Gardening can be an act of love and an enjoyable pastime. It can also be very consuming, so having at least a few trees and shrubs in your landscape that can tolerate some neglect is nice. These plants look beautiful and healthy even when you forget to water or when there are poor weather conditions.
Shrubs are great foundational plants that set the scene for showier, smaller, more high-maintenance plants in your garden. They tend to take up more space and make more of an impact than smaller plants, so it’s great to find one that doesn’t require much tending to. Here are some of my favorite low-maintenance shrubs that tolerate neglect and still look great.
The American beautyberry shrub has large, light green leaves on long, elegant branches.
To kick off the list is American Beautyberry, one of my favorite low-maintenance shrubs. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an easier plant to care for, and it’s a very attractive one to boot. Most sources will say that this shrub will only grow to about 9’ tall under the best conditions, but there is one in my backyard that is closer to 12’ tall.
Beautyberry has large, light green leaves on long, elegant branches. In spring and early summer, the bush erupts in clusters of tiny pink flowers, which pollinators are quite fond of. By the end of summer, the small flowers are replaced with the most stunning, bright purple berries. The leaves turn golden in the fall, giving the plant a third season of interest.
Although it is deciduous, the berries will remain on the bush long after the leaves have fallen, making it pretty even in colder months. Birds of all kinds love to eat these berries, and it provides an amble food source for them. As a bonus, if you own chickens, they will love this treat! Beautyberry can grow in a wide range of conditions, from full sun to nearly full shade.
Autumn Moonlight Azalea
The Autumn Moonlight azalea is abundant with double-form flowers of pure white, blooming profusely.
A member of the Encore series, the Autumn Moonlight azalea is unique for its ability to bloom in the spring and rebloom in the summer and sometimes fall.
While most azaleas do best in partial sun, this variety can tolerate full sun and will bloom best if it gets 6 or more hours of sunlight daily. Azalea shrubs thrive on neglect and require very little care once established, which happens quickly.
Autumn Moonlight is a mid-sized azalea with small, nicely shaped leaves. It blooms profusely with pure white, double-form flowers. It is evergreen, like all azaleas, so it retains its foliage year-round making it a nice shrub and landscape design element.
Bird’s Nest Spruce
The Bird’s Nest spruce is a charming, compact evergreen shrub requiring minimal upkeep.
Bird’s Nest spruce is an attractive, small evergreen shrub that requires very little maintenance and tolerates neglect. It can be planted in spring or fall and adapts well to different soil types and light conditions. Deer and other wildlife don’t care much for it, so they tend to leave it alone, and it has little to no issues with pests or diseases.
It has typical spruce foliage, long branches with dense foliage that comes in as a light green but fades to a deeper grayish-green as they mature.
Bird’s Nest is slow-growing and gets its common name from the tendency to dip slightly at the top of its foliage, forming a nestlike structure. Once established, it requires water only during times of drought, fertilizer only once yearly, and little to no pruning.
Blue Bird Hibiscus
The flowering shrubs of the Hibiscus genus are diverse and can be found in tropical regions.
Hibiscus is a wide-ranging genus of tropical and deciduous flowering shrubs. The deciduous type likes to be planted in rich, moist soil and can tolerate a range of light conditions, although they will flower best in full sun. They lose their leaves in the fall, and their foliage commonly turns shades of bronze and gold before falling, adding a third season of interest.
‘Blue Bird’ is a true blue variety of H. syriacus. A fast grower, it reaches up to 8’ tall and produces stunning blue-violet blooms with a deep crimson eye that radiates into the petals. The medium green foliage is attractive, making this a beautiful blooming hedge or summer garden focal point.
The bottlebrush buckeye is a sizable shrub that typically grows to be 8′-12′ tall.
Although small for a buckeye, the bottlebrush buckeye is a fairly large shrub, reaching heights between 8’-12’ tall with a frequently greater spread. While buckeyes are typically done blooming by summer, bottlebrush buckeye produces flowers well into the summer. It is also very tolerant to pests and diseases, comparatively. It is prone to sun scorch if placed in full sun, so give this plant some protection.
