Perennial flowers are a great way to add color and interest to your landscape, and they’re relatively low-maintenance compared to other types of flowers. If you’re looking to add some beautiful, long-lasting flowers to your garden, then you’ll want to check out this ultimate guide to perennial flowers.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about planting, caring for, and choosing the best perennial flowers for your garden.
Best All-Around Perennial Flowers
Blanket flower (gaillardia) is a drought- and heat-tolerant perennial wildflower that provides long-lasting color in a sunny border with poor soil. In red, gold, or brown, its daisy-like, 3-inch wide, single or double perennial flowers bloom through the summer and into the fall. Although often short-lived, it is easy to grow and will flower the first year from seed.
Tall Garden Phlox
Phlox paniculata — garden, tall, or border phlox — grows 3 to 4 feet tall and bears large trusses of fragrant perennial flowers from summer to early fall. It’s an old-fashioned favorite that has few rivals for its color display and light, sweet fragrance. It’s well suited to the back of the garden and cottage gardens.
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.
Hybrid perennial sage, a relative of the herb garden favorite, combines 18-inch spikes of blue, purple, or white perennial flowers with attractive gray-green foliage. Plant sage in the front or middle of the border in a sunny spot. The variety shown here, ‘May Night’, is both cold-hardy and showy.
Early Spring Perennial Blooming Flowers
Whether your yard is full of sun, shade, or something in between, the right perennial plant can pack a seasonal punch to brighten any spot. A forgotten corner of the garden can come alive with an early spring bloomer that returns year after year.
Here are a few of our favorite perennial plants that bloom in early spring:
Ascot Rainbow Spurge
This plant puts on a show year round! A unique variegated selection with cream and blue-green foliage, and reddish pink coloring in cooler weather. Cream and lime green bloom color.
- 20” Tall
- Sun/part shade
- Blooms in spring
- Deer Resistant
- Heat & Drought Tolerant
Sherwood Purple Woodland Phlox
This low-growing variety, with masses of dainty deep violet flowers, will add a splash of color to your shade garden in the spring.
- 6 – 8” H
- Part Shade – Shade
- Blooms Early to Mid Spring
Florence Picotee Lenten Rose
Delicate white, double flowers with deep pink margins begin to bloom in late winter to early spring. This semi-evergreen perennial is the perfect addition to the shade garden.
- 12-18″ tall x 16-24″ wide
- Full to part shade
- Blooms in late winter to early spring
- Deer resistant
Tapestry Foamy Bells
This perennial is enjoyed for its unique foliage shape and color variations. Use in any container or border for a long season of color and interest.
- 7” Tall x 16” Wide
- Part Sun – Shade
- Blooms in Spring
Eversheen Japanese Sedge
Thin blades of gold and green leaf blades are great for edgings, ground covers, as a specimen, or for texture and height in mixed pots.
- Part – full shade
- 8 – 10” Tall
- Weeping habit
Phlox subulata ‘Fort Hill’
A must-have for the early spring garden. Use as a ground cover or for border edging. Deep rose pink blooms.
- 6” – 9” H
- Sun – Part Sun
- Blooms Early to Mid Spring
- Deer Resistant
- Evergreen Foliage
Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’
Dainty, sky blue flowers will make quite a show in your spring garden. Works well in a border front, in rock gardens or as a ground cover.
- 4” – 12” H
- Sun – Part Sun
- Blooms Early Spring to Summer
- Deer resistant
- Attracts butterflies
Iberis “Alexander’s White”
Beautiful cascading over walls or planted at gardens edge. Showy white blooms in spring atop evergreen foliage.
- 8” – 10”
- Full Sun – Part Sun
- Blooms mid to late spring
- Deer Resistant
- Attracts Butterflies
Hen’s & Chicks
Striking evergreen foliage in shades of black, reds and greens. Grows well in full sun and in any soil with good drainage. Deer and rabbit resistant and drought tolerant. Blooming varieties attract butterflies. Hens and Chicks are fun to grow in strawberry jars or other containers, miniature gardens, rock gardens and walls.
Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’
A popular variety for its plum-purple colored foliage. Works well as a contrast plant in the shade garden and also in containers.
- 18” – 26” H
- Part Sun – Part Shade
- Blooms White Late Spring
- Attracts Hummingbirds & Butterflies
- Deer Resistant
Summer Perennial Flowers
Learn which perennials stand up to summer’s heat with color that lasts into fall.
