Your best bets for go-to beauty with easy-care perennials
There are literally hundreds of perennials (i.e. flowers that come back next season and for seasons to come), which is impressive and sometimes overwhelming. Where do you start? We thought this list might be a good place to begin, filled with some classic, easy-care perennial varieties that are as reliable as they are gorgeous.
Some other basic considerations that bear repeating:
- Right plant, right place. Choose a perennial that will thrive in your full sun or full shade, or whatever combination you have. Once you’ve chosen your space, check for exposure throughout the day, then check the plant tag to make sure it matches up.
- Same goes for the size of your space. Some perennials will spread or have a lot of height. Pick the perennial that will shine in your chosen spot.
- Give your plants plenty of nutrients when you plant and as they establish themselves. Check out our Guide to Planting & Care for step-by-step instructions for planting, watering, fertilizing and pruning.
Now comes the fun part, our list of the Top Easy-care Perennials:
Commonly called Coral Bells, heuchera has had a recent revival, with debuts of the same charming coral bell-shaped flowers all of us (including hummingbirds) love, plus a rainbow of colorful leaves in shades of purple, rose, champagne, lime, gold and variations (and variegations) of everything in between.
Expect yours to form round mounds with tall, airy stalks that feature small, bell-shaped flowers. Leaves are rounded and saturated in rich colors. Expect yours to grow about 12-18 inches tall and wide, with varieties that sit on the low end of the size spectrum (tiny alpines/Heuchera nivalis) and tall heat lovers (Heuchera maxima).
Growing Tip: Heuchera will grow in full sun (especially the Heuchera maxima), but we like to give ours a bit of shade to keep the vibrant foliage at its most colorful. A little afternoon shade also keeps the leaves from scorching.
Few perennials are as versatile as salvia, also called perennial sage. This big family of gorgeous bloomers includes varieties that are tough enough to take the cold of Minnesota and others that thrive in the heat and humidity of Florida. Plus, many salvia varieties develop deep blue flowers, a color that’s often hard to come by in the flower border.
Growing Tip: As soon as your salvia stops blooming shear back plants by about one third their height. This promotes a second season of flowers later in the summer.
Make room for a little extra sunshine! Coreopsis’ bright sunny-yellow or golden flowers are hard to miss, especially on a dreary day. Most coreopsis grows about 18 inches tall and produces single or double flowers. Some varieties have fine, delicate foliage that make the flowers appear to be floating on a lacy cushion. Like rudbeckia, coreopsis is a native prairie plant so it can take a little neglect when it comes to water and fertilizer.
Growing Tip: Plant coreopsis near the front of your border so you can easily remove the fading flowers. This will extend the bloom time through the summer.
The workhorses of the perennial border. Virtually impervious to heat, drought and disease, sedums get bigger and better each year. One of the first perennials to pop up in the spring, sedums are also one of the last ones to succumb to fall’s cold temperatures. Most sedums bloom in late summer and fall, but they all offer handsome, fleshy foliage that looks great all season long. Their nectar-rich blooms are also a favorite with butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Growing Tip: Because sedums spread, it’s a good idea to divide them every few years to keep them in top form. Dig the plants and use a sharp spade to separate them into smaller pieces you can share with friends.
A decade ago, you didn’t have a lot of options when it came to choosing an Echinacea (commonly called coneflower) for your garden. Most varieties looked a lot like the original native form, which has single, pink petals surrounding a dark center.
But plant hybridizers have had a field day with this resilient perennial, creating new flower forms almost every year. Now, you can choose from double- and triple-flowering varieties and colors that include white, raspberry, orange, and yellow. Echinacea generally grow 3 feet tall and bloom from early summer until fall. They’re a favorite with butterflies and make excellent cut flowers for indoor bouquets.
Growing Tip: Single-flowering forms often live longer than the double or triple types. Before you buy, check the plant’s zone of hardiness to see if a particular variety will survive the winter in your garden.
Dependable and Pinterest-pretty, peonies last for years with very little help from us. In fact, there are many cases where peonies are still growing and blooming where they were planted 50 years earlier! Peonies form pretty, 3-foot tall mounds of foliage that burst into bloom in mid-spring. The plants are available in single-, double-, or semi-double forms, and flower in a wide range of colors and bi-colors. Blooms are showy, highly fragrant and make extraordinary spring bouquets for weddings or graduations. All these dependable plants require is a sunny garden spot that’s well drained—they won’t prosper in heavy, mucky soil.
Growing Tip: Peonies require a period of cold and darkness to bloom well. That’s why they grow best from zones 4-8 where they bloom from May to June.
The reblooming iris is one of the most sumptuous flowers in the spring garden. These spectacular perennials are a snap to grow and are prized for their eye-popping, crown-like flowers that are held aloft on tall graceful stems. They come in an almost unlimited selection of colors and bi-colors, and rebloomers put on a second show of bloom in fall. When not in bloom, irises feature striking, sword-like foliage that stands up straight throughout the growing season. Like peonies, the iris requires a period of cold and darkness to bloom so are at their best in our growing zone.
Growing Tip: To keep your irises in top form, dig and divide them every three to four years. If you allow your iris to grow into one thick clump, flower production will slow.
8. CREEPING PHLOX
How about the old-world feel of moss, with the added benefit of tiny star-like flowers? Creeping phlox is a low maintenance ground cover that cascades over otherwise inhospitable areas, like the space between pavers or landscape boulders, throughout rocky patches and in fully sunny spaces.
Creeping phlox has about a two-foot spread and grows to just 4-6 inches tall, making it a cascading carpet of color in spring and semi-evergreen mounds the rest of the time.
Growing Tip: Trim back after flowering to encourage a second bloom, and we recommend cutting the plant back in late winter to rejuvenate the plant and encourage a compact habit with young, flowering stems.
Talk about easy care! Once planted, daylilies require only minimum attention, yet they’ll reward you with armloads of gorgeous flowers every summer. These early risers push their pretty grass-like leaves up through the soil in early spring. When summer rolls around, plants develop graceful flower stems packed with buds that open into beautiful blooms. Daylilies get their name from the fact that each flower lasts for just one day. But not to worry–each plant produces a quantity of buds/blooms, so there’s always color.
Growing Tip: Although daylilies prefer full sun, they will survive in partial shade. Flowering will be a bit more limited, but they will provide some much-needed color in these locations.
Having a shady backyard doesn’t mean you can’t have a colorful garden. Hostas thrive in the shade, and are available in an almost limitless selection of sizes, shapes and colors. In fact, there are so many Hosta options to choose from, that you can create an entire garden with just this one species.
Hostas prefer a rich, slightly moist soil, but are tough enough to endure less-than-ideal conditions. Their biggest challenges are deer and slugs, two creatures that find hosta foliage especially tasty. Hostas also develop gorgeous flower spikes in pink, lavender or white. The flowers of some varieties are also fragrant.
Growing Tip: If you see holes in the leaves of your hostas, you probably have slugs nearby. These creatures dine at night so you won’t see them destroying your plants during the day. To combat them, use an organic slug bait or place halved orange or grapefruit pieces around your plants. At night the slugs will be attracted to the fruit, which you can then remove, slugs and all.