The leaves are large, dense, and attractive. They are dark green throughout the spring and summer, turning a wonderful golden shade in the fall.
In summer, it produces tall spires covered in small white flowers, resembling the bottlebrush from which it takes its common name. Tolerant of most soil conditions, it needs a bit of extra water in times of drought but is otherwise a sturdy shrub that looks lovely planted in the shade of larger trees.
The stunning Bridalwreath variety of spirea showcases long, trailing branches that gracefully arch towards the ground.
Spirea are fast-growing, medium-sized shrubs with showy flowers and relatively few needs from their gardeners. They can reach their full height in their first year, making them great for a space you want to fill in a hurry. They perform best in full sun and are adaptable to different types of soil as long as it stays moist.
The Bridalwreath variety of spirea is a stunning plant. It has long, trailing branches that arch toward the ground. In spring, these branches are nearly covered in small, delicate flowers that appear before the leaves sprout. The foliage grows in later, small, oblong leaves that change color in autumn, commonly turning golden-orange and purple.
It takes Cinnamon viburnum more than ten years to reach its mature height.
Viburnums are popular landscaping shrubs, many coveted for their lovely flowers. Cinnamon viburnum, however, is most noteworthy for its attractive foliage.
It does flower, but the flowers are small and unremarkable. Cinnamon is a slow-growing cultivar, taking 10 or more years to reach its mature height, which can be up to 20’ tall but is typically shorter in cultivation.
This evergreen shrub has large, elliptic leaves that are deeply veined. When new leaves emerge in spring, they are light green, but the color deepens to a much darker shade in summer. Cinnamon viburnum is not picky about soil or sunlight, although it will perform best in slightly acidic soil.
After it has become established, fertilize once per year and water in times of drought, and this pretty shrub will reward you with year-round beauty. Viburnum has been known to cause skin irritation when handled, so wear your gardening gloves when planting this shrub.
The inconspicuous white flowers of the common winterberry produce brilliant red berries.
An interesting plant, common winterberry is a deciduous member of the holly family. This is a great shrub for garden spots with poor drainage or for low-lying areas where the plant will get plenty of water. It is tolerant of wet soil, salt, and alkaline soil as well.
As long as there is moisture, these shrubs don’t mind neglect. This slow to moderate grower reaches about 10’ tall at maturity, making it a nice, large shrub.
Common winterberry has glossy, green foliage in spring and summer, which turns golden in autumn. It produces small, inconspicuous, white flowers. If flowers are fertilized, they will develop brilliant red berries, which last through the winter and act as a food source for overwintering birds. Male and female plants are both required for the production of fruit.
While this winterberry is capable of growing in full shade conditions, it often will not flower or fruit in those conditions. As a result, we recommend full sun to partial shade for best flowering and fruiting.
Crimson Fire Loropetalum
Perfect for small spaces, Crimson Fire is a fantastic Loropetalum variety.
Crimson Fire is a wonderful variety of Loropetalum that is perfect for small spaces. It is fast growing, reaching its mature height of only 3’-4’ tall by its second year. Loropetalum are flowering evergreen shrubs that grow best in mild climates but have very good cold tolerance. They grow well in full sun or partial shade, and once established, they are quite drought-tolerant.
This dwarf variety stands out for its deep burgundy foliage. The leaves first appear as ruby red and then deepen slightly, retaining their red hue throughout the year.
In spring, spidery clusters of neon pink flowers bloom at the ends of the branches, drawing hummingbirds and butterflies with their abundance of sweet nectar. This compact shrub does well in a portable container so that it can be moved closer to living spaces to enjoy the sweetly fragranced blooms.
Emerald Gaiety Euonymus
The Emerald Gaiety euonymus displays emerald green leaves with creamy white edges that transition to a pinkish hue during the winter.
Euonymus is a group of deciduous or evergreen shrubs that flower and bear small fruits, sometimes showing off brilliant-colored foliage in autumn. ‘Emerald Gaiety,’ however, is evergreen, so its leaves retain their color year-round.
The genus is generally quite tolerant of different soil types and not picky about sun exposure. As long as it has ample bright light, even if it’s indirect, it can do well.