A staple of the fall garden, asters burst forth with their starlike perennial flowers in late summer and autumn. Bloom colors include rich pinks, blues, purples, and ruby reds. They can soar to 5 feet, depending on the species, and are excellent for beds and borders as well as for cutting to bring indoors.
The feathery plumes of astilbe rise above fernlike foliage for a month or more in late spring and early summer. Available in shades of pink, white, and red, astilbe is ideal for shady, moist spots. Plant a swath of these 2- to 3-foot-tall perennial flowers for a memorable display year after year.
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.
This prairie wildflower achieves a level of sophistication in the ‘Magnus’ variety, which throws its petals out horizontally daisy-style. Coneflower tolerates heat and drought, and it blooms all summer long. Plant these 30-inch-tall perennial flowers in the middle or back of the bed.
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.
A lovely North American native prairie grass, switchgrass offers the garden beauty and easy maintenance. Varieties grow from 2 to 6 feet tall and have airy, cloudlike plumes. Some varieties have rich red or purple foliage in autumn.
Even if you’ve never gardened before, you can grow yarrow with little effort. Yarrow is an amazing perennial that is hardy throughout most of the United States and can withstand heat, drought, and cold.
These perennial flowers are valued in the garden for its ferny, gray-green or dark green, spicy-scented foliage and showy, flat-topped clusters of flowers in pink, red, white, or yellow appearing from late spring to early fall.
Often sweetly fragrant, the peony is a very long-lived perennial flower that forms 2- to 4-foot-tall clumps in shrublike bunches. Its numerous varieties offer a wide range of colors — almost every shade except blue — with some bicolors, and blooming periods from late spring to early summer.
Coreopsis comes in a wide range of sizes and several colors. The threadleaf varieties of these perennial flowers — like ‘Moonbeam’ and ‘Zagreb’ — produce blankets of small daisy-like flowers all summer long in yellow or pink, with soft, ferny foliage. (In hot areas, flower production may slow temporarily.) Grandiflora varieties (‘Early Sunrise’ is one popular version) produce larger orange-yellow blooms. Give this plant a starring role in the middle of the bed.
Siberian iris adds color to flowerbeds in early summer, and vertical accents all summer long. Like most irises, these are moisture-loving plants, but once established they will tolerate dry soil. The blooms appear atop leafless stems rising from the 2-foot-tall grasslike foliage. Colors include white, blue, yellow, and violet, with many bicolors. In addition to brightening the garden, Siberian iris provides a steady supply of cut flowers.
Penstemon produces attractive spikes of tubular perennial flowers in pink, blue, lavender, white, or shades of red. The variety ‘Husker Red’ (from the University of Nebraska) combines white flowers and purple leaves, creating a wonderful contrast when combined with plants with light green leaves. Place this 3-foot-tall gem in the middle or back of the bed, and give it plenty of sunshine.
Daffodils are dependable perennial bulbs, blooming in early, mid, or late spring, depending on the cultivar. The flowers have a central trumpet (corolla) — the length varies among cultivars — surrounded by a collar of petals (perianth) that can be a different color. Colors include yellow, orange, white, red, and peach. Some are fragrant. The strappy, narrow leaves emerge before the flowers do and are a little shorter than the flower stalk.
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 3-1.
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.
Pincushion flower, or scabiosa, serves up dainty blue perennial flowers all summer and into fall, making it one of the longest-lasting bloomers in the perennial bed. It likes sun or partial shade, and is best at the front of the bed. The foot-tall variety ‘Blue Butterfly’ stands up to heat best.
Black-eyed Susan is truly an American icon. Blooming from midsummer until frost, its orange or golden yellow blooms just keep coming. The variety ‘Goldsturm’, shown here, tops out at about 2 feet, making it perfect for the middle or back of the bed. It loves sun and is drought-tolerant.
This front-of-the-bed favorite offers a multitude of charms. Chief among them is the crinkly multicolored foliage. The variety ‘Purple Palace’ is especially noteworthy for its deep purple leaves. The tiny perennial flowers, borne on stalks above the leaves, appear in late spring. Coralbells like sun or partial shade.
Unlike their tropical cousins, Hardy Hibiscus will overwinter as far north as Zone 4. Although they die back to the ground each year, Hardy Hibiscus can grow 5-6 feet tall in one season, producing an eye-popping show of dinner-plate-size blooms. Colors include white, pink, red, and yellow, often with a contrasting “eye” of color in the center of each bloom. These bold perennials are a snap to grow, too. All they ask for is a sunny spot with a rich, slightly moist soil. Hardy Hibiscus can be slow to break dormancy in the spring and won’t grow until soil temperatures heat up.
