Low-Maintenance Shrubs You Shouldn't Prune Much

Let Vase-Shaped Bushes, Those With Arching Branches Grow Naturally

Kerria shrub blooming against aquatic background.

masahiro Makino/Getty Images

Shrubs that are vase-shaped and/or have arching branches shouldn't be pruned much, making them low-maintenance shrubs. Since they look best when allowed to assume their natural shapes, trimming them spoils their appearance. Remove dead branches or diseased wood as part of your pruning regimen, but it's best to locate these bushes in a space suited to their mature measurements and then just let them grow.

  • 01 of 10

    Weigela

    Large weigela shrub with arching branches.

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    The traditional version (6 to 10 feet tall and wide) of this long-time favorite with arching branches was grown mainly for its trumpet-shaped, light-pink blooms. Then, newer cultivars came along and changed everything. Other flower colors (dark-pink, white, red) became available, but, more importantly, they transformed Weigela florida into a foliage plant. For example, many gardeners grow the Wine and Roses cultivar mainly for its burgundy-purple leaves.

    Grow weigela in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 8. Locate it in full sun and give it a well-drained soil.

  • 02 of 10

    Ninebark

    Diablo ninebark's leaves in autumn.
    David Beaulieu

    Late-spring bloomers (pinkish-white), cultivars of Physocarpus opulifolius actually make more of a contribution to the landscape with their leaves borne on arching branches. Diablo, for example, has great-looking leaves for three seasons. The leaves are especially pretty when they assume their fall-foliage colors. The peeling bark affords winter interest. This shrub grows 8 to 10 feet high with a similar spread.

    Suited to zones 3 to 7, ninebark adapts to a variety of conditions, but it performs best in full sun (in the North) and in soil with good drainage. 

  • 03 of 10

    Virginia Sweetspire

    Virginia sweetspire flowers in an artistic photo.

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    Itea virginica Merlot is another bush with arching branches that you shouldn't prune much, but the one drawback that keeps it from being quite as low-maintenance as some of the other examples on this list is its suckering habit. Still, your pruning needn't go beyond cutting out these suckers (if you wish to restrict the plant's spread) when you see them.

    Another fall-foliage standout and late-spring bloomer, this 4-foot-by-4 foot shrub is suited to zones 5 to 9. Like ninebark, it tolerates an array of growing conditions, but, to be on the safe side, improve its soil's drainage with soil amendments. And if you want to maximize fall color, give it full sun.

  • 04 of 10

    Forsythia

    Forsythias in bloom near pond.

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    If the yellow flowers of Forsythia don't say "Spring has arrived" to you, then you're just not a spring person. If you abstain from pruning and allow F. x intermedia to take on its natural form, you'll eventually have a fine specimen shrub with arching branches. If you want to push the "arch" further, F. suspensa provides you with a weeping habit. Either way, avoid hacking off the tops of these shrubs, which ruins their looks. Restrict yourself to removing suckers (if you wish to avoid spreading) and ​rejuvenation pruning

    The Sunrise cultivar (zones 5 to 8) becomes 4 to 6 feet high and 3 to 5 feet wide. Grow forsythia in full sun and a well-drained soil if you can, but it isn't fussy.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Witch Hazel

    Witch hazel bush with arching branches.

    Kurt Mobus/Getty Images 

    The ultimate early-spring flowering shrub, blooming even before forsythia, Hamamelis x intermedia Arnold Promise starts blooming when the calendar still says "Winter." For best effect, skip the pruning and let it achieve its natural vase-shaped form of 12 feet with a similar spread. While yellow flowers are its signature feature, you can get good fall color (orange) out of this zone-5-to-8 bush by locating it in full sun, mixing compost into the ground to promote fertility and drainage, and keeping its soil acidic.  

  • 06 of 10

    Bridalwreath Spirea

    Vanhoutte spirea shrub in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    Spiraea × vanhouttei is a classic shrub for foundation plantings in zones 3 to 8. If you decide to use it this way, just make sure you don't jam it right up against the house wall. Take into account its mature dimensions of 5 to 8 feet tall and 7 to 10 feet wide. Dig your hole 6 or 7 feet away from your foundation when planting and just let it grow naturally, assuming the graceful shape that has made it a perennial favorite. Grow it on the south or west side of your home, since it likes full sun.

  • 07 of 10

    Mock Orange

    Mock orange shrub with arching branches.

    Dieter Hopf/Getty Images

    Some types of Philadelphus are single-flowered, but Buckley's Quill has fragrant, double, white flowers on a vase-shaped, 6-to-8-foot-tall-by-4-to-6-foot-wide framework. Grow it in zones 4 to 8, in full sun to partial shade, and in a loamy soil. It's a one-season (spring) plant but worth growing if you're interested in moon gardens.

  • 08 of 10

    Japanese Rose

    Kerria shrub blooming against aquatic background.

    masahiro Makino/Getty Images

    Kerria japonica isn't a real rose, but don't let that stop you from growing it. With spring flowers that rebloom periodically in summer and fall, and with kelly-green bark that creates winter interest, it has plenty to offer. It's an easy plant to grow. Problem is, it may be too easy to grow, as it produces suckers that you'll have to pull out if you don't want more of it.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Beauty Bush

    Beauty bush shrubs blooming against a house.
    David Beaulieu

    Because of its size (10 feet by 10 feet), this is one flowering shrub that you'll definitely have to plan for before planting. Install Kolwitzia amabilis where it'll have plenty of room as it matures. You'll be glad you did when its vase-shaped framework gets so flooded with pink, bell-shaped flowers that the shrub becomes a focal point of your spring landscape.

  • 10 of 10

    Purple Beautyberry

    Beautyberry shrub branches with purple berries.

    mizuki/Getty Images

    Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) is one of the more novel low-maintenance shrubs for zones 5 to 8. The arching branches become loaded with purple berries in fall after displaying small, pink flowers in summer. In full sun it may become 4 feet tall and somewhat wider than that (if not pruned); in partial shade, it tends to stay a little smaller.

    Wild birds eat the berries, adding to the reasons why this is among the most fun plants to grow in the yard. The reason the bush is so low-maintenance is that pruning is optional. And if you do choose to prune, the procedure's simple: Since it blooms on new wood, you prune it down to the ground in early spring, then you don't prune it anymore.

Smart Decisions Reduce Landscape Maintenance

Owning a property with nice landscaping means responsibility for you, since it seems there's always something to do. Certain chores, such as weed control, are unavoidable: Wherever plants that are pretty to look at grow, weeds will seek out their company. But you have some say in the matter when it comes to other chores. Pruning shrubs is a good example. You can reduce the amount of time you spend pruning by selecting the right shrubs to grow in the first place. Put the right shrub in the right spot, then sit back and enjoy the beauty it brings to the landscape.