Problem-Solving Perennials for Tough Gardens
Perennials offer possibilities for every growing situation. As you contemplate digging into perennial gardening, approach it from the standpoint of solving landscape problems. There's a perennial that will thrive in every growing solution.
If you have a slope too steep for mowing, you can trade turf for perennial groundcover. Near downspouts and low spots in your yard where water gathers after downpours, moisture-loving perennials can transform an eyesore into a beauty spot.
Where lower rainfall dictates water restrictions, tap into the world of xeriscape plants, which grow and flower profusely with little moisture. Natural deposits of acidic soil can support lovely perennials that will make you grateful for the locally low pH. Stop fighting to grow grass beneath shade trees—plant shade-loving perennials instead!
You can even find perennials that serve as lawn stand-ins—tidy, ground-hugging plants that withstand foot traffic and stay green year-round. In municipalities where surface runoff adds charges to your water bill, incorporating a rain garden filled with moisture-loving perennials will dissipate roof, driveway, or patio runoff into the soil and can reduce your water fees. Use this list of perennials adapted to various growing conditions to draft solutions to your landscaping problems.
Perennials for Wet Soils
If your garden bed is down in a ditch or next to the downspout, you're probably stuck with soggy soil that drowns plants. There are plenty of varieties that can withstand (and even thrive) in that much moisture.
- Lobelia or Cardinal Flower: Brilliant red or dark pink flowers in late summer to early fall
- Goatsbeard: Lacy, white flower plumes atop 3- to 5-foot-tall plants from early- to midsummer
- Joe Pye Weed: Large mauve blooms; up to 6 feet tall in late summer
- Rodgersia: Course texture; flower plumes in spring or summer
- Sweet Flag: Long-lasting swordlike foliage
Perennials for Shade
As much as we love hostas, we know it can be boring to fill in a shady corner of the yard with just one plant variety. Flowers like astilbe, bleeding heart, and phlox can also do well in shade and make excellent planting partners for hardy hosta.
- Astilbe: Long-lasting flower stalks in summer
- Barrenwort: Red, pink, white, purple, or bicolor blooms in early- to mid-spring
- Foamflower: White or light pink flowers in mid-spring
- Hardy Begonia: Heart-shape foliage; pink flowers in late summer
- Hosta: Grown for foliage; many cultivars See our favorites here.
- Hellebore or Lenten Rose: Coarse-textured foliage; blooms in late winter to early spring
- Lungwort: Early-spring flowers and variegated foliage
- Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart: Heart-shape pink flowers in spring
- Woodland Phlox: Fragrant blue, purple, pink, or white flowers in late spring
Perennials for Alkaline Soils
In certain areas of the country, soil's acidic balance can be off-kilter, resulting in what we call alkaline soil. Alkaline soil doesn't let much moisture in and has a weak soil structure that just can't keep certain plants happy. You can still work with this type of soil without investing in pounds of soil amendments—just look for these plants.
- Anemone: Late-Summer or fall flowers
- Coralbells: Many cultivars with colorful foliage
- Creeping Baby's Breath: White flowers in summer
- Geranium: Spring or summer flowers depending on species; foliage of many turns red in fall
- Pincushion Flower: Blue flowers on wiry stems summer to fall
- Dianthus or Pinks: White, pink, or red flowers in spring and summer; evergreen foliage in some areas
Perennials for Dry Soils
Typically, dry soils contain a lot of sand, which doesn't hold moisture very well. You need especially hardy plants that don't need consistent or large amounts of water. Try some of these.
- Blue Fescue: Ornamental grass with bluish-green foliage
- Catmint: Fragrant foliage and lavender-blue flowers in early summer
- Baptisia or False Indigo: Pealike blue flowers in late spring followed by attractive seedpods
- Liriope or Lilyturf: Dark green grass-like foliage
- Penstemon: Desert species have bright flower colors, upright shape
- Gaura: Airy white or pink flower stalks from midsummer to fall
- Yucca: Rounded clump of upright foliage
Perennials for Full Sun
While all plants need some amount of light to grow and thrive, some are more delicate than others and get scorched if they are placed in full sun. Some plants, however, do super well in hot and sunny spots in the garden.
- Coreopsis: Yellow flowers all summer
- Hollyhock: Summer flowers on tall spikes early to midsummer
- Campion or Maltese Cross: Silver foliage and scarlet flowers in early summer
- Centaurea or Mountain Bluet: Blue-violet flowers in mid-spring to early summer
- Poppy: Flowers with paperlike petals in late spring and early summer
- Peony: Large, fragrant flowers in late spring to early summer See some of our favorite varieties.
- Mallow: Shrublike with white, pink, or purple-pink flowers all summer
Perennials for Acidic Soils
Just like alkaline soils, acidic soil is a result of a lack of balance of nutrients in the soil. Instead of having too little acidic content, acidic soil has too much, which can be a result of organic matter, excessive rainfall, or too much fertilizer. But, you can still grow gorgeous flowers in acidic soil.
