9 Low Maintenance Plants that Look Great in Slate

Last Updated on 20/07/2023 by Barney

plants that look good in slate banner image
Add interest to slate borders with these attractive plants

Slate chippings create a low maintenance weed free border but have you ever thought about plants in slate chippings?

Many grasses, perennials and shrubs look great with slate.

For success, plants should not drop too many leaves and flowers. If they do it can be an eyesore. Time is too valuable to be on your hands and knees picking out bits of dead foliage.

In my time as a professional gardener I have built and planted up many slate chipping borders. The key to something that looks great and looks after itself lies in careful plant selection

Here are my favourites plants for slate chippings:

  • Pennisetum (Fountain Grass)
  • Blue Fescue
  • Phormiums
  • Agapanthus
  • Pittosporum ‘Golf Ball’
  • Euphorbias
  • Lavender
  • Palms

#1 Fountain Grass (Pennisetum Hameln)

flowers on pennisetum grass
Pennisetums provide movement and a sense of life to a garden

A stunning, low maintenance, hardy ornamental grass to grow on its own or in odd numbered groups in the slate chipping border.

With neat mounds of soft linear foliage, Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ is perfect for adding softness and movement to the garden.

In late Spring new foliage emerges to form  compact mounds of bright green leaves. These are followed by masses of pinkish cream to light brown flower heads in Autumn.

Leave pruning until late February to enjoy the Winter seed heads. Simply cut to the ground using garden shears.

Type : Deciduous grass Size: 1.2m x 1m For: Full sun-partial shade Soil type: Well drained Care: Drought tolerant once established. Cut back hard to the ground to approx. 5-6” in late Feb to late March

#2 Blue Fescue ‘Elija Blue’ (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’)

blue grass foliage on blue fescue grass
The bluest of all grasses ‘Elijah Blue’

A gorgeous blue dwarf grass that works effectively in both modern & traditional designs.

Forming compact mounds of fine blue foliage , ‘Elija Blue’ produces attractive, oat coloured flowers in late Summer.

Drought tolerant and low maintenance, ‘Elija Blue’ pairs well with all Mediterranean plants & schemes.

Type : Evergreen grass Size: 30cm x 30cm For: Full sun. Soil type: Well drained Care: Drought tolerant once established. Trim old foliage in early Spring.

#3 New Zealand Flax (Phormium varieties)

chocolate coloured sword like leaves on phormium
Evergreen foliage on Phormiums for year round interest

Low maintenance and drought tolerant. Phormiums are an excellent plant to add drama and exotic to a slate border. You may know this plant by its common name ‘New Zealand Flax’.

Phormiums provide year round interest & architectural structure with their bold, evergreen , colourful, sword like foliage, an essential part of planting success.

Varieties range from tiddlers at 30cm high to absolute beasts at 4m high.

There are many varieties to single one out as my favourite. 3 that go very well with slate are: Phormium Platts Black – 90cm high x 60cm spread. Deep purple black foliage. Red flowers borne on single stems in summer followed by attractive seed heads

Phormium Maori Queen – 90cm high x 90 cm spread. Variegated with bronze green leaves edged rosy red fading to cream over time.

Phormium Cream Delight. 1m high x 1m spread. Variegated with a yellowy cream middle section, light green border edged in red. It has tubular red flowers once established.

For the beasts in his species look for Phormium tenax varieties.

Tip for selecting Phormium

Phormium establish quickly. Always pick a variety with the eventual size in mind, they can not be pruned.

Type : Evergreen grass Size: variety dependent For: Full sun – partial shade Soil type: Well drained Care: Drought tolerant once stablished. Cut back hard to the ground to approx. 5-6” in late Feb to late March

#4 Agapanthus (hardy varieties)

Lillac coloured flowers on African Lily plant
Many African Lily varieties to choose from

Commonly known as the African Lily Agapanthus are grown for their numerous flamboyant and impressive globe shaped flowers heads. Drought tolerant and low maintenance Agapanthus will wow you with a showy, exotic display.

Borne on single, erect stems flowers appear in Summer and Autumn above clumps of neat evergreen or deciduous strap-like green foliage. Depending on the chosen variety, flowers can reach heights of 1.5m in tones of whites, blues to indigo-black. When flowering has finished, seed heads remain until early Winter.

