Outdoor landscaping is one of those projects that can seem completely over your head if you’ve never done it yourself before. Maybe you’re moving from an apartment to a home with a yard, you’ve leased or purchased previously owned homes that were fully landscaped when you arrived, or maybe a new home that was landscaped as part of the builder package. Whatever the case, updating an existing landscape or recreating a look to be more “YOU” can seem like a pretty scary task if you don’t have a green thumb. Well today I am going to share my own experience with what I think are the Best Plants for DIY Landscaping, and plants that last with less stress for you for the long haul.
My husband and I seem to have a few go-to plants that have made their presence at almost every home we have lived in. Why so predictable? Because they are easy to maintain, last through the seasons, and build a great foundation for landscaping looks. Now that doesn’t mean we plant once and never touch the yard again, but we don’t find ourselves replacing a whole yard every season. THE KEY is to leave small designated areas in key focal points to change things out periodically, and build a surrounding foundation with other plants you can trust to do their job year-round.
So, let’s talk FOUNDATION plants first…
By foundation, I mean plants that are like your makeup foundation – the base you work with all the time. These are plants that last year round, only need occasional trimming, and require little special care. Here’s some of my favorites:
I am a big fan of Plum Delight for 3 reasons:
- I love the gorgeous “plum” color contrast against other greenery
- It blooms a small bright pink flower for an extra pop of color
- All you have to do is give it some water
Seriously, this plant is super easy. I love this plant as the first or back layer of tiered landscaping (closest to the house) since the color is striking against almost any paint or brick color, and it fills in nicely over time. Put bright greens in front of it, and it’s just a stunning contrast.
Now, you knew this would show up in my list. There’s a reason it’s in my blog name – it’s one of my all time favorite plants in every form. Boxwood comes in a variety of plant versions and sizes and you will always find the best plants for your area at your local greenhouse. I like it most for 2nd tier planting, bordering sidewalks and patios, and potting for manicured plants.
Why I love boxwood so much:
- Looks great at all stages of growth from new plantings to aged growth
- Can be shaped in various forms from square to rounded
- Can be spaced wider for individual plants, or closer together to create a full sculptured hedge
- Looks great in individual pots as well – so perfect for patios and small yards
- Tolerant to a variety of soils and moisture levels
This is one of the most versatile plants you can work with really, and it’s very forgiving. Other than watching for the occasional “watering” by the local dog, it stands up to most anything. If you have a lot of dogs that walk your sidewalk, or a leg-lifter in your own backyard, I DON’T suggest boxwood on “corner” areas or endcaps that are easy access for dogs. Dog urine will kill off branches on your plants as if you poured bleach on it.
Liriope comes in several varieties from bright green to dark green, but my favorite is Variegated Liriope because of it’s contrasting green and white stripes. Against my first 2 choices above, you get to add yet another contrasting color and height level. As it matures, even more of the white appears.
It’s a favorite plant because:
- Plant it and forget about it
- Pretty purple bloom stalks come up for added color
- Great for spot plantings in flower beds or full edgings along sidewalks, edging the driveway or up the path to the door
- Even works well in pots for extended periods of time
In my “don’t go all green” philosophy, variegated liriope stands out as a lighter/white plant, even in seasons when all your flowers have died off and all you are left with on your other plants are green leaves.
Wow, what can I say about Succulents except that I ADORE them. I’m sure you have seen them in cute little pots and terrariums, but did you know certain varieties LOVE being in your yard? You would be amazed at their self propagating ability in some good soil with a little water and lots of sunlight, and the variety of colors and shapes are endless. They are like nature’s origami.
A couple of my favorites for their easy care and tolerance to most climates:
Both of the above succulents come in a variety of colors and textures from gray, to bright green, to purple. There is even a sedum that turns a lovely pale blue color.
Why I adore succulents:
- Self propogating (will spawn new growth) when given room in more open areas and pots
- Tolerant to hot sunny summers
- Great for ground, pots and hanging baskets
- So many color varieties to work with
The Iris is another favorite for me for a variety of landscape uses. Because they tend to grow in clumps, Irises are great for “punctuating” areas such as the end of your sidewalk. spaces between trees in a central bed, or in urns or pots due to their height and fullness. They come in a variety of flower colors and sizes, and come back year after year all on their own.
Here’s what I love most about the Iris:
- Flowers repeatedly throughout Spring and Summer
- Tolerant to heat and cold, and moist or dry soil
- Fill in quickly with long, sword shaped leaves
- Requires little maintenance other than the occasional trim of dead or discolored leaves as needed
- Come back year after year
Finally, a few tips from a DIY landscaper that’s had success with 6 different yards now:
- Don’t go ALL the same shade of green! Plants come in a variety of textures and shapes, but if they are all the same basic shade of green, it all looks the same from the street. You’ve got to add variety in your color scheme. Choose lime greens against dark greens, add some white or plum, and if you choose, add some flowers here and there.
- Choose a good mulch and maintain the mulch in your beds every year. Plant roots need protection from the elements of every season no matter how hardy they are. I personally like the contrast of black mulch in my beds, but mulch comes in a variety of colors from brown to red to black.
- Don’t go crazy and plant huge amounts of flowers unless you want to spend a lot of money and a lot of time maintaining and replacing them. As you can see from my choices above, I focus on evergreen plants that will look great all year round. Don’t get me wrong, I love flowers, but we only use them in small areas as little pops of seasonal color that we don’t mind leaving empty come freeze time. Plus several of my evergreen choices above flower throughout the year, so I am not without the extra color.
- Don’t spend a fortune trying to buy fully grown plants and lots of them, unless you can actually afford to go that route. Plants GROW! Yes, it may look better in the 10 gallon pot size vs. the 5 gallon, but is it worth twice the price to not just wait as little as 3-6 months for growth in some cases?
- Don’t spend extra for the pre-manicured plants when you can do it yourself and save the money. This is especially true with boxwood. Growers will often display nicely shaped plants right next to the natural growth plants to make them look more appealing. They cost MORE. 5 minutes with some plant clippers and you could have the same thing with more money left in your pocket (and a sense of accomplishment to go with it.)
There are LOTS of great plants out there that look great in a variety of landscape settings. I just wanted to give you my insight on 5 plants I find to be nearly foolproof in a variety of climates, and that make great foundation plants for your yard.
I hope my Best Plants for DIY Landscaping tips can help you achieve the look you want with a little DIY spirit. Each plant photo above is linked to grower info with more details about zones, soil, sun levels, care etc. to help you decide if they are right for your specific landscape project. Best of luck and Happy Planting!