Perennials are plants that, once planted, generally, return every year. Their roots remain alive under the soil through the winter and sprout a new plant come spring. These should be the backbone of an easy-care garden. They are typically in bloom for two to four weeks, depending on the plant.
Two things to keep in mind for all low-maintenance perennials: Pick plants suited to your site and allow them time to become established. You will be rewarded with color and texture in your garden.
Keep in mind that Michigan is in Zone 5 on the USDA Hardiness Zones map, which means plants must be able to tolerate very cold winter temperatures to thrive here. If you need more advice on hardy perennials and their care for your Michigan garden, contact your local extension office.
Most hostas love the partial shade, but the gold-leaf varieties can handle a good deal of sun. Darker-foliage hostas do best in moderate shade. Once they are planted in rich, slightly acidic soil, they'll take root and within a few years will spread up to four feet across.
But beware: Deer and slugs have an affinity for these leafy plants. Hostas do most of their growing early in the season, so a little deer deterrent can mitigate deer damage early on.
To keep slug infestations to a minimum, choose thicker-leaved hosta varieties, which are less attractive to these pests.
Hostas produce white or purple flowers, generally in midsummer.
Bleeding hearts are shade-loving woodland plants that bloom in spring when it's cool. Plant them in rich, moist soil that's in partial shade. Most types of bleeding heart will bloom only in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall; the fringed-leaf variety will continue to bloom repeatedly throughout the summer.
While bleeding heart is technically Dicentra spectabilis, many kinds of Dicentra are lumped in with them. It shouldn't be a problem though since they are all attractive. The bleeding heart gets its name from the bloom's resemblance to the shape of a human heart.
When bleeding hearts bloom, they produce delicate pink or white flowers. Their foliage ranges from lobed to lacy and fern-like. They bloom from spring to fall, depending on the species.
Anemones are a member of the buttercup family and include many different types with various growing mechanisms. Perennial anