Top 5 Scrumptious Shrubs for Lazy Gardeners

I’m a keen gardener but I’m also a lazy gardener. How does that work? I like to play in the garden rather than be a slave to it so my landscape designs rely heavily on easy care, no-fuss shrubs with outstanding foliage.

To earn their place in my garden they have to be drought tolerant, deer resistant, disease free and not require staking, feeding or pruning. Bonus marks if they have four season interest! A Tough order? You bet!

Here are the winners that meet ALL those criteria!

Spirea (Spiraea japonica cultivars)

Many spirea have this gorgeous copper color in spring

Many spirea have this gorgeous copper color in spring as well as great fall color

There are lots of reasons to love spirea – drought tolerance, copper color in spring, rosy new growth, great fall color. My favorite reason, however, is that I have the last laugh over the deer. You see these shrubs typically have clusters of pink flowers, which are nice enough but I  am really only interested in the foliage. So when deer nibble the flowers off they save me from deadheading and promote this colorful new growth! Works for me.

Magic Carpet is perhaps the best known cultivar (pictured here) but there are many others. I especially like Double Play Big Bang (Spiraea japonica ‘Tracy’) which seems to hold its color better, and which also provides the deer with extra large flowers.

USDA zones: 4 to 9 (find your zone)
Water: Average – low
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide
Why I love it:  drought tolerant when established, deer resistant-ish!! and outstanding foliage color
Seasonal interest: Spring, summer and fall

Old Fashioned smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Old Fashioned’)

IMG_6650

I haven’t met a smoke bush I didn’t like but this one is special; just look at that gorgeous blue-green foliage. Burgundy veins, creamy white flowers and orange fall color round out the scrumptious factor for Old Fashioned

USDA zones: 5 to 10 (find your zone)
Water: Average – low
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide
Why I love it: Cut flowers, drought tolerant when established, deer resistant (my deer nibbled it the first year but have ignored it since)
Seasonal interest: Spring, summer and fall

Orange Rocket barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’)

Orange Rocket barberry makes a stunning color combo with the red tipped switch grass 'Shenandoah'

Orange Rocket barberry makes a stunning color combo with the red tipped switch grass  ‘Shenandoah’

When voracious deer roam your garden you stop being a plant snob. You worry less about about a plants pedigree than you do about its longevity. That is why you’ll find an assortment of barberries throughout my garden.

My top barberry pick is Orange Rocket for its appealing columnar shape and ruby foliage which turns citrus orange in fall. I’ve used it in containers with Tropicanna Gold canna and love it in the garden paired with Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) shown above.

USDA zones: 4 to 9 (find your zone)
Water: Low
Light requirement: Full sun for best color
Mature size: 4 1/2 feet tall and 1 1/2  feet wide
Why I love it: drought tolerant, deer resistant, good for containers, in small spaces or as a vertical accent
Seasonal interest: Spring, summer and fall

Goshiki false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’)

IMG_6642

Prickly as a hedgehog, this holly look-alike adds great color to the garden while thwarting the deer. Its evergreen spiny leaves are mottled green and gold with the new growth being a warm rose tone.

Buy these in smaller sizes to incorporate into your container designs then transplant into the garden. Mine have even survived a large tree branch falling on them, new growth quickly filling in the rather sad bare patch.

Even though I did not water my shrubs once this summer, they still look fabulous. A great primp-free shrub.

USDA zones: 6 to 9 (find your zone)
Water: Average – Low
Light requirement: Full sun or part shade
Mature size: 3-5 feet tall and 4 feet wide but can be pruned to keep shorter if you’ve nothing else to do
Why I love it: drought tolerant, deer resistant, good for containers, makes an attractive low hedge, evergreen
Seasonal interest: year round

Parney’s cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus)

Robins love to feast on these Cotoneaster berries

Robins love to feast on these Cotoneaster berries

If you’ve a big space to fill this arching shrub may be just what you need with its long arching canes, silver-backed evergreen foliage and clusters of white summer flowers followed by glossy red berries. Come February you will be ‘Robin Central’ as word gets out that your garden has the best treats.

Deer did nibble one of my three bushes when first planted – the one that was most convenient to their ‘freeway’, but haven’t bothered since. I have these planted in terrible clay soil that stays moist most of the year and they are thriving. I have not watered them once since they were planted two years ago!

USDA zones: 7 to 10 (find your zone)
Water: Average –  Low
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 8 feet tall and 8  feet wide but can be pruned/whacked as needed
Why I love it: drought tolerant, deer resistant, birds love the berries, summer flowers
Seasonal interest: year round

What’s your favorite stress-free shrub with a major scrumptious factor?

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4 thoughts on “Top 5 Scrumptious Shrubs for Lazy Gardeners

  1. Jim

    The Barberry Switchgrass combo is drop dead gorgeous. I wonder if Orange Rocket Barberry would go well next to Little Bluestem Standing Ovation? While it’s bluegreen in summer, I think it changes to shades of orange in fall. I shoudld give that a try! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Michael Crawford

    Love the color of the spirea and I have been wanting a barberry for the color, the Orange Rocket barberry is fabulous!!!! Thank you for the suggestions and beautiful pictures!

    Reply

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