‘Emerald Gaiety’ is a mid-sized shrub with stunning foliage. The leaves are emerald green with creamy white edges that turn pinkish during winter. This shrub can be trimmed into a nice manicured shape or allowed its usual mounding growth habit. Once established, euonymus is reasonably drought-tolerant, only needing to be watered in times of severe drought.
Producing delightfully fragrant flowers, Frostproof gardenias are exquisite evergreen shrubs.
This is one of the easiest and most hardy plants in my yard. Gardenias are beautiful evergreen shrubs that produce the most wonderfully fragrant flowers. While they are a little bit labor intensive initially, if you plant at the right time, you can get away with less watering during those first months while the plant establishes itself. After that, these shrubs tolerate some neglect.
The Frostproof variety is a wonderful small variety that grows slowly, reaching about 5’ tall at maturity, which can take several years. The flowers are slightly smaller than other varieties but just as fragrant.
The foliage is delicate, which is surprising as this is a very cold-tolerant plant. After five days of 20-degree temperatures this past winter, my Frostproof Gardenias both looked as perky and green as ever.
Fragrant Tea Olive
This shrub is a member of the Olive or Oleacae family.
This large shrub is a must-have in your garden if you live in the American South. As classic as a camellia, the fragrant Tea Olive symbolizes warmth and welcome.
Plant this evergreen shrub by your front door; its highly fragrant flowers will greet arriving guests. Tea Olive has small and inconspicuous flowers that bloom in the spring and fall. These flowers are highly desirable for their use in perfume and other cosmetic fragrances.
Fragrant Tea Olive is a member of the Olive or Oleacae family. It grows taller than it does wide and makes a nice screen or privacy hedge when several are planted in a group. The foliage is deep green and shiny, and once established, this shrub will grow with little to no attention.
Green Velvet Boxwood
The medium-sized Green Velvet boxwood reaches a height of approximately 4 feet.
Boxwoods, or box shrubs, are evergreen shrubs commonly used as hedges and topiaries, although they can be just lovely on their own and don’t mind neglect. These plants are beloved for their small, dense foliage that has a neat, manicured appearance even when allowed to grow without much attention to pruning.
Green Velvet is a medium-sized boxwood, growing to about 4’ tall if left untrimmed. It has attractive, dense, bright green foliage that grows naturally into a low, rounded shape. This shrub is very cold-hardy and can grow in full sun to partial shade. If you’re looking for a shrub that looks like you’ve spent a lot more time tending to it than you have, this is the one!
This Japanese variety of cypress has long, drooping branches, giving it a weeping quality.
This is technically a tree, as all cypresses are. Still, it is common to see this tree kept trimmed lower to the ground and grown as a shrub. Cypress is a genus of slow-growing and very long-lived trees that can survive in poor soil types, provided they get moderate moisture during their establishment period. They also prefer full sun but can grow in partial shade.
Hinoki Cypress is a Japanese variety with long, drooping branches, giving it a weeping quality. Its dwarf form is desirable as a bonsai, and the full-sized plant is commonly used as a privacy screen. It has very pretty foliage and, once established, excellent drought tolerance.
When young, Indian hawthorn is bronze and later ages to a lovely dark green.
Hawthorns are a popular group of small to medium-sized flowering shrubs with attractive foliage and plenty of tolerance for neglect. Indian hawthorn is an Asian native that is very low-maintenance as long as it is planted under the right conditions.
They prefer plenty of sun, proper drainage, and good air circulation. Once established, they are very drought tolerant, only needing water in a prolonged drought.
Indian hawthorn grows slowly, reaching a final height of 3’-6’ tall. The foliage is bronze when young and ages to a lovely dark green.
The leaves are oblong, with a glossy, leathery texture and serrated edges. It blooms in spring with clusters of small white or pink fragrant blooms. The flowers are star-shaped and bloom in groups at the ends of branches.
In spring, Meadowlark forsythia becomes a captivating centerpiece with minimal maintenance needed.
As a child, I remember having a Forsythia shrub at the end of our driveway, and I was spellbound by how beautiful it was in bloom. At 3 years old, I couldn’t quite pronounce the name, but instead thought that my mother called it “For Cynthia” (our neighbor’s name happened to be Cynthia, and for years, I thought it must be her shrub.)
