Extension Educator, Horticulture
Why not do an article about durable, easy-to-grow plants? It seemed like a "no brainer" topic about "no brainer" plants. You know those plants that "take a lickin' and still keep tickin'". Although we may yearn for plants that stay as constant as a rock, we must remember plants are living things. And as with all living things they suffer the stings and arrows of outrageous weather. For my list of durable plants I tried to pick plants that don't need a lot of extra watering past their initial establishment and have few insect and disease problems. However we still have to pay attention to winter hardiness, sun exposure, and moisture requirements, but the plants I list survive within a wider window of our wrongdoing.
Tried-and-true Trees – serviceberry, corneliancherry dogwood, pagoda dogwood, American hophornbeam, American hornbeam, concolor fir, limber pine, Serbian spruce, baldcypress, bur oak, Japanese zelkova, katsuratree, Kentucky coffeetree, sugar hackberry, swamp white oak, and white oak to name a few. Of course with trees we must think about fitting the tree to any needs we have concerning height, flower, fruit, and fall color. The fact sheet "Under the Canopy: A Guide to Selecting, Planting, and Caring for Trees in Illinois" is a good place to start. Check with your local Extension office for copies.
Straight-shooting Shrubs – bayberry, bladdernut, buttonbush, chokeberry, cotoneaster, redtwig dogwood, elderberry, Meyer lilac, New Jersey tea, potentilla, rose-of-Sharon, spicebush, spirea, sumac, viburnum, winterberry, and witchhazel. Keep in mind many shrubs will look nicer if they are pruned every few years. For more info on shrub selection http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/shrubselector/
Pervasive Perennials – aster, baptisia, black-eyed Susan, catmint, coneflower, columbine, cranesbill, daylilies, goldenrod, hosta, lamb's ear, peony, little blue stem, prairie dropseed, Russian sage, salvias, sedums (especially for sunny, dry areas), switchgrass, and many spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils. For more information http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/perennials/
Faithful Annual Flowers – ageratum, amaranth, begonia, black-eyed Susan vine, celosia, coleus, cosmos, dusty miller, lantana, marigold, petunia, portulaca (moss rose), salvia, spider flower, sweet alyssum, and zinnia (Profusion series and other powdery mildew resistant cultivars).
True-hearted Houseplants – Chinese evergreen, dracaena, jade plant, peace lily (spathiphyllum), peperomia, philodendron, ponytail palm, pothos, purple passion plant, rubber plant, sago palm, schefflera, snake plant, spider plant, and wax plant. http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/houseplants/
Check with your county Extension office for local recommendations. Here are a couple websites that can help with selecting durables not divas. UI Extension offers tips on selecting and growing just about anything horticultural. http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/state/hort.html
Chicago Botanic Garden maintains Illinois Best Plants http://www.bestplants.org/ where you can search for plants with certain criteria. Also helpful is Chicagoland Grows® http://www.chicagolandgrows.org It is a corporate partnership among the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Morton Arboretum and the wholesale nurseries of Ornamental Grower's Association of Northern Illinois. Chicagoland Grows® works collectively with horticulture industry professionals to develop, select, evaluate, produce and market new and recommended plant cultivars for the landscape professional and home gardener.