Many people would love to grow at least some of their own food, but just don’t think that they have the time. The good news is that even when you have a full time job and plenty of other commitments, you can still grow a range of low maintenance plants. Especially if you grow these in a polytunnel, they will take up a surprisingly small amount of your time and effort. In this article, we’ll take a look at 7 low maintenance plants that you can grow in your polytunnel. But before we do so, let’s take a brief look at some tips for a low-maintenance polytunnel:
Tips for a Low Maintenance Polytunnel
If you are short on time, you should consider:
- Choosing perennial plants rather than sowing and growing annuals. (Some excellent examples can be found below.)
- Implementing a ‘no dig’ system that disturbs the soil as little as possible and allows the soil’s fragile system to function as it should, doing jobs for you.
- Installing an automatic irrigation system in your polytunnel.
- Creating polycultures (companion planting) so plants will help take care of each other.
- Attract wildlife that will make your job easier and limit the amount of work that you have to do in your polytunnel.
A Low Maintenance Fruit Tree
A fruit tree can be surprisingly low maintenance – delivering a high yield for minimal input of time and effort. There are plenty of dwarf fruit tree options that can work well in even the smallest of polytunnels. The apple tree is a particularly low maintenance choice here in the UK.
1. An Apple Tree
An apple tree requires little effort once established, and there are varieties suited to almost any soil and environmental conditions in the UK. If you give your apple tree a guild of beneficial companion plants and the right environment, it can give you a bountiful yield of delicious fruits each year.
Other Low Maintenance Fruit
You could also grow a range of other fruit bushes and fruiting plants. Amongst the low maintenance options you could consider are currant bushes, and strawberries. Both of these can sometimes be eaten by birds or other pests before you get the chance to – but a polytunnel offers a level of protection and makes these options even easier to take care of.
2. A Currant Bush
Choosing a blackcurrant, redcurrant, white currant or golden currant bush for your polytunnel is a great low maintenance choice. Their fruits can be dried, or turned into a wide range of preserves, or used in other recipes.
Strawberries are a favourite for many. They are easy to grow, provide great ground cover, and the runners can be used to fill in gaps elsewhere in your polytunnel or garden. Create the right growing conditions and strawberries will require surprisingly little care and attention.
A Low Maintenance Perennial Herb
Other great options for those who are short on time are perennial herbs. As long as you provide the sunny, free-draining conditions they require, these Mediterranean herbs can more or less be left alone until you want to harvest some for inclusion in a range of recipes.
Rosemary is an easy perennial herb with a wide range of uses in your kitchen and around your home. It will thrive in the right environment can be often be neglected with impugnity.
Thyme is another excellent low maintenance herb to try. No only does thyme have a range of culinary uses, it is also an excellent companion plant. It will spread to create ground cover, attract beneficial insects, and repel or distract certain pests from your polytunnel – making the job of organic gardening even easier for you.
A Low Maintenance Perennial Vegetable
Our final top low maintenance picks are perennial vegetables – excellent choices for plentiful greens. They need little ongoing care and, unlike more familiar annual vegetables, they will come back year after year.
6. Low Maintenance Perennial Kale/ Cabbage
If you like your brassicas, rather than choosing annual brassica options, you could opt instead to grow perennial variants, such as Daubenton’s kale, or Ewiger kohl (‘everlasting cabbage’). These will not need to be sown afresh each year, so will lessen your workload in your garden.
7. A Low Maintenance ‘Weed’: Good King Henry
Another interesting plant (sometimes considered a weed) that you could consider for a low maintenance polytunnel is Good King Henry. This was once a popular edible plant in some areas – but has fallen out of favour as annuals took over. You can eat the young stems as an asparagus substitute, the leaves like spinach, and the flowering shoots like flowering broccoli.
The plants above are all good low maintenance options, though of course there are many more options to choose from. Share your own suggestions for a low maintenance polytunnel in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.