Power Perennials: Plants That Thrive No Matter What
Practically indestructible, daylilies will flower their heads off in almost any sunny spot. They are drought and insect resistant and offer a wide range of colors and bicolors. Daylilies are also available in early-, mid-, and late-season bloomers. For an all-season flower show plant a few of each in your garden. Or, select repeat bloomers that flower from spring until fall. These easy-care perennials eventually form large clumps that should be divided every three to four years. Grows in Zones 3-9.
Buddleia, commonly called butterfly bush, produces wave after wave of fragrant, nectar-rich flowers all summer long. A flowering shrub, Buddleia acts like a perennial in northern gardens, dying back to the ground each fall, only to return bigger and better the following spring. Buddleia is available in standard (3 to 5 feet tall) and dwarf forms (18 to 24 inches tall). Flower colors include white, red, purple, blue, yellow, pink, and lavender. They look terrific in the flower border or in containers. Just make sure to plant them in a sunny spot. Grows in Zones 5-10.
One of the best perennials for shady spots, Epimedium, commonly called barrenwort, is a real garden workhorse. Growing only 10 to 12 inches tall, this hardy groundcover offers both colorful foliage and flowers. It’s also highly drought resistant which makes it an ideal choice for shady locations with dry soil. Depending on the variety you grow and your region, the plants may also remain evergreen through the winter. Epimedium spreads slowly, gradually carpeting your garden with color. Grows in Zones 4-8.
Hot, dry weather won’t stop Coreopsis from flowering all summer long. This American native is one of the most reliable perennials you can grow. The plants produce large quantities of yellow, orange, pink, white, red, or bicolored blooms that dance on wiry stems every time the wind blows. They also have few insect or disease problems. Foliage varies between species and can be either threadlike or broad. To promote even more flowers, remove faded blooms as they appear. Grows in Zones 3-8.
Add a burst of color to your late summer and fall garden with Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia. This tough-as nails plant is native to central Asia, so it’s capable of performing in hot, dry conditions. Its eye-popping bluish-purple flowers appear in mid to late summer and retain their color for weeks. Paired with the plant’s fragrant, silvery foliage, Russian sage is a must-have for your garden. Russian sage grows 3 to 5 feet tall, dwarf forms are more compact reaching 3 feet in height. Grows in Zones 4-9.
Summer Power Perennials
Learn which perennials stand up to summer's heat with color that lasts into fall.
Just when you think winter is never going to end, the spirit-lifting flowers of hellebore burst into bloom. Often called Lenten or Christmas rose because of their early-flowering season, hellebore excels in the shade garden where its nodding pink, white, rose, green, purple, yellow, spotted, or bicolored blooms bring welcome color to dark corners of the landscape. They also make great companions for spring-flowering bulbs such as Narcissus and Scilla. Hellebores are also deer and rabbit resistant. Grows in Zones 4-9.
Put sedums on the top of your shopping list if you’re looking for a perennial that requires almost no care. These scrappy plants come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and won’t knuckle under to heat, drought, winter cold, or insects. One of our favorites is a variety called Dragon’s Blood sedum. This fast-growing creeper has pretty red-and-green foliage, making it an excellent groundcover for sloping sites. Sedums prefer sunny locations, but they will also grow well in partial shade. Grows in Zones 3-10.
Once established, Baptisia, occasionally called false indigo, can live for decades. In fact, in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden we have several specimens that have bloomed reliably every spring since they were planted in the 1950s. Baptisia is a shrub-like perennial that develops graceful stalks of blue, white, purple, or yellow flowers in the early spring. It has pretty, blue-green, pea-like foliage that looks terrific even when the plants are not in bloom. Baptisia requires a sunny spot and grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Grows in Zones 3-8.
Once found growing wild on the American prairie, coneflowers are now one of the most widely grown and hybridized perennials in the country. Beside single-flowering forms there are also doubles and even triple, petal-packed varieties you can grow. Colors vary from the traditional purple to white, orange, yellow, and red. Coneflowers grow best in full sun, but will tolerate some light shade. They bloom from early summer to fall and are attractive to birds and butterflies. Grows in Zones 3-9.
Fall Power Perennials
Learn which plants to include in your garden for a strong fall finish.
The hardiest of all the lilies, asiatics are almost foolproof. They grow quickly from bulbs planted in the fall or early spring and develop gorgeous upward-facing flowers in a wide range of colors and bicolors. Bloom time varies by variety but most put on their biggest flower show in early to midsummer. Asiatic lilies also multiply fast, so you can dig and divide them every few years and spread them to other sunny spots in your garden. Some are also lightly fragrant. Grows in Zones 3-10.
If you like variety, you can't go wrong with hostas. These shade dwellers are available in hundreds of different shapes, sizes, and colors -- including giants that can grow 4 feet tall and dwarves that top out at 4 inches. Prized for their colorful foliage, hostas also produce lovely wands of blue, white or lavender flowers during the summer (flowering time varies by variety). Hostas are a snap to care for and can be dug and divided to produce more plants whenever you need them. Grows in Zones 3-9.
