When creating a garden, there’s always an edge somewhere, whether it be a curb, sidewalk, lawn, pathway or other natural border. When planting that area, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind to make your life easier. In this article, I’m going to share some low-maintenance garden border ideas.
I’ve spoken about landscape borders, in terms of how you separate a garden from a lawn—mowing strips, pavers, and other crisp edges to delineate a garden from grass. This piece will focus on what to plant at the edge of the garden that’s not going to require a ton of work.
Things to consider when selecting low-maintenance garden border ideas
I think it’s important to note that there are no rules to creating garden borders. Your garden is a reflection of your taste. Plant options may depend on a variety of factors from soil type, to a garden’s location and size, to plant placement. Because a planted garden border is always going to be at the edge of something you want to choose the right plants for the space. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Choose plants that:
- Don’t require a ton of summer maintenance—deadheading, pruning, etc.
- Are drug tolerant
- Don’t creep onto a sidewalk, curb or pathway
- Won’t choke out the plants behind them
- Won’t interfere with mowing a lawn, either by branches reaching overtop of the grass, or a groundcover spreading its tentacles through it
- Are tolerant of road salt (here are some salt-tolerant plants), if they border a curb or sidewalk where municipal salt is used (or if you use it)
- Won’t block any views either of other plants, or of sight lines, like at the end of a driveway or near a stop sign.
Create a border out of edible plants
Perennial herbs, like chives, lemon thyme, garlic chives, and sage, and biennial parsley—flat leaf or curly—are a delicious way to add visual interest to a garden edge. Trimming these herbs to use in the kitchen keeps them contained, while the shape and texture of their foliage adds a different level of interest compared to the leaves of other perennials.
Use groundcovers and low plants to edge a garden
In some parts of my garden beds, groundcovers are an obvious choice for filling in gaps at the edge of a garden. I have some sedums planted close to a curb and delosperma at the edge of a garden path, and sweet woodruff in a shady border. There are also low, mounding perennials that can create a stellar border. Hardy geranium varieties and heucheras are a couple of examples. In place of mulch, these types of plants can add interest while keeping weeds at bay.
Fill in holes in a garden boundary with low-maintenance annuals
Have an empty spot where you may want to add a perennial, but you’re not quite sure what to plant yet? Add some annual flowers to the mix! You want a low-maintenance border that doesn’t require a ton of deadheading (although you’ll want to for some because it means more blooms!). Some favorites include dwarf zinnias, New Guinea impatiens, supertunias, and calibrachoas.
Add drought-tolerant perennials to hot, sunny borders
There are a ton of perennial options when it comes to adding plants to a full sun spot. Look for plants that don’t need plant supports and that can withstand long stretches with no rain. Upright perennial flowers that don’t tend to flop include shasta daisies, liatris, echinacea, lavender, thrift, and coreopsis.
Use small shrubs to line a garden
Small shrubs used as a hedge or even spaced out are a nice way to delineate a garden—depending on what’s planted behind them. Depending on your garden’s design, you want to make sure you can see everything around them. They need to be low compared to the other plants or blend in well with the overall composition. It all depends on the shape and size of the garden and the other plants that are a part of the puzzle. Boxwood, dwarf evergreen shrubs, and other low-growing, low-maintenance shrubs, like hydrangeas could work.
Opt for native plants around the periphery of your garden
If you’re unsure what to plant, native plants are a great option because they’re well adapted to your area’s growing conditions, are usually drought tolerant, attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects, and are very low-maintenance. After all, they were taking care of themselves long before cultivated flower beds made an appearance. Consult the plant tags carefully to make sure that the plants will thrive in your garden’s growing conditions. Make sure your garden offers the right moisture requirements (some native plants thrive in dry soils, while others prefer a wetter environment).
Choose low-maintenance shade plants to outline a shade garden
Most green thumbs have at least one shade garden to contend with. And there are plenty of great specimens that will work well in shade. Read plant tags carefully to determine whether a plant can survive in full shade vs part sun, and determine the soil requirements. Does the plant prefer moist soils or is it a dry shaded area?
Don’t be afraid to add tall plants to a garden border
Not everything has to be short at the edge of a garden. As long as what’s planted behind all grows to similar heights, you can plant tall perennials right up to the edge of your garden. Coreopsis, black-eyed Susans, and many ornamental grasses can blend together to give you the organized chaos look of cottage gardens. Besides perhaps some beginning or end-of-season maintenance, you can pretty much leave them be throughout the growing season.
Dig in a spring bulb border
It was Dutch garden designer Jacqueline van der Kloet who inspired me to plant a bulb border along one side of my front yard garden. The bulbs appear when other perennials are just starting to peek through the soil in early spring, adding some visual interest until the rest of the garden can catch up. You can plant something more formal, where you choose all hyacinths, for example, and plant them in a row. Oh, mix it up! Toss a variety of bulbs into a wheelbarrow or box and mix them around before planting.
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