Two of the hardiest varieties I recommend for planting in slate are :

Agapanthus ‘Midnight Star’

Agapanthus ‘Arctic Star’

Tips for selecting Agapanthus

Research carefully as evergreen Agapanthus are not as hardy, & better suited to pots where they can be sheltered in the Winter.

Type : Herbaceous perennial. Size: variety dependent. For: Full sun. Soil type: Moist but well drained . Care: Drought tolerant once established. Feed regularly during Spring & Summer.

#5 Pittosporum ‘Golf Ball’

shrub pittosporum golf ball marking corner of border
Add evergreen structure to the slate border with Pittosporum Golf Ball

This shrub is a great alternative to Box balls and will grow to a rounded shrub with an eventual size of 1m x 1m. It is useful for marking corners & providing evergreen structure to the slate garden border.

Leaves are mid green, glossy and small. Flowers in Spring and Summer are barely noticeable buy give off a gorgeous honey scented fragrance.

Grow in full sun or partial shade & avoid planting in clay. Once established Pittosporum Golf Ball is drought tolerant.

Type : Evergreen shrub. Size: 1m x 1m For: Full sun – partial shade Soil type: Moist & Well drained. Well drained Care: Drought tolerant once established. Lightly prune to desired shape in late Winter – early Spring.

#6 Mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbia characias subsp.wulfenii)

yellow flowers on euphorbia wulfenii grey green foliage
Euphorbia wulfenii looks great with all slates, especially plum coloured

A fast growing,  low maintenance, drought tolerant sub-shrub. Wulfenni is admired for its architectural prowess as much as its flowers.

Stiff, erect stems of glaucous green leaves tower to 1.5 m high ,producing large, rounded heads of bronze centred yellow flowers in Spring and Summer.

With its foliage and flower colour this plant looks divine planted in plum coloured slate.

Type : Evergreen sub-shrub. Size: 1m x 1m. For: Full sun . Soil type: Well drained. Care: Cut spent flower stems to the base. Wear gloves when pruning as the milky sap is a skin irritant

#7 Pheasants Tail Grass (Anenathele lessoniana)

pheasants tail grass picture coming soon

One of my favourite evergreen grasses for planting in slate is the Pheasants tail.

Stunning foliage, first emerging green then turning to shades of coppery red, yellow and  orange in late summer.

A mass of airy panicles of purplish green flowers from June to September, giving way to seed insignificant seed heads.

Pheasants Tail contrasts with all slate colours. Plant as a specimen or in groups. Reaches 1m high and 1m wide.

Type : Evergreen grass. Size: 1m x 1m For: Full sun – partial shade. Soil type: Well drained. Care: Once established this grass is drought tolerant. Comb out dead foliage and spent flowers

#8 Lavender

light purple flowers of lavender
Colourful, aromatic and great for bees

Awesome for planting in slate are the Mediterranean classics ‘Lavender’.

Evergreen, aromatic foliage and flowers which vary in colour, from white, pinks, to all shades of blue, there is bound to be one to take your fancy.

Lavender is low maintenance, just a matter of removing faded flower heads with hedge shears.

Lavenders prefer poor soils & are drought tolerant.

Type : Shrub. Size: variety dependent. For: Full sun. Soil type: Well drained. Care: Once established Lavender is drought tolerant. Prune stems back after flowering.

#9 Chusan Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)

fan shaped leaves of the chusan palm
Great for adding a touch or drama

By far the best, fast growing palm suited to the British climate.

Evergreen, fan style leaves grow from the top of the hairy trunk to 1m diameter. Arching yellow flowers are borne in Summer.

Thrives in a full sun to partial-shade position. The Chusan Palm is low maintenance & drought tolerant.

Plant as a single specimen or in groups to create a dramatic effect.

Care tip.

Prune away hanging, old, damaged foliage with decent secateurs or a set of loppers. A well maintained palm tree looks amazing.

Type : Evergreen palm. Size: 12m+. For: Full sun – partial shade. Soil type: Well drained Care: Drought tolerant once established. Remove damaged and hanging foliage.

Q. Will plants grow through slate chippings?

Weeds will not grow though slate chippings if they have been laid on-top of a heavy duty weed membrane. Occasionally they might grow on the weed membrane but these are easy to remove.

Final word

There are many stunning plants suitable for sun and partial shaded areas to plant in slate. When planning a slate border & planting one up pick plants that are low maintenance and look after themselves.

Don’t make work for yourself by choosing plants that need staking & dead heading every 5 minutes or regular mulching with manure.

For more info on planning and installing a slate border.