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.
Some classic varieties that prefer a cooler climate include May Night (in photo), Carradona, and New Dimension. For warmer climates (zones 7 and above) choose Wild Thing, Hot Lips, or Black and Blue.
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.
Some top coreopsis picks include dwarf-form Nana (in photo), pale yellow Moonbeam, award-winning double-flowering Early Sunrise, and pink-flowering Limerock Dream.
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.
This large perennial family includes ground-hugging varieties such as Angelina, as well as taller types such as the classic three-foot-tall Autumn Joy. Other great sedum choices include the pretty ground covers Tricolor and Kamtchaticum variegatum (in photo) and taller must-haves like Vera Jameson, Voodoo and Neon.
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.
Some favorite varieties include dwarf Kim’s Knee High, boldly colored Salsa Red, double-flowering Bubblegum and surprising Sombrero Sandy Yellow.
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-ready, 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.
Choice varieties include single-flowering Krinkled White, gorgeous Coral Supreme, classic double pink Sarah Bernhardt and pink-and-cream Annamieke (in photo).
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.
7. Bearded Iris
The bearded 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 some varieties even put on a second show of bloom in fall. When not in bloom, bearded iris plants feature striking, sword-like foliage that stands up straight throughout the growing season. Like peonies, the bearded iris requires a period of cold and darkness to bloom so are at their best in zones 3-9.
Top picks include: Immortality, Again and Again, Goldkist (in photo) and Savannah Sunset.
Growing Tip: To keep your bearded iris 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.
Talk about easy care! Once planted, daylilies require only a minimum of attention, yet they’ll reward you with armloads of gorgeous flowers every summer. Daylilies are hardy from zones 3-9 and all these reliable plants need is a sunny spot and protection from weedy intruders. 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. Not a worry because each plant produces a quantity of buds/blooms, so there’s always color.
In general, daylilies are classified as either standard or ever-blooming. As a rule, standard bloomers have bigger flowers and more colors to choose from. Ever bloomers have a more limited color palette and smaller blooms. For the biggest color show, include both types in your garden.
Choice varieties include ever bloomers such as Stella de Oro (in photo), Happy Returns, Buttered Popcorn and Black-Eyed Susan. Standard bloomers include Chicago Apache, Ice Carnival, Double Passion and Fire King.
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.
Although there are many different varieties of lilies to choose from, the two most popular are Asiatic or Oriental. Asiatic lilies generally grow two to three feet tall and produce clusters of upward-facing, jewel-like flowers at the top of each stem. Most bloom in red, orange, yellow, white or bicolors. They’re extraordinarily hardy and thrive in zones 3-8. Asiatic lilies spread slowly in the garden, forming bigger clumps each year.
Oriental lilies tower over their Asiatic counterparts, often growing six to seven feet tall. Their flowers are often pendulous and highly fragrant. They also spread, although not as quickly as Asiatic lilies, and are hardy from zones 4-8.
Top Asiatic lilies include: Sensation, Sunny Borneo, Buzzer, Matrix and Golden Joy (in photo). Top Oriental lilies include: Starfighter, Love Story, Farolito and Show Winner.
Growing Tip: Both types of lilies are best divided in the early fall. Dig the entire clump, separate the bulbs, and replant, spacing them 18 to 24 inches apart.
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.
Some choice large hosta varieties (some can get 4 feet tall) include Sagae, Frances Williams, Sum and Substance, Francee and Patriot. Medium and small varieties include: Fire & Ice, Paul’s Glory (in photo), Guacamole, June and Blue Mouse Ears. Most are hardy from zones 3-9.
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.