Potentilla is a good choice for busy moms who are looking for a trouble-free plant for the flower border or landscape. Potentilla is a genus with hundreds of species of mostly perennials and shrubs that are also known as cinquefoil, and most are easy to grow. Perennials include clumping plants that do well in rock gardens or perennial borders and low, creeping varieties, while the shrubs are drought-tolerant and grow in poor soil.
Two species from the Himalayas are among the most popular herbaceous perennial potentillas. They are ruby cinquefoil (Potentilla atrosanguinea) and "Miss Wilmott," a variety of Potentilla nepalensis. Both have leaves that look like strawberries. Ruby cinquefoil has 1-inch bright red flowers, grows 1 1/2 feet tall and 2 feet wide and is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. "Miss Wilmott" is slightly smaller with salmon-pink flowers and is hardy in USDA zones 2 through 9.
Groundcover potentillas include trailing cinquefoil (Potentilla x tonguei) and creeping cinquefoil (Potentilla neumanniana). Flowers on trailing cinquefoil are apricot yellow and on creeping cinquefoil are butter yellow. Both grow about 3 inches high and spread a foot or more. Trailing cinquefoil is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9 and creeping cinquefoil in USDA zones 4 through 8. They are tolerant of any type soil and spread rapidly. Mow in spring before growth begins to keep them neat.
Breeders have developed hundreds of varieties of shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla frutcosa). Sizes range from 1 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 6 feet wide and flowers can be white, yellow, orange or red. They are hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8 and tolerate poor soil, drought and heat. Shrubby cinquefoil is easy to care for, requiring only moderate amounts of water and fertilizer. After the bloom period, cut out some of the older canes to make room for new growth.
Sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta), an erect, clump-forming species with yellow flowers, has become a common roadside weed and is considered invasive in several states. A variety called "Warenii" is sold as an ornamental but should not be planted in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon or Washington where it is considered a noxious weed. It may also be sold under the name Potentilla warenii "Macrantha."