8 Easy Plants to Make the Most of Your Garden

By: Angelica Frey Gardening guide

Maintaining a lush, blooming garden should not be a full-time job. Plants like cauliflower and gardenia are pleasing to the eye, but growing them can be challenging and tedious, especially to newer gardeners or those short on time.

We’ve selected eight garden plants—four edible and four ornamental—that are long-lasting, prolific, and require very little upkeep—provided that they are planted in the right type of soil and receive the required amount of sunlight.

Easy edibles for your garden

Summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) originated in Central America and is believed to have been consumed for at least 7,500 years. The yellow summer squashes are a great addition to omelettes and pastas and make for a tasty sauté. You can even slice them and bake them for an interesting alternative to chips.

Summer squash is easy to grow and is quite prolific. All it needs is full sun, warm temperatures, and moisture. Once you have done a little prepping to the soil and have planted the seeds any time from spring to midsummer, you can expect your first harvest in seven weeks.

Peppers (Capsicum annuum) are part of the nightshade family and are both decorative plants (just take a look at the Bolivian Rainbow variety) and a staple in many diets. The name capsicum annuum comprises the chili plant family: bell peppers, jalapeños, and cayenne peppers.

This family tends to produce off-white flowers and the fruits, when ripe, can be red, yellow, or green, while the foliage consists of dark green, slightly elongated leaves.  

Peppers tolerate most climates, but they fare especially well in hot and dry areas. They need on average one to two inches of water per week.

Support them with a stalk or a cage when you notice that the fruit is weighing the plant down. Start sowing them indoors in February and plant them outside once they reach eight inches in height.

Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) is a round, brightly colored root vegetable and is one of the most rewarding plants for any new gardener. There are varieties that are harvested either in spring or in winter and can be grown just about anywhere in the United States. Radishes are a great beginner plant even for children, as they give them an instant reward when the roots can be pulled about three weeks after sowing.

Spring radishes can be sown in the spring, while winter radishes are better planted in the summer. Radishes need constant, but moderate water—too little will make them too pungent, too much causes root rot. Plant spring radishes at a depth of six inches if you want them to sprout quickly. Winter radishes, which have a slower growth and a sharper taste, need to be planted up to two feet deep.

Because of their repellent qualities, radishes also make great companion plants, as they draw aphids and other pests away from more delicate crops. Radishes are great, peppery additions to dishes. We like them sliced on a BLT or in this simple recipe for ricotta toast.

Strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa) are one of the most productive and rewarding berries in terms of yield. The first garden variety of the plant was cultivated in Brittany in the 18th century, and, prior to that, strawberries were known for their medicinal properties, especially as a treatment for depression.

Strawberry plants can be planted either in the fall or in early spring. They need one inch of water each week while they’re growing and one to two inches of water weekly when they’re producing fruit: their roots are shallow and prone to drying out during warm weather.

Unfortunately, the strawberry plants are short-lived—the mother plant dies after a year or two—but daughter plants can be saved and planted.

Easy ornamentals for your garden

Daylily (Hemerocallis) has a botanical name that means beauty for a day, but the ephemeral nature of these flowers should not deter you from planting them. Daylilies might bloom by day and die by nightfall, but each flower stalk has several buds, and each clump of plants comprises several stalks. For this reason, you’ll be able to see your daylilies in bloom for several weeks, but many of the cultivars have more than one flowering period.

Daylilies need full sun and though they can thrive in most types of soil, they don’t do well in earth that’s too clay-heavy. These are flowers that can thrive in hardiness zones 3–9 (roughly Minnesota to Florida).

They should be planted in the spring in the warmer regions and any time between spring and fall in colder areas. Just water them abundantly in the spring season, when the plant is growing stalks (known as scapes) and buds.

Peonies (Paeonia) are known in Chinese culture as flowers of riches and honor, and the king of the flowers. Despite these noble-sounding appellatives, though, peonies are anything but high maintenance.

In fact, lush blossoms, a wide variety of colors, and a scent reminiscent of rose or magnolia, depending on the variety, are not the only reasons why peonies are so favored.

Peonies are long-lived, easy to grow, sturdy, and if they’re properly tended to, can live up to 100 years. Peonies should be planted one inch below ground in the fall, preferably in direct sunlight. Save for cases of extreme drought, you can rely on rain to water your peonies. Check out the House Method guide to planting and growing peonies.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) was introduced to England by Scottish botanist Robert Fortune, who sourced it from Asia in the 1840s. Its beautiful, heart-shaped flowers that end with a droplet—and the reason for the name Bleeding Heart—entice gardeners worldwide.

In fact, Bleeding Heart can be grown in different climates but has to be planted either in the fall or in the spring. It requires partial shade in warmer areas, but it can grow in full sun in colder regions. This plant should be watered weekly in the summer months.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a flowering plant with fern-like leaves and tiny, tightly packed flowers that come in yellows, pinks, reds, and shades in between.

Yarrow is a great addition to an outdoor garden. It repels animals like rabbits and deer, and serves as an aromatic herb and has astringent qualities. It’s also a nutrient accumulator—able to fertilize the soil with potassium, phosphorus, and copper.

Plant Yarrow in the spring in well-draining soil and make sure you grow it in the sunshine—too little light will make the plant leggy and the blooms will topple over.

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