If you want to leave a flowering legacy, plant peonies. These hardy perennials will last for decades. In fact, in our Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden®, we still care for a few peonies that were planted there in the 1950s. Plant them in full sun and provide some support when the plants are blooming to keep the flowers from toppling.
Although liriope is probably not the first plant people think of when they talk about long-lived perennials, we’ve found that this unassuming little perennial can persist for years. Its grasslike foliage and short spikes of pretty flowers have been found growing in long abandoned Southern gardens. It isn’t fussy about soil type and prefers to grow in light shade.
Daylilies are as tough as they are long-lived. These reliable perennials are rugged enough to grow and bloom in commercial landscapes, along highways, and steep hillsides. Available in a seemingly endless assortment of colors, bicolors, and flower forms, daylilies will persist for years in your garden. They do need to be divided every few years to keep them blooming, but the plants will remain alive even if you ignore them.
Year after year you can rely on hostas to brighten the dark corners of your landscape. Planted in a shady spot with rich, organic soil, hosta clumps grow bigger and better every season. Their only enemies are snails, slugs, and deer, so if you can keep those pests at bay, you’ll be able to enjoy hostas long after you plant them.
The iris family boasts a large number of long-lived relatives. Bearded iris, shown here, can often be found blooming around abandoned houses or in historic cemeteries. Siberian and African iris are two other species that will persist in your garden with little attention from you. All iris need to be divided every few years to promote flowering, but they'll live on even without the extra attention.
Zones: 3-9 for Bearded and Siberian; 9-11 for African
See other plants with a great return on your investment.
The flowers of Oriental poppy might look delicate, but these plants are so tough that they’ve been found growing around long-neglected farmsteads. Native to Central Asia, Oriental poppies survive summer drought by going dormant after they flower in the spring and then reappearing in the early fall. Flower colors include orange, red, white, salmon, and crimson. Plant Oriental poppies in a sunny location with well-drained soil.
Occasionally called false indigo, baptisia is a native prairie plant that's been given a modern makeover with a number of new color options. These tall, mounding perennials develop gorgeous spikes of pealike flowers in the spring, but the blue-green foliage is pretty enough to stand on its own. Because it's naturally drought- and insect-resistant, baptisia will last for decades in your garden. It's relatively slow growing, so buy the largest plant you can find so you can enjoy flowers as soon as possible.
Drought-resistant and almost foolproof, sedums return year after year with no complaints. There are many species of sedum to choose from, but some of the toughest are the groundcover varieties, such as 'Dragon's Blood', shown here. These easy-care creepers will slowly carpet your garden with color even under extreme weather conditions.
Butterflies will flock to your yard when you plant catmint (also called nepeta) in your borders. These hard-to-kill plants develop pretty blue or white nectar-rich flowers on stems that rise from mounds of gray-green leaves. Plants come in a variety of heights from 6 inches to 3 feet tall and, once established, they'll perform for many years. After flowering, shear back plants to encourage another flush of bloom. Catmint grows best in full sun.
A native wildflower, New England aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, knows how to take care of itself. Growing 4-6 feet tall, this bold bloomer is literally smothered in pink or blue flowers in the late summer and fall. It's a favorite plant for butterflies, particularly migrating monarchs, which feast on the nectar-rich blooms as they travel south. Pinching the plant before mid-July helps keep it a bit more compact, but staking might still be necessary. New England aster prefers full sun and will often self sow.
A super reliable and long-lived perennial in warm climate areas, agapanthus produces tall flower stalks with colorful balls of white or blue trumpet-shape flowers. The plants also have straplike evergreen foliage that looks great even when the plants are not in bloom. In Northern gardens, grow agapanthus in containers and move the plants indoors during the winter. Agapanthus grows best in full sun in a slightly moist soil.
Often blooming for generations, wisteria vine is treasured for its trailing blue or white fragrant spring flowers. A vigorous climber, wisteria requires strong support because as the vine matures it can become quite heavy and will break lightweight arbors or trellises. In the north, some wisteria varieties will grow but not bloom because the flower buds freeze during the winter. Look for a variety, such as ‘Blue Moon’, that was developed specifically for colder climates.
Hummingbirds will flock to your garden when you plant trumpet vine, Campsis radicans. This extra-hardy vine will quickly scramble up and over trellises, fences, and arbors, producing quantities of trumpet-shape crimson, yellow, or orange flowers. The plants are almost impossible to kill, so you can be sure you’ll enjoy your plants for many years. Older forms of trumpet vine have a tendency to send up suckers throughout your garden, so plant more modern varieties that are easier to control. Plant trumpet vine in full sun.
Often called false sunflower or oxeye daisy, heliopsis is a native wildflower that develops wave after wave of cheerful yellow blooms in mid to late summer. It’s a fuss-free perennial that will flower even in poor soil or during times of drought. Heliopsis grows 3-4 feet tall and its nectar-filled flowers are a special treat for butterflies and other pollinators.
One of the shortest members of the phlox family, Moss Phlox, Phlox subulata, puts on a big spring flower show every year. Covered in blue, pink, white, or violet blooms, moss phlox makes an excellent groundcover for small slopes or rock gardens. Moss phlox is native to dry, rocky regions of the East Coast, so good drainage is essential. In our Test Garden we’ve had great success with it on well drained, sunny, east facing slopes. This little perennial will perform for years when it’s happy.
Commonly called yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a long-lasting native perennial that produces lovely flat flower heads held aloft on lacy foliage in mid to late summer. Flower colors vary from yellow, cream, pink, red, or bicolor. Achillea isn't fussy about soil type as long as it receives plenty of sunshine. The plants can become floppy by late summer, so pinch them back right after flowering to encourage compact growth and an additional flush of bloom.