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Dramatic gardens without the drama

Low-maintenance plants can bring beauty.We talked to local experts.

Spring planting season is upon us, but you've got an eye toward your action-packed summer. Just because you don't have hours to spend in the garden doesn't mean you can't have beautiful blooms. We talked to local experts to find your best bets in low-maintenance gardening.

Top swaps

If your high-drama plants keep you outdoors from sunup to sundown, consider switching them out with some easier alternatives. Bob Butts, volunteer coordinator at Five Rivers MetroParks Dayton, suggested using Abelia grandiflora, an "ever-blooming delicate shrub that produces a profusion of pink and white flowers" in place of "acid-loving azaleas or rhododendrons."

Don't be afraid to replace trendy trees with lesser-known options. "People are nutty for Bradford pears," said Butts. "But they shatter in windstorms. Lancelot or harvest gold crabapples are equally good plants. … They tolerate high winds, produce large amounts of fruit and are generally disease tolerant."

Fuss-free perennials

Plenty of perennials are low-maintenance, but the experts recommend strategically planting a few of these especially easy-to-care-for varieties for year-round color. "If you're looking for an all-seasons plant, try oak leaf hydrangea," Butts said. The plant is easy to grown and maintain. "There's nothing to it," Butts said. "It likes moisture, but with the clay soil, it adapts." The plant changes color each season — even during the winter.

Tina Gilbert, manager of Bonnie's Nursery and Garden Center in Springfield, recommends certain types of lilies. "Stella de Oro, or any kind of daylily, doesn't require much pruning," she said. "You have to do nothing to that plant. It's a very good one. You can cut back dead blooms for cosmetic reasons, but you don't even have to do that."

For spring and early summer, Gilbert said, "Dianthus is a very easy one. If trimmed back, it will even re-bloom." To keep your yard blooming into late summer, Gilbert suggested sedum. "It likes the full, hot sun and is very drought-resistant. Sedum requires no pruning whatsoever."

Butts recommended butterfly bushes for late summer: "You do need to prune the deadheads, but you don't need to be fastidious."

Easy annuals

For a long bloom season, annuals are an excellent choice. "Most annuals, once they bloom, stay open until frost," said Kelly Hale, a gardener at Berns Garden Center in Middletown. She recommended using a time-release fertilizer on your annuals to cut down on maintenance time. "A time-release fertilizer will last for about four months," she said.

Tropical annuals make a dramatic addition to garden borders, especially if your garden needs a mid-summer pick-me-up. "They don't look like anything until about mid-July," Butts said. "But they do very well when temperatures get hot here." For a splash of color, try cannas. Tropical spider plants, which bloom from mid-June through October also make for a great border and can be brought indoors during the winter.

If tropical isn't your style, Hale suggested petunias as an easy-growing annual. "Just plant them, use a time-release fertilizer and water once a week if we're not getting good rain," she said. For the hot summer months, she recommended vinca, geraniums and coxcomb. "You do have to deadhead geraniums," she said. "But you can do it by hand, no need to buy snippers."

If deadheading sounds like too much work, Hale said, "You can't beat wax begonias for sun and shade mixtures. They don't require any deadheading."

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