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Perennials, or plants and flowers that come back year after year, are found in virtually every yard. Perennial flowers work in multiple situations: in whole garden beds, in combination with annuals and bulbs, as accent to shrubs and trees, and in containers and windowboxes. In addition, perennials often increase in size each year, which means they can often be divided and added to other spots in the landscape. The Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia contains a wealth of information to help you tend to your existing perennials as well as add new and interesting plants to your landscape. The searchable tool enables you to search by common or scientific name, plant characteristics, growing season, and common uses. You'll also discover what plants work well in sun or shade, USDA Hardiness Zones, growing requirements, and planting suggestions for perennials.
Agapanthus is a landscape staple in warm-winter regions, and it's no wonder why. This easy-to-grow perennial produces colorful globes of blue or white trumpet-shape flowers in summer and fall. Its evergreen strappy leaves add texture to beds, borders, and containers.
Agapanthus blooms best in a spot where it gets full sun and has moist, well-drained soil. Divide it every three to four years to keep clumps healthy and vigorous.
If you live in a cool-winter area, you can overwinter agapanthus in containers by bringing the pots to a cool (around 40 degrees F) spot and watering them only once a month or so. In spring, move the containers back outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Potted agapanthus is said to bloom best when slightly root-bound.
Among the most architectural plants, agaves feature bold succulent leaves that set the tone for wherever they're planted. They're incredibly heat- and drought-tolerant and most are long-lived. Many varieties bear sharp spines along leave margins and at the leaf tip, which adds to their dramatic presentation. The bluish-green rosettes naturally spread by producing offsets at the base of the plant. It is an excellent choice for sunny, hot, dry areas, especially desert regions, with good drainage.
Ajuga is one of the most indispensable groundcovers around. It has many uses and looks great much of the year.
Also known as carpetweed or bugleweed, ajuga forms a 6-inch-tall mat of glossy leaves that always seem to look neat and fresh. In many cases, the leaves are colored with shades of purple, white, silver, cream, or pink. Individual plants grow as a rosette, but they intertwine to form a solid carpet that withstands some foot traffic. Blue, lavender, pink, or white flower spikes adorn plants spring to early summer.
Ajuga is great in rock gardens, in the front of beds and borders, under leggy shrubs or small trees, along paths, and just about any other place in the landscape you want to cover the ground with attractive foliage and little flowers.
Alstroemerias are best known as cut flowers, where their rich colors and lovely veining grace many a vase, where they'll last for as long as two weeks. But they can also be grown in the garden, where they do best in light, well-drained soil. They bloom freely through the summer and come in almost all shades of the rainbow except true blue.
Where they're perennials, in the warmest parts of the country, deadhead flowers when they are done blooming to prevent them from spreading too much by seed.
Anemones are lovely, delicate flowers that dance atop slender stems, giving them their poetic common name -- windflower. Depending on the type, anemones bloom in spring, summer, or through fall with pretty, slightly cupped flowers in rose, pink, or white rising over distinctive, deeply lobed foliage.
Plants grow best in partial shade but tolerate full sun in Northern regions. If you're lucky, they'll be happy where they're planted. In some cases, you may even need to divide plants frequently to prevent them from overtaking neighboring perennials.
Grow artemisias for the magnificent silver foliage that complements nearly all other perennials and ties together diverse colors within the garden. They're nothing short of stunning next to white or blue flowers.
They thrive in hot, dry, sunny conditions such as a south-facing slope. A number spread rapidly to the point of being aggressive, so consider limiting yourself to varieties listed below that are well-behaved.
Asters get their name from the Latin word for "star," and their flowers are indeed the superstars of the fall garden. Some types of this native plant can reach up to 6 feet with flowers in white and pinks but also, perhaps most strikingly, in rich purples and showy lavenders.
Not all asters are fall bloomers. Extend the season by growing some of the summer bloomers, as well. Some are naturally compact; tall types that grow more than 2 feet tall benefit from staking or an early-season pinching or cutting back by about one-third in July or so to keep the plant more compact.
Astilbe brings a graceful, feathering note to moist, shady landscapes. In cooler climates in the northern third or so of the country, it can tolerate full sun provided it has a constant supply of moisture. In drier sites, however, the leaves will scorch in full sun.
Feathery plumes of white, pink, lavender, or red flowers rise above the finely divided foliage from early to late summer depending on the variety. It will spread slowly over time where well-situated. Most commercially available types are complex hybrids.
Showy, brightly colored flowers are saucer-shape, sometimes semidouble, over loose mounds of handsome dark strawberrylike leaves. Many of the best cultivars are hybrids between species. These plants do best in a well-drained, rich soil.