- Bear's Breeches: Tall flower spikes in late spring to early summer and texture-rich foliage
- Cinnamon Fern: Reddish-brown fronds in center of plant
- Fringed Bleeding Heart: Finely cut foliage; flowers in summer
- Liatris or Gayfeather: Purple or white flower spikes in early- to midsummer
- Bergenia: Shiny evergreen foliage with pink blooms in early spring
- Japanese Iris: Showy flowers in late spring or summer
- Hellebore or Lenten Rose: Flowers in late summer
Perennials for Clay Soils
You know if you have clay soil—you come out of landscaping projects with sticky boots and a sore back from shoveling the dense earth. Because it is so dense, clay soil can block plant's roots from getting water, which chokes them out. Some plants actually do well with these conditions.
- Daylily: Adaptable grower for tough conditions; many colors available See our favorite varieties.
- False Sunflower or Heliopsis: Yellow, daisylike flowers native to the prairie
- Geranium: Many species with pink, purple, or white blooms for sun to part shade
- Monkshood: Late summer spikes of deep blue for shady sites
- Obedient Plant: Rapid spreader with pink or white candles of bloom
- Peony: Fragrant pink, red, white, or yellow late-spring blooms See some of our favorite varieties.
- Yarrow: Ferny foliage and drought-tolerant; golden-yellow, white, pink, red, or salmon-color blooms
Perennials for Sandy Soils
Sandy soil is high in sand content and doesn't hold nutrients or water well. It's also more lightweight and fine than other types of soil. If you have sandy soil, you don't need to be limited to desert plants alone.
- Artemisia: Silvery foliage is the key feature of this perennial
- Blanket Flower: Long bloom season of orange-red daisies marked with yellow
- Baptisia or False Indigo: Shrubby plant with spikes of blue, yellow, white, orange-red blooms in spring
- Lavender Cotton: Herb with fine texture in silvery gray or green foliage
- Thyme: Groundcover with pinkish-purple blooms
- Yarrow: Adapted to full sun and dry soils with wide range of bloom colors
- Yucca: Succulent with spiky foliage and trusses of white bell-shape blooms
Perennials that are Salt-Tolerant
You may get a high salt content in your soil if you live by a coast, but you can also get areas of salty soil from winter deicing and plowing. If you can't get the salt levels balanced, lean on these salt-tolerant garden plants.
- Armeria or Sea Thrift: Compact plant with grassy foliage and pink or white blooms
- Blanket Flower: Bicolor daisylike blooms on mounded plants
- Butterfly Weed: Brilliant orange blooms highly attractive to butterflies
- Candytuft: White blooms in spring on mounded evergreen foliage
- Daylily: Tough plant for almost any situation except deep shade See some of our favorite varieties.
- Hens-and-Chicks: Succulent with rosettes of green, pink, or purple foliage
- Dianthus or Pinks: Carnation relative with grassy blue-green foliage and fragrant pink, white, or red blooms
Perennials that are Deer-Resistant
Deer are beautiful backyard visitors, but nothing is more frustrating than having them eat the flowers and vegetables you've worked so hard to grow all season. If you're methodical about the plants you choose, they'll leave your garden alone.
- Astilbe: Shade- and moisture-lover with feathery plumes of blooms
- Barrenwort: Shade-tolerant groundcover with delicate-looking blooms
- Lobelia or Cardinal Flower: Moisture-loving plant with spikes of brilliant red or dark pink blooms
- Foxglove: Clustered spikes of pink bells
- Hellebore or Lenten Rose: Late-winter bloomer in shades of pink, white, green, or purple
- Ornamental Allium: Perennial bulb with blooms or purple or white
- Russian Sage: Silvery-gray foliage and purple blooms in summer
Perennials for Cool Climates
Some plants love the hot and humid air of Southern states, while others do just fine in the more temperate Northern states. You can find colorful flowers in the North that you'll appreciate having in your garden.
- Delphinium: Long spikes of blue, purple, pink, or white flowers
- Globeflower: Yellow springtime blooms with feathery centers
- Japanese Primrose: Moisture-loving plant with globes of pink, purple, or white blooms in spring
- Lady's Mantle: Chartreuse blooms over blue-green foliage
- Lupine: Upright spikes of pealike blooms in many shades
- Monkshood: Fall bloomer for shade
- Poppy: Crepelike blooms in spring in shades of orange, red, pink, or white
Related: Cold-Climate Shade Garden Plan
Perennials for Hot Climates
Explore the world of tropical plants that love the humidity. The sun won't burn these hot climate plants—they just can't get enough of the heat.
- Blackberry Lily: Orange blooms turn into black seed clusters.
- Blanket Flower: Adaptable daisy for tough sites.
- Daylily: Trumpet-shape blooms in a wide range of colors. See some of our favorite varieties.
- Hardy Begonia: Glossy green foliage with pink blooms.
- Mexican Sage: Deep purple blooms on silvery plants.
- Muhlygrass: Feathery foliage and white or pinkish blooms.
- Threadleaf Coreopsis: Finely dissected foliage with small yellow daisylike blooms.