Create some fireworks in your fall garden with a generous helping of chrysanthemums. These autumn bloomers work just as well in containers as they do in the border. Flowers are available in red, orange, purple, white, and yellow, and vary in size from cute buttonlike blooms to softball-size giants. Chrysanthemums will come back every year, but they have a tendency to die out after a few seasons. That’s why it’s a good idea to plant new chrysanthemums every year.
Best Perennials for Shade
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.
One of the toughest plants that grow in the shade garden, bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) doesn’t mind heat or drought. And, deer and rabbits typically pass it by in search of tastier morsels. This shade plant puts on a spring show with pink or white flowers; some varieties also offer outstanding fall coloration in their woodsy-scented foliage. Bigroot geranium is hardy in Zones 4-8 and grows 2 feet tall.
Top Picks: ‘Album’ offers white flowers; ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ offers clear pink flowers; ‘Variegatum‘ has purple-pink flowers and white-variegated leaves.
Plant it with: Add height and interest to your shade garden by planting bigroot geranium in front of toad lilies.
Put on a fall show with shade plant toad lily (Tricyrtis). This easy-to-grow perennial offers unique flowers that are often compared to orchids. Many are spotted with shades of purple or blue.
Top Picks: ‘White Towers’ bears white flowers; ‘Tojen’ offers especially large lavender flowers.
Plant it with: Let toad lily rise up behind a clump of medium-sized hostas or fern-leafed bleeding heart.
This topnotch groundcover is grown mainly for its foliage, but also has pretty flowers. Ajuga produces glossy, dark green leaves and springtime spikes of blue flowers. Select varieties of this shade plant offer dark purple or variegated foliage, or pink or white flowers. Ajuga grows best in Zones 3-9 and grows only 6 inches tall.
Test Garden Tip: Ajuga can be a vigorous spreader; it’s not the best choice for small spaces.
Top Picks: ‘Golden Glow‘ has creamy-yellow edges; ‘Black Scallop’ offers shiny, dark purple leaves and fragrant blue flowers; ‘Burgundy Glow’ offers silvery-green leaves splashed with pink and burgundy; ‘Chocolate Chip’ offers smaller, purple-infused leaves.
Plant it with: Purple-leafed ajuga varieties look great against blue hostas.
Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart
There’s little wonder why old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is a favorite of plants that grow in shade. In late spring and early summer, it produces pink or white heart-shaped flowers that hang from elegant, arching stems. This top-notch shade plant is hardy in Zones 3-9 and grows up to 4 feet tall.
Test Garden Tip: By midsummer, old-fashioned bleeding heart usually goes dormant and loses its foliage. Plant it with astilbe or hosta so you don’t end up with a bare spot in your garden.
Top Picks: ‘Pantaloons’ is a variety with large numbers of pure white flowers. ‘Gold Heart’ bears bright golden leaves against the pink flowers.
Hostas are among the showiest and easy-to-grow perennial plants that grow in shade. They also offer the most variety of any of the multiple shade plants. Choose from miniatures that stay only a couple of inches wide or giants that sprawl 6 feet across or more. Look for leaves in shades of green, blue, white, chartreuse, and gold, with many cultivars being variegated. Some hosta flowers are very fragrant. Hostas are hardy in Zones 3-8.
Top picks: ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ offers silvery-blue leaves and stays 1 foot wide; ‘Frances Williams‘ offers thick, blue-green leaves edged in chartreuse and grows 2 feet wide; ‘Sum and Substance’ offers chartreuse leaves and grows 6 feet wide.
Plant it with: Old-fashioned bleeding heart, which typically goes dormant in summer.
The variegated foliage looks great all season long, but is an especially nice accent to the clusters of pink, white, or blue flowers in spring. Lungwort grows best in Zones 4-8 and reaches 1 foot tall. A great plant with an unfortunate name, lungwort (Pulmonaria) earned its moniker from the silvery, lung-shaped spots that dot the foliage of these plants that grow in shade.
Test Garden Tip: Because its foliage is somewhat hairy, deer and rabbits typically leave lungwort alone.
Top picks: ‘Opal’ features ice-blue flowers; ‘Trevi Fountain’ features cobalt-blue blooms.
Plant it with: Japanese painted fern or ‘Jack Frost’ brunnera for a delightful silver-on-silver play.