Meadowlark is a fast-growing, deciduous, flowering shrub. It can grow up to 2’ per year under the right conditions, reaching up to 10’ tall at maturity.
In spring, the shrubs bloom on bare wood, with their bright yellow flowers unobscured by foliage. Once established, these plants require very little care and make a beautiful focal point in spring. Their foliage is attractive through summer and fall as well.
At maturity, the Moonglow juniper grows tall and slender, with a height of up to 20 feet.
Junipers are small conifers known for their lovely evergreen foliage and berries, which are useful in the kitchen and for distilling gin. They make very nice, tall hedges with their upright growth habit and height. They are easy to care for, preferring full sun and well-drained soil. Junipers are very drought tolerant, although they are not all heat tolerant.
Moonglow is a wonderful variety of Juniper. It has a tall and narrow growth habit, reaching up to 20’ at maturity. It makes an excellent windscreen or privacy hedge.
This is considered a dwarf cultivar. Moonglow is best known for its pretty grayish-green foliage and deep blue berries. It is not sensitive to soil pH and can tolerate both moist and dry soil, although it isn’t tolerant of soggy soil.
An Oakleaf hydrangea is ideal for a focal point or foundation plant.
There is no denying the popularity of hydrangeas. Their lovely, long-lasting flowers are a huge draw for gardeners who want color in their summer garden, and they make wonderful cut flowers. Oakleaf hydrangea is a little bit unusual in appearance. Rather than the usual, simple, elliptic leaves of standard hydrangeas, Oakleaf has lobed leaves, resembling an oak leaf.
Oakleaf hydrangea reaches about 8’ tall at maturity, making it a great focal point or foundation plant. The flowers start out white and gradually turn pink or purple as they age.
The plant will have an attractive, rounded growth habit, requiring little pruning or maintenance. In the fall, Oakleaf foliage turns purple, orange, and bronze shades. As the name implies, hydrangeas do need a significant amount of water. Monitoring your soil moisture level is simple and affordable with a moisture sensor.
A deciduous member of the holly family, possumhaw transforms from purple to yellow in the fall.
Possumhaw is a deciduous member of the holly family. Rather than retaining its toothy, green foliage year-round, it turns purple to yellow in the fall, leaving only the bare branches coated with rich, red berries for the winter birds to feast on. This is a good shrub to plant in groups, as male and female plants are needed to produce the berries.
Also known as prairie holly or winterberry, possumhaw has a rounded growth habit, reaching up to 15’ tell and sometimes taller. It tolerates clay and poorer soil types and only needs to be pruned for shaping purposes. It does need moist soil and is not particularly drought-tolerant.
Rain of Gold
The foliage of Rain of Gold is delicate and bright green.
Rain of Gold, also known as Thryallis, is a favorite of mine. Although it mainly grows in tropical and subtropical climates, it does quite well here in zone 8 as long as it’s given some shelter from freezing winds in the winter.
The foliage is bright green and somewhat delicate, with leaves arranged in pairs along branches topped with flowers.
The flowers which bloom for most of the summer are cheery spikes of bright yellow blooms that are very attractive to pollinators. The foliage of this plant is not especially dense, so a privacy hedge is not the best application, but it makes a stunning specimen, particularly in the summer.
Red Prince Weigela
Red Prince Weigela is an upright shrub with an oval to rounded growth habit.
Weigela is a genus of flowering shrubs related to the Honeysuckle family. Native to Asia, they were imported to Europe in the 1800s and then to North America, where they are commonly grown as ornamentals. Weigela are fast-growing sun-lovers. They are low maintenance and have very good resistance to pests and diseases.
Red Prince, often sold by the name Weigela florida, is an upright shrub with an oval to rounded growth habit. The dense foliage makes this 6’-9’ shrub a good privacy hedge or focal point in the garden. In spring, Red Prince blooms profusely with small, funnel-shaped, red flowers that are very showy and very attractive to hummingbirds.
Royal Princess Nandina
Royal Princess Nandina is a mid-sized shrub that has long branches.
