they’ll re-bloom to be your first pop of color in the spring.”
• Succulents and cac-ti: agave (Parryi truncata “Mescal”), sedum (Sarmentosum “Yellow Moss”) and yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora “Texas Red”).
• Vegetables: Malibar spinach and okra (Clemson Spineless for heat tolerance); Brussels sprouts, garlic, leeks and parsnips for cold hardiness. “Those veggies are so cold-tolerant that they can be left in the garden and allowed to freeze outright,” said Robert Polomski, an extension consumer horticulturist with Clemson University. Herbs (rosemary), lettuce, beans and peppers also are forgiving.
• Indoor plants: The aptly named cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) and Grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia) display striking foliage. The easy-care wax plant (Hoya carnosa “Variegata”) produces attractive flowers. “I’ve accidentally allowed these plants to experience extended drought periods and they’ve always come back for me,” Polomski said.