It’s not just the flowers that are beautiful; the gray-green leaves of these shade plants are attractive as well. The plant grows about 12 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 5-8. This hard-working perennial plant that grows in shade takes the prize for being the longest bloomer in the sheltered garden. Enjoy its clusters of yellow flowers from late spring all the way to frost.
Top picks: Corydalis lutea is the easiest to grow and the longest blooming. White corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca) also flowers over an extended period.
Test Garden Tip: This plant can be a prolific self-seeder.
Plant it with: Accent the plant’s bright flowers against dark green hellebore or hosta foliage.
Starting in mid-spring, Lamium produces clusters of pink or white flowers. And even when its not blooming, the silver-infused foliage of these shade plants brighten up shady corners. Lamium usually stays about 8 inches tall and grows best in Zones 4-8. This delightful groundcover can rebloom off and on through the summer, creating months of color.
Plant it with: Let lamium cover the ground underneath a colony of martagon lilies or an understory tree such as a redbud.
Tip: Keep lamium looking good by keeping it moist. If it dries out too much, the leaves will develop brown edges.
Top picks: ‘White Nancy’ offers white flowers and silver foliage with a green edge; ‘Beacon Silver’ bears pink flowers and silvery leaves.
An under-used plant that grows in shade that deserves a lot more attention, Epimedium has it all when it comes to shade plants. The groundcover blooms in spring in shades of red, orange, yellow, pink, purple, or white; it tolerates dry shade; and it’s deer- and rabbit resistant.
Top Picks: ‘Niveum’ offers pure white flowers; ‘Sulfureum’ offers yellow blooms.
Plant it with: Create delightful contrast with epimedium’s shield-shaped foliage against the lacy leaves of yellow corydalis.
Some varieties are evergreen in mild-winter areas; others offer good fall color. Most types grow best in Zones 5-9 and reach about 1 foot tall.
In spring, shade gardens sparkle with the sky-blue flowers of Brunnera. When not in bloom, its large, robustly textured leaves continue to look great — especially if you grow a variegated type of these shade plants. While the plant is often short-lived, it does tend to self-seed, becoming a long-term presence in the garden.
Top Picks: ‘Hadspen Cream’ offers green leaves broadly edged in creamy white; ‘Jack Frost’ has green leaves heavily overlaid with silver.
Test Garden Tip: Brunnera is somewhat deer- and rabbit resistant.
Plant it with: Go for a lovely blue-on-blue combination with forget-me-not.
Although it looks delicate, the Christmas rose is quite sturdy once it gets established. And, it’s deer- and rabbit-resistant. Hellebore grows best in Zones 4-8 and grows 12 inches tall.
Hellebore (Helleborus), also called Christmas rose, is one of the earliest bloomers of plants that grow in shade. Look for its burgundy, pink, cream, green, or white flowers in late winter or early spring.
Top Picks: The Heronswood Double strain offers frilly, petal-packed blooms in a wide range of colors; the Royal Heritage strain offers single blooms in a wide range of colors.
Plant it with: Gold-leaf coralbells such as ‘Lime Rickey’ or ‘Citronelle’, which will shine even brighter against dark green hellebore leaves.
Enjoy the feathery plumes of Astilbe in early summer. This tough perennial blooms in shades of burgundy, red, pink, lavender, and white. In addition to the attractive flowers, these shade plants have finely cut foliage, which in many varieties is flushed with bronze. Astilbe grows best in Zones 4-8 and can reach up to 4 feet tall, depending on variety.
Test Garden Tip: Astilbe needs consistently moist soil to thrive, so it’s a good choice for areas that don’t drain well.
Top Picks: ‘Deutschland’ bears pure white flowers; ‘Fanal’ offers dark red plums and bronzy foliage; ‘Sprite’ is an award-winning selection with shell-pink blooms.
Plant it with: ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ ligularia, which features dramatic purple foliage and golden-orange flowers. It also prefers wet soil.
Japanese Painted Fern
Plus, it’s a low-growing, slow-spreading plant that grows in shade. And, deer and rabbits usually leave it alone. It grows best in Zones 5-8 and gets about 12 inches tall. It’s tough to imagine lovelier shade plants than Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum). This beauty offers fronds liberally dappled with silver, burgundy, and green.
Top picks: ‘Silver Falls’ has especially metallic leaves; ‘Burgundy Lace’ has lots of rich purple-red tones in the leaves.
Plant it with: ‘Burgundy Glow’ ajuga or ‘Green Spice’ coralbells — all have silvery and purple tones in their foliage.