Nandina, also known as Heavenly Bamboo, is a unique and lovely shrub that is most often evergreen but can lose its leaves in extended periods of cold weather. If you are looking for a low-maintenance shrub with personality, this is a great addition to the landscape. While the leaves don’t always fall in the winter, they change color in the fall, adding a pop of crimson to the garden.
Royal Princess is a mid-sized shrub, topping out around 6’-8’ tall. It has long branches with some clearance at the bottom and then branches out, sporting lovely, delicate foliage.
In the summer, Royal Princess is covered in small white flowers, which develop into bright red berries in the late fall and last through winter. The foliage brightens back up in spring, giving this plant four seasons of interest in the garden.
Tuscan Blue Rosemary
The ‘Tuscan Blue’ Rosemary is a spacious variety growing up to 6′ tall.
If you’re looking for a dual-purpose shrub that is as useful in the kitchen as it is in the garden, Rosemary is a wonderful option. These Mediterranean shrubs almost prefer neglect. Rosemary is evergreen and has needlelike foliage that smells wonderful and doubles as an herb that elevates sourdough bread to another level and takes potatoes from plain to perfection in no time flat.
‘Tuscan Blue’ is a large variety, growing up to 6’ tall. It has very low water needs and only needs watering in a prolonged drought once it’s become established.
From winter through spring, masses of pale blue flowers bloom at the ends of branches, adding another aspect of interest to this already fabulous garden addition.
The Virginia sweetspire flowers are attractive to a variety of pollinators.
Virginia sweetspire just might be the perfect ornamental shrub. It has a presence at just 5’ tall but won’t get unruly or challenging to tend to. In spring, 5” long spires of white fragrant flowers practically cover the entire shrub. These flowers are attractive to many pollinators in addition to their visual appeal.
In summer, the foliage deepens to dark green, making it a good foundation plant for annual blooming plants. In the fall, the foliage changes from green to shades of red, purple, yellow, and orange, putting on quite a show before losing its leaves for the summer. Virginia Sweetspire likes moist soil that is lightly acidic and is very low-maintenance.
Wax-leaf Privets are quite resistant to pests and diseases and do well in full sun or part shade.
Ligustrums are very low-maintenance plants, in fact, you can pretty much plant them and forget them. I happen to have 4 of them on the far side of my property that get little to no attention from anyone but the bees.
Wax-leaf privet grows easily in most soil types. It requires some watering when first planted but is remarkably drought resistant once established.
In early summer, the wax-leaf privet produces a great number of fragrant white flowers. These flowers are a valuable food source for pollinators, producing a light, sweet, floral-tasting honey. They are quite resistant to pests and diseases and do well in full sun or part shade. They also make nice container plants.
Winecraft Black Smokebush
The flower clusters of Winecraft Black Smokebush are almost identical in color to its deep merlot red rounded leaves.
Smokebush is a group of deciduous small trees or shrubs with fluffy, smokelike plumes of flowers and long hairlike structures resembling puffs of smoke. They have a medium growth rate, reaching up to 15’ tall, and can be pruned into the shape of a small tree if preferred. They tolerate most soil types except for soggy ones and like to be grown in full sun.
Winecraft Black smokebush is a stunner. With rounded leaves in deep merlot red, the flower clusters are nearly the same shade as the foliage. This cultivar makes a beautiful specimen on its own and also makes a spectacular hedge when planted in a grouping.
In the winter months, the Yuletide Camellia attracts and nourishes pollinators.
Camellias are year-round beauties that require little more than an occasional thinning of the branches and once-yearly fertilizing. The Sasanqua species is very heat-tolerant and requires little watering, even in a prolonged drought. They have dark, glossy, attractive foliage year-round, producing beautiful flowers in the cooler months.
Yuletide blooms just in time for the winter holidays. This medium to large Camellia produces beautiful, small red blooms with bright yellow clusters of stamens in the center. Pollinators are drawn to the flowers, which serve as a valuable food source in winter.
Adding any of these low-maintenance shrubs to your garden will make tending to your landscape less labor-intensive or free up time to tend to your other, more high-maintenance plants. These shrubs have very few needs to worry about and make excellent foundations or focal points for your landscape.