The easiest, best perennials

We bought a house last year. Its landscape had been neglected for a couple of years so we spent the year cleaning up, trimming and deciding what was there that we liked. We like most of the bushes. They're easy to take care of with one round of trimming every year, which is what we like. We don't mind going out one weekend in spring and working hard all weekend but we don't want to have to go out every single weekend.

However, there's not much color except in spring when most of the bushes bloom, and then in fall when some of them turn color. What can we add for easy color to fill the gaps? - L.P.M. -

 

Select from the lists and images here or download an illustrated chart to fill a garden or landscape with perennials that will look good over a very long season with the least care.

Select from the lists and images here or download an illustrated chart to fill a garden or landscape with perennials that will look good over a very long season with the least care.

Fill those gaps with perennials from this list.
We present the list three ways:

1) By light requirement: Sun, half sun, and shade
2) In order of peak bloom
3) In chart form by bloom sequence; with growing conditions and maintenance notes. Download the chart:
          as a pdf file (for reading and printing only)
          or as an Excel file (if you wish to customize or expand it)

What's on the list

It contains perennials that provide the most color and neatest look while requiring the least amount of attention and only the most simple kinds of care. Everything on it was chosen for attributes such as attractive plant shape and foliage color, as well as the ability to remain presentable if only weeded, watered and cut down once a year.

We considered flower color as a "plus" but not the primary criterion, and selected only those plants with longer than average blooming season. All plants are hardy in USDA hardiness zone 5 (to -20°F); most will grow in zones 4-5-6 (minimum winter temperature between -10°F and -30°F). Finally, we chose to offer something for all ranges of light and provide a complete season. That is, to include plants suited to sun and to shade, with some that peak in early spring, others that look best in midsummer and some that are most attractive in fall.

Important considerations when using the list

Some things to keep in mind as you choose which perennials to grow in your landscape:

1) Perennials are great additions to a landscape but take their marketing hype with a grain of salt. No perennial blooms all summer. None are totally care-free. Most need yearly, individual attention to remain healthy enough to bloom to the fullest and look their best. In addition, most perennials' 2- to 4-week peak bloom season is followed by a lackluster or messy decline.

2) Choose from this list, matching each plant to its ideal site to come as close as possible to that advertised ideal of simplicity, lots of color and very low care. Most need division only after four or more years to maintain their vigor. If you plant them in an environment that suits them, you can simply keep them weeded and watered, and enjoy them for at least four years. Exceptions are noted, such as the need for more frequent division, or deadheading to extend bloom.

3) Patience required: The best perennials are not mile-a-minute plants. These easy, best species will bloom and show their other good characteristics in their first year but they need a year to grow before they start showing you their full potential. (The fastest growing perennials, such as daisies, also need more care, more frequently.) If waiting is not an option, look for specialty garden centers that cater to immediate needs, as these may carry larger specimens of these plants.

When you arrange your chosen perennials:

1) Design with fewer types for greatest visual impact and simplest care. Ten well-sited perennials can carry a scene.

2) Plant in masses equal to other landscape features. In most cases, each of these perennials should be planted in a group of five or more so it has a visual presence equal to a shrub.

3) More perennial design tips.

 

Easiest, best perennials: Grouped by light requirement

In the sun

These plants need six or more hours of cast-a-shadow sunlight each day, with loose, deep soil and regular water:

Windflower / pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris / Anemone pulsatilla)

Windflower / pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris / Anemone pulsatilla)

Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma)

Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma)

Catmint (Nepeta mussinii hybrids)

Catmint (Nepeta mussinii hybrids)

Zebra iris (Iris pallida, variegated forms), variety 'Aureo-variegata'

Zebra iris (Iris pallida, variegated forms), variety 'Aureo-variegata'

Gas plant (Dictamnus albus)

Gas plant (Dictamnus albus)

Carpathian bellflower (Campanula carpatica)

Carpathian bellflower (Campanula carpatica)

Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis)

Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis)

False indigo (Baptisia australis)

False indigo (Baptisia australis)

Border jewel (Polygonum affine)

Border jewel (Polygonum affine)

Big betony (Stachys micrantha / S. monieri)
                                                     

Ornamental sage (Salvia superba / S. nemerosa)

Ornamental sage (Salvia superba / S. nemerosa)

Siberian iris (Iris sibirica)

Siberian iris (Iris sibirica)

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora)

Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora)

Dwarf, repeat-blooming daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids)

Dwarf, repeat-blooming daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids)

Bear's breeches (Acanthus spp.)

Bear's breeches (Acanthus spp.)