It grows best in Zones 2-8 and reaches 6 inches tall. Hailing from the woodlands of North America, wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is one tough shade plant. It produces fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves that look great from spring to fall. And, it’s rarely bothered by deer and rabbits. This slow grower eventually forms an impressive clump.
Top Picks: Wild ginger is a lovely deciduous type. European wild ginger (Asarum europaeum) offers shiny evergreen heart-shape leaves. Zones 4-8.
Plant it with: Wild ginger looks beautiful with fern-leaf bleeding heart.
In fall, the leaves of these shade plants usually pick up beautiful reddish tones. It grows best in Zones 5-9 and grows a foot tall. Japanese forestgrass (Hakonechloa macra) is a wonderful grass for plants that grow in shade. It offers a lovely waterfall-like habit and variegated varieties have bight gold, yellow, or white in the foliage.
Top Picks: ‘Aureola’ bears bright yellow leaves with dark green edges; ‘All Gold’ has even brighter golden foliage.
Plant it with: Add zing to a shady corner by planting Japanese forestgrass with a bold, golden hosta.
Lilyturf (Liriope) is an easy-to-grow favorite shade plant. Loved for its grassy foliage and spikes of blue or white flowers in late summer, as well as its resistance to deer and rabbits, lilyturf is practically a plant-it-and-forget garden resident. It grows best in Zones 5-10 and grows a foot tall.
Top Picks: ‘Majestic’ offers narrower leaves and deep purple-blue flowers; ‘Silver Dragon’ offers boldly variegated foliage and violet-blue blooms.
Test Garden Tip: Lilyturf can be a fast, almost aggressive spreader when it’s happy.
Plant it with: Create an interesting look by planting Japanese forestgrass with a deep green lilyturf.
Named for its drooping blue flowers that resemble the hood on a monk’s robe, this lovely shade plant is an easy, under-used plant. It grows best in Zones 3-7 and grows up to 6 feet tall.
Monkshood (Aconitum) is a noteworthy plant that grows in shade because it blooms in late summer, when most other shade bloomers have finished. Plus, it’s deer- and rabbit-resistant.
Top Picks: ‘Bressingham Spire’ offers violet-blue flowers on 3-foot-tall plants; ‘Stainless Steel’ offers steel-blue flowers on 4-foot-tall plants.
Plant it with: Kirengeshoma, a beautiful, but under-used perennial with bold foliage and yellow flowers in late summer.
Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart
Fern-leaf bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia and D. formosa) look beautiful all season. These shade plants bloom on and off from spring to fall (if they get enough moisture during hot, dry periods), producing delicate clusters of pink, red, or white flowers. Even when not in bloom, though, their tidy mounds of blue-green, ferny foliage looks great. They grow best in Zones 4-8 and grow up to 2 feet tall.
Top Picks: ‘Bacchanal’ offers dark red flowers; ‘King of Hearts’ offers rose-pink flowers and stays about 1 foot tall; ‘Aurora’ offers white blooms.
Plant it with: Create a subtle contrast by planting fern-leaf bleeding heart with yellow corydalis.
Evergreen Perennials for Year-Round Interest
Most of us think of perennials as plants that emerge in the spring, provide beautiful color to our gardens during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, go dormant in the winter, then come back again in the spring. Well, this is all very true for many perennials but as with any type of plant, there are some perennials that keep their foliage all year long.
The best thing about evergreen perennials is that they add texture, shape, and form to your winter garden. Foliage colors range in hues of greens, yellows, oranges, deep purples and reds. Add a few colorful annuals to your evergreen perennials, such as pansies and ornamental cabbages, and you will have a very delightful winter garden.
Below are a few evergreen perennials to consider for your garden. It is important to note that there are many varieties of these plants.