With its loose, billowy panicles of tiny single or double pink or white flowers, baby's breath provides a lightness and airiness to flower gardens. The creeping forms drape beautifully over rock walls. After bloom time, shear the plants to deadhead and for neatness. Plants prefer sweet (alkaline) soils with full sun and excellent drainage.
The inflated buds of balloon flowers are fun to pop. And they make great cut flowers. Cut them in the bud stage, and sear the base of the stems to prevent the milky sap from seeping out and fouling the water.
Most commonly available in blue-violet, balloon flowers also come in pink and white, as well as shorter forms that are better suited for rock gardens and containers. In fall, the foliage of balloon flower turns clear gold, so don't cut the plant down too early -- enjoy the show! They tolerate light shade, but not wet feet or drought.
Baptisia is one of those tall plants with beautiful spires, often in a showy blue, that draws everyone to it for an admiring closer look. It's a native prairie plant that bears long, tall spikes of pealike blooms in late spring. As the flowers ripen, they turn into interesting black seedpods often used in fall arrangements.
It is a drought-tolerant plant that forms a deep taproot. Choose its location carefully; it is difficult to transplant once established.
Add a burst of whimsy to the garden! Slightly wayward stems and loose, rounded flower clusters give Barbara¿s buttons a fun, carefree appearance. It is guaranteed to enliven a staunch border with Dr. Seuss-like spirit. Add this North American native and up-and-coming perennial to beds and borders in full sun or part shade. It grows best in moist, well-drained soil. Blooming in late spring, it is a great partner for spring bulbs. When the tulips and daffodil blooms are fading it bursts onto the scene, carrying the garden into summer.
With strawberry-like leaves and bright yellow spring flowers, barren strawberries are an alternative evergreen groundcover or edging plant. They tolerate dry soil well and colonize banks and along woodland paths and between stepping stones in light shade or sun. They spread by runners and can cover a space relatively quickly.
Barrenwort is a rare plant -- one that thrives in the dry shade beneath shallow-rooted trees! It spreads at a moderate rate, forming a graceful, dense groundcover. Almost as a bonus, it also produces dainty flowers shaped like a bishop's miter -- prompting another common name, bishop's cap. Its colorful foliage dangles on slender stalks, providing yet another moniker: fairy wings.
Basket-of-gold is one of those plants that loves to grow in the least likely of place -- cracks between paving stones, the edge of gravel paths and patios, rocky outcroppings, between the stacked stones of a retaining wall, and more. It loves a baked spot with excellent drainage but will struggle in hot, humid areas and tends not to do well in the South.
But where it does well, it's a showstopper. It will reseed prolifically in little cracks, filling an area each spring with dazzling neon yellows. After it finishes blooming, the grayish-green foliage makes an attractive mat in the perennial garden.
A culinary classic, bay's glossy green foliage is a flavor favorite in soups, stews, and meat dishes. Bay only survives to 25 degrees, so it's commonly grown in containers, sounding a steady evergreen note on patios during the growing season and gracing sunny interior windows after frost. In the landscape, established trees are fuss-free and drought tolerant. Potted bay is susceptible to scale insects; hand-pick any offenders. Protect potted bay from intense sunlight in hottest zones. If you love to cook, keep dried leaves on hand; they're an essential herb for bouquet garni.
A majestic plant, bear's breeches is like a living sculpture in the garden. It offers sturdy spires of white or pink blooms with papery purple bracts that make a dramatic statement, as does the rich-green, spiny-looking foliage.
The plants tolerate poor, dry soil once established but need regular moisture to get started. In well-drained soil bear's breeches can spread to become a large colony, but it is not invasive.
Bee balm is a wonderful plant for attracting butterflies and helpful bees. This prairie native has fascinating-shape flowers in jewel tones of red, pink, purple, and white, surrounded by dark bracts. They grow atop substantial clumps of dark foliage.
The aromatic foliage is sometimes used for making tea, and bee balm is often grown in herb gardens. Established plants tend to spread, especially in damp soil. This plant is extremely prone to mildew problems, so be sure to plant in full sun and seek out cultivars touted as resistant to mildew diseases.
Romantic, usually bobbing, often blue bellflowers are classic cottage garden plants. Tall types look like something straight out of a fairy tale garden, while ground-hugging types are good in rock gardens, more formal gardens, and many other situations. Most are perennial, but a notable exception is Canterbury bells, a stately biennial (it takes two years to bloom). Flowers come in blue, purple, white, or pink.
Shown above: Campanula carpatica
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