Blanket flower (Gaillardia hybrids) (Red-centered orange disk flowers)

Blanket flower (Gaillardia hybrids) (Red-centered orange disk flowers)

Threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)

Threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)

Veronica

Veronica

Hardy hibiscus / Swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos hybrids)

Hardy hibiscus / Swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos hybrids)

Dwarf hybrid goldenrod (Solidago hybrids)

Dwarf hybrid goldenrod (Solidago hybrids)

Helen's flower (Helenium angustifolium)

Helen's flower (Helenium angustifolium)

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii varieties)

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii varieties)

Clump sedum (Sedum spectabile, S. sieboldii and others)

Clump sedum (Sedum spectabile, S. sieboldii and others)

In part sun

These plants need 4 to 6 hours of sunlight per day, with loose, deep soil and regular water
                                                      
                                                                                

Lenten rose (Helleborus hybrids)

Lenten rose (Helleborus hybrids)

Fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)

Fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)

Willow-leaf blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana)

Willow-leaf blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana)

Variegated sweet Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum variegatum)

Variegated sweet Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum variegatum)

Hybrid coral bells (Heuchera and Heucherella varieties)

Hybrid coral bells (Heuchera and Heucherella varieties)

Dropwort / Meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris)

Dropwort / Meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris)

Cranesbill (Geranium species)

Cranesbill (Geranium species)

Masterwort (Astrantia species)

Masterwort (Astrantia species)

Dalmatian bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)

Dalmatian bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)

Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus)

Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus)

Dwarf goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius)

Dwarf goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius)

Golden bleeding heart (Corydalis lutea)

Golden bleeding heart (Corydalis lutea)

Dwarf astilbe (Astilbe chinensis)

Dwarf astilbe (Astilbe chinensis)

Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)

Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)

Fall fairy candle (Actaea ramosa / Cimicifuga ramosa)

Fall fairy candle (Actaea ramosa / Cimicifuga ramosa)

Hybrid cardinal flower (Lobelia x speciosa)

Hybrid cardinal flower (Lobelia x speciosa)

Blue bush clematis (Clematis heracleifolia)

Blue bush clematis (Clematis heracleifolia)

In shade

These perennials can grow well in as little as 2 to 4 hours of sunlight per day, with loose, deep soil and regular water

Lenten rose (Helleborus hybrids)

Lenten rose (Helleborus hybrids)

Bethlehem sage (Pulmonaria species and varieties)

Bethlehem sage (Pulmonaria species and varieties)

Fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)

Fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra)

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra)

Variegated sweet Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum variegatum)

Variegated sweet Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum variegatum)

Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus)

Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus)

Golden bleeding heart (Corydalis lutea)

Golden bleeding heart (Corydalis lutea)

Hosta species & varieties

Hosta species & varieties

Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)

Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)

Fall fairy candle (Actaea ramosa / Cimicifuga ramosa)

Fall fairy candle (Actaea ramosa / Cimicifuga ramosa)

Blue bush clematis (Clematis heracleifolia)

Blue bush clematis (Clematis heracleifolia)

Easiest, best perennials in order of peak bloom

Lenten rose (Helleborus hybrids)
Windflower / pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris / Anemone pulsatilla)
Bethlehem sage (Pulmonaria species and varieties)

Pardon our dust.
More images and image-links coming here,
the gateway to our perennial image gallery.
Meanwhile, the pdf chart is fully illustrated.
Also, you can Sponsor us to speed the process!

Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma)
Fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)
Red baneberry (Actaea rubra)

Catmint (Nepeta mussinii hybrids)
Zebra iris (Iris pallida, variegated forms)
Willow-leaf blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana)

Variegated sweet Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum variegatum)
Hybrid coral bells (Heuchera and Heucherella varieties)
Gas plant (Dictamnus albus)

Pardon our dust.
More images and image-links coming here,
the gateway to our perennial image gallery.
Meanwhile, the pdf chart is fully illustrated.
Also, you can Sponsor us to speed the process!

Dropwort / Meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris)
Carpathian bellflower (Campanula carpatica)
Cranesbill (Geranium species)

Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Masterwort (Astrantia species)
Dalmatian bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)
False indigo (Baptisia australis)

Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus)
Border jewel (Polygonum affine)
Big betony (Stachys micrantha / S. monieri)

Ornamental sage (Salvia superba / S. nemerosa)
Siberian iris (Iris sibirica)
Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora)
Dwarf goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius)
Golden bleeding heart (Corydalis lutea)

Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids)
Bear's breeches (Acanthus spp.)
Blanket flower (Gaillardia hybrids)

Threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)
Hosta
Veronica

Dwarf astilbe (Astilbe chinensis)
Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)
Fall fairy candle (Actaea ramosa / Cimicifuga ramosa)

Hybrid cardinal flower (Lobelia x speciosa)
Blue bush clematis (Clematis heracleifolia)
Hardy hibiscus / Swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos hybrids)

Dwarf hybrid goldenrod (Solidago hybrids)
Helen's flower (Helenium angustifolium)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii varieties)

Clump sedum (Sedum spectabile, S. sieboldii and others)

Related links

  • More new perennials
  • Perennial realities
  • Easy from seed perennials