Evergreen Perennials for Sunny Areas
- Armeria (Thrift)
- Arabis (Rock Cress)
- Dianthus gratianopolitanus (Cheddar Pinks)
- Euphorbia (Spurge)
- Iberis sermpervivums (Candytuft)
- Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox)
- Sedum spurium (Stonecrop)
- Sempervivums (Hens and Chicks)
- Stachys (Lambs Ear)
- Teucrium (Germander)
Evergreen Perennials for Shady Areas
- Carex conica marginata (Sedge)
- Farfugium (Leopard Plant)
- Ferns (Autumn Fern, East Indian Shield Fern, Holly Fern, Selaginella and Tassell Fern)
- Heuchera (Coral Bells)
- Helleborus (Lenten Rose, Corsican Hellebore and Bearsfoot Hellebore)
- Saxifraga (Rock Foil)
Evergreen Perennial Groundcovers
- Ajuga (Bugleweed)
- Hedera (English Ivy)
- Liriope (Monkey Grass)
- Pachasandra (Japanese Spurge)
Unique Perennials that Are Underused (And Your Neighbor Won’t Have Them)
Enjoy towers of gorgeous blue, purple, yellow, or white flowers every spring with Baptisia, once commonly called False Indigo. This beauty is a tough, reliable native perennial that will bloom year after year for decades in any sunny garden. Baptisia is heat- and drought-resistant and even when not in bloom, the plant’s divided, blue-green leaves add plenty of interest to the garden. Baptisia isn’t fussy about soil type and eventually forms a dense mound 4 feet tall and wide. The plants are slow growing, so for the best show, buy the largest specimens you can find. Zones 3-9
Although it can sometimes be hard to find at your local garden center, Gas Plant, Dictamnus alba, is definitely worth the search. A classic cottage garden plant, Gas Plant produces pretty spikes of pink or white flowers in the late spring and early summer. In addition, after the flowers fade, they form star-shape seed heads that add interest in the garden. Gas Plant also offers divided, light green leaves that give off a lemony fragrance when rubbed or brushed. A slow grower, Gas Plant will bloom for years if you plant it in full sun and leave it alone; it hates to be transplanted or divided. Gas Plant gets its common name from the fact on hot summer evenings the mature flowers produce a flammable oil that can be lit by a match, resulting in a quick vapor burn. Gas plant grows 2-3 feet tall. Zones 3-8
At first glance, you might think Malva is a member of the hibiscus family. That’s because this easy-care perennial develops masses of pink, open-face hibiscuslike flowers delicately etched with dark purple stripes. Malva, also called common mallow, grows 2-4 feet tall and blooms nonstop from mid summer to early fall. It’s a fast-growing perennial that prefers full sun but is tough enough to thrive in partial shade. Malva can handle almost any soil type, but it doesn’t have a long lifespan and may only last for a few years. But don’t worry, Malva self sows frequently so there’s often new a crop of plants growing near the feet of the faded ones. In fact, in some locations malva can become invasive, so keep tabs on runaway plants. Zones 4-8
If you’ve spent much time trying to rid your landscape of Canadian thistle, you may be a bit wary of planting a perennial with “thistle” in its name. But unlike its weedy invader from the North, Globe Thistle, Echinops gmelinii, is a joy to grow. This sun-loving perennial grows 2-3 feet tall and produces showy, bright blue or white thistlelike balls of bloom from mid to late summer. Because the flowers are borne on upright, stiff stalks, they work great in fresh or dried arrangements. Globe Thistle is heat- and drought-resistant and will grow easily in any well-drained soil. It doesn’t transplant well, so plant Globe Thistle where you want it to grow permanently. The plants may self-sow if you allow the blooms to mature on the plant. Zones 3-8
When it comes to common names, some perennials just can’t catch a break. Take Bergenia for example. This handsome plant is commonly called Pig Squeak simply because the leaves are said to sound like an outraged porker when you rub them between your fingers. But once you get past the plant’s silly common name, you’ll quickly discover that Bergenia is a tremendously useful groundcover plant in shady spots. Its thick, dark green, heart-shape leaves and spikes of bright pink spring flowers are a welcome treat under tall trees or dense shrubs. In addition, Bergenia is rabbit-, deer-, drought-, and disease-resistant. The plant grows 12-15 inches tall and remains evergreen in the warmer parts of its range. Zones 3-8
Lily of the Valley
It’s no surprise that spring brides often carry the fragrant, pendulous pink or white flowers of lily-of-the-valley as they walk down the aisle. For decades this sweet little perennial has come to symbolize humility, purity, and the return of happiness. Growing just 6-8 inches tall, lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis, spreads quickly in shady locations with rich, slightly moist soil. The plant’s light green leaves pop up in the early spring and are followed by the short, graceful flower stalks just a few weeks later. Use lily-of-the-valley as a ground cover in woodland gardens or along the north side of your house. Keep in mind that the flowers eventually form poisonous red berries, so keep away from small children and pets. Zones 3-8
An American native, Culver’s Root, Veronicastrum virginicum, makes a bold statement in the back-of-the-border or meadow garden. Growing 4-7 feet tall, Culver’s Root produces a nonstop display of white, candelabralike flower heads throughout the summer. The plant prefers full sun and rich, moist to wet soil. Culver’s Root is also popular with butterflies that feast on its nectar-rich blooms. It’s not bothered by disease or insect pests, but may require staking if it doesn’t receive enough sunlight. Zones 3-8