Top Shade Perennials
Look no further than these shade-perfect picks to add color and texture to this tough spot in the garden.
Keep foliage color in mind when you plan your perennial border. Plants with colorful foliage such as artemisia will keep the garden looking good while flowering plants go in and out of bloom. Artemisia has beautiful silver-gray foliage that won’t fade in the hot sun. This hardy perennial is also drought and insect resistant, and the branches make a wonderful addition to indoor flower arrangements. Height varies by variety and can range from 3 feet tall to just 5 inches. Grows in Zones 4-9.
Make a long-term investment in your garden with peonies. These gorgeous sun lovers will bloom reliably for decades, getting bigger and better every year. Peonies are available in a variety of colors and flower forms including singles, doubles, and semi-doubles. The flowers are also delightfully fragrant, making them an ideal choice for fresh-cut bouquets. Although they vary slightly by variety, most peonies bloom in May and June, but even after they flower, their finely cut foliage provides interest in the flower border. Grows in Zones 3-8.
One of the most popular perennials in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden, Nepeta, or catmint, wins rave reviews from visitors throughout the spring and summer. The plant has rich blue flowers that stand up to heat and drought. Plus, after they finish blooming, you can shear the plant back by a third of its height and it’ll bloom again in the late summer and early fall. Taller varieties that grow 3 feet tall look great mixed with roses, peonies, or ornamental grasses. Shorter catmints that grow just 12 inches tall excel at the border’s edge. Grows in Zones 3-9.
Growing 6 to 24 inches tall, Geranium, or cranesbill, looks as good in containers as it does at the border's edge. It's a rugged plant that prefers full sun, but it will bloom in partial shade. Cranesbill bears white, pink, blue, or lavender flowers on pretty arching stems from late spring until fall. Most varieties also have mottled or veined leaves that add to the color show even when the plants are not in bloom. The plants can quickly carpet an area with bloom. Grows in Zones 5-9.
Originally found growing wild in the American prairie, Liatris, or blazing star, is now a top pick for hot, sunny gardens. The plants are naturally resistant to heat and drought and are available in pink, purple or white flowering varieties. Liatris forms a clump of narrow leaves that are topped in mid to late summer by 2-foot-tall spikes of bloom. This striking perennial is also a favorite with butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Grows in Zones 3-9.
Every flower border should contain a generous helping of garden phlox. These big bloomers can grow 3 to 5 feet tall producing ball-like flower heads from mid-summer to fall. The fragrant flowers include pink, red, purple, white, or bicolor, and some also offer variegated foliage. In humid climates, look for mildew-resistant varieties. Garden phlox make excellent companions for roses, coneflower, and lilies. Grows in Zones 4-8.
Add color and drama to your flower borders with Oriental lilies. These spectacular plants can grow 6 feet tall and produce bouquets of richly fragrant flowers from mid to late summer. Colors include pink, rose, white, pale orange, and cream. Many are also speckled and/or striped. Oriental lilies are easy to grow from bulbs planted in the spring or fall. Some of the taller varieties might require support in windy locations, so set stakes in the ground while the plants are young. The exquisite blooms make excellent cut flowers, but be sure to remove the stamens to avoid staining your clothes. Dig and divide the bulbs every few years in the fall to keep the plants vigorous. Grows in Zones 4-8.
Add much-needed color to your fall garden with Japanese anemones. These cheerful flowers pop into bloom in mid to late summer and stay colorful through early autumn. Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis, grows best in full sun to partial shade in rich, slightly moist soil. The single, pure pink flowers appear on wiry, 2-foot-tall stems held high above the plant's dark green foliage. This pretty perennial can be slow to take hold, but with time it will form dense clumps and can naturalize an area. Grows in Zones 4-8.
A native of the American prairie, Culver’s Root, Veronicastrum virginicum, develops bold candelabras of white, pink, or lavender flowers all summer. This hardy perennial prefers slightly moist soil and grows to a height of 4-7 feet in full sun or light shade. The plant also has pretty, finely cut foliage that keeps it looking good even when it’s not blooming. Culver’s Root is attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. Grows in Zones 3-8.
The jewel-like flowers of Moss Phlox, Phlox subulata, open early in the season, often appearing alongside daffodils and tulips. This rugged little ground cover rarely grows over 10 inches tall and does best in full sun and well-drained soil, making it an excellent candidate for rock gardens or slopes. Colors include violet, pink, white, blue, and bicolors. The plants are also deer resistant. Grows in Zones 3-9.
Hummingbirds will come knocking when you plant trumpet vine in your garden. This quick growing perennial vine produces quantities of nectar-rich, trumpet-shape red, salmon, or yellow flowers that the birds find irresistible. Trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, can grow 20-40 feet long and requires a sturdy trellis, arbor, or building to support it. Use it to camouflage an ugly garage or shed, or let it ramble over a fence to provide privacy for your backyard. Trumpet vine requires full sun and some attention to keep it from spreading throughout your garden. Newer hybrids are less invasive, but even they can grow out of bounds now and again. Grows in Zones 4-9.
Plants That Give You the Most Bang for Your Buck
Learn which plants have the staying power to give you the best return on your investment.