If you love to create fresh flower arrangements, be sure to plant Sea Holly, Eryngium planum, in your garden. A popular cut flower since the Victorian era, Sea Holly is prized for its stiff steel-blue flowers that hold their color even when dried. The plants grow 2-3 feet tall and produce armloads of thistlelike blooms from June to September. This easy-care perennial is a sun worshipper that actually does best in dry, sandy soils. In fact, if you fertilize or over water Sea Holly, you might end up killing it with kindness. Sea Holly does not transplant well, so avoid moving it once it’s established. Zones 5-9
When it comes right down to it, there aren’t a lot of perennials that thrive in dense shade. But Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum odoratum, is a colorful exception that will quickly light up the darkest corners of your landscape. This handsome plant grows 2-3 feet tall and develops cheerful green or variegated foliage and quantities of small, bell-shape white flowers in April and May. Solomon’s Seal prefers rich, slightly moist soil and slowly spreads through the garden by underground roots. In the fall, the foliage turns bright yellow, adding an extra boost of color as the growing season comes to an end. Zones 3-8
Queen of the Prairie
Growing 6-8 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide, Queen of the Prairie, Filipendula rubra, is no shrinking violet. This amazing native perennial is ideal for large gardens or open hillsides where you can give it enough elbowroom to hold court. The plant is a snap to grow in any sunny spot with rich, slightly moist soil. Once established, Queen of the Prairie will produce masses of fragrant, pale pink flowerheads throughout the summer. It’s also dressed in large, bright green, finely cut foliage that’s resistant to hungry deer. Queen of the Prairie will self-sow and eventually form thick clusters of regal plants. Zones 3-8
When it comes to flower power, few perennials can compare to Cranesbill Geranium. These little beauties rarely grow more than 2 feet tall, but they put on a big show in the garden because they always seem to be smothered in flowers. Cranesbill Geranium comes in a wide variety of colors, including white, pink, blue, lavender, purple, red, and bicolor; all varieties sport interesting, lobed foliage. They are super hardy and thrive in full sun or light shade. After the first flush of bloom some plants may start to sprawl, but all you need to do is shear them back to encourage more flowers and compact growth. Use Cranesbill Geranium in the front of the border, rock garden, or woodland setting. Zones 4-10
We probably get more compliments about Catmint than any other perennial in our Test Garden. Planted en masse along a border edge, this little powerhouse never fails to produce a showstopping display of bright bluish-purple flowers.
It’s extra hardy with no insect or disease problems and comes in a variety of sizes that range from 6 to 36 inches tall. Catmint prefers full sun and well-drained soil. The plants bloom in late spring and early summer and can easily be encouraged to bloom again if you shear the plants back by two thirds after the first flowers fade.
Catmint is a popular nectar plant and will lure hungry hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. Rabbits and deer leave catmint alone. Zones 3-8
Once found in every perennial border, Veronica isn’t always the first plant you see when you visit the garden center. That’s probably because the plants don’t look all that showy when they’re young. Yet, Veronica remains one of the easiest and prettiest perennials you can grow.
These reliable plants grow 12-24 inches tall and develop sturdy spikes of blue, purple, red, or white flowers that keep coming all summer long if you remember to clip away the dead flowers as they fade. Veronica makes a great cut flower, too. And to top it all off, deer and rabbits won’t mow your plants to the ground. Zones 4-9
Late summer can be a drab time in the perennial border unless you include plants that put on their best show at the end of the season. Turtlehead, Chelone oblique, for example, produces attractive snapdragonlike, rose-purple, pink, or white flowers from July to September. What’s more, Turtlehead can easily grow in either sun or partial shade. This native perennial rises 2-3 feet tall and thrives in rich, moist, almost swampy soil. Turtlehead is a great choice for bog or rain gardens or planted alongside koi ponds or waterfalls. Zones 3-9
Some perennials are natural problem-solvers. Epimedium, for example, is one of the best groundcovers for dry shade. This makes it invaluable for use under tall, shallow-rooted trees such as maples that suck a lot of moisture from the soil. Epimedium, once called Barrenwort or Bishop’s Hat, grows 6-12 inches tall and develops pretty heart-shape leaves topped with clusters of starlike yellow, white, lavender, or rose flowers in April and May. The plants are resistant to deer and rabbits and have virtually no disease or insect problems. Zones 5-9
Perennial hibiscus may look like a tender tropical plant, but it’s hardy enough to withstand winters to Zone 5. This giant plant bears 12-inch-wide flowers in stunning shades of red, pink, and white on stems that reach 7 feet or more tall. It’s slow to emerge in spring, but once it does it grows quickly.
Name: Hibiscus moscheutos selections
Joe Pye Weed
Attract butterflies to your garden with Joe Pye weed. It’s a tough-as-nails perennial that will easily grow 7 feet tall. In late summer, the plant produces waves of nectar-rich pink flowers that butterflies love. Joe Pye weed thrives in moist, rich soil.
Name: Eupatorium purpureum
Make stunning cut-flower arrangements with delphiniums. This summer-garden classic bears spikes of intensely colored blossoms in shades of blue, purple, white, and pink. The biggest varieties can reach 6 feet tall, though there are dwarf selections. Cut down spent blossoms to coax another flush of blooms.
Name: Delphinium selections
‘Herbstonne’ Black-Eyed Susan
Heat- and drought-resistant, easy-care ‘Herbstonne’ black-eyed Susan will add a burst of yellow to the back of the border. This perennial soars to 6 feet tall and bears bright blooms from midsummer to early fall.
Name: Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’
Lend old-fashioned charm to your perennial border with hollyhock. Known for its tall spires of colorful blooms, hollyhock is the perfect back-of-the-border plant. Old-fashioned selections can easily grow more than 6 feet tall in a spot with full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
Here’s a hint: If you live in a windy area, you may need to stake hollyhocks to keep them standing upright.
Name: Alcea selections
End your garden on a high note with boltonia. This underused North American native plant looks like a 6-foot-tall aster. It puts on a big fall show when covered in starry white or pink flowers.
Name: Boltonia asteroides
Create color and interest in hard-to-landscape shady spots with goatsbeard. This 4- to 6-foot-tall plant looks like a giant astilbe with its finely divided foliage and early-summer plumes of creamy-white flowers.
Name: Aruncus dioicus
Wow your friends with this amazing bulb. In summer, it bears spikes of up to 20 big white flowers with maroon stripes and a rich scent. The plant itself can easily reach 10-12 feet tall and thrives in moist, well-drained soil in partial shade.
Name: Cardiocrinum giganteum
If you’re looking for a perennial that you can grow like a hedge, giant knotweed may be the plant for you. This plant forms a thick clump to 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It bears airy white plumes atop its stems throughout the summer. And, happily, this knotweed doesn’t seed aggressively like many of its relatives do.
Name: Persicaria polymorpha
Plume poppy is the perfect perennial if you have a lot of space and want to make a big statement. It shoots up to 7 feet tall and bears airy clusters of flowers over big, tropical-looking leaves. One note: It’s a fast spreader and needs lots of room to romp.
Name: Macleaya cordata
Give your garden a touch of the exotic with gunnera. Everything about this perennial seems prehistoric, from its 6-foot-wide leaves to its weird flowers and spiny stems. Get an established specimen going in your garden and it might seem like a dinosaur could be hiding behind the 8-foot-tall mound.
Name: Gunnera manicata
Add garden drama with cannas. Their big leaves and brilliantly colored blooms in shades of yellow, orange, red, and pink will instantly lend your garden a tropical feel. Dwarf cannas may only grow 3 feet tall; others soar to 8 feet or more.
Test Garden Tip: Make more garden magic by selecting varieties that have variegated foliage.
Name: Canna selections
Zones: 8-11; in colder areas you can dig and store the tubers in a frost-free place for the winter.
Standing tall over the prairies of North America — or your garden — cup plant bears golden daisies on sturdy 8-foot-tall stems from midsummer to early fall. Wondering where its name comes from? The upper leaves attach and clasp the stem, creating a “cup” that holds water for birds and other critters.
Name: Silphium perfoliatum
Add an airy, delicate look to your landscape with graceful miscanthus. Its arching foliage and feathery summer plumes make it a great late-season privacy screen (it can reach 8 feet tall or more) or a soft backdrop for your favorite perennials.
Name: Miscanthus sinensis
Here’s a hint: Check the plant tag or description if you want a big variety; there are many dwarf selections bred for smaller gardens.
Bonus plant! While it’s technically a perennial in the tropics, most folks grow castor bean as a fast-growing annual. This heat-loving plant can reach more than 15 feet tall in a single season. Be wary, though — all parts of the castor bean plant are very poisonous.
Name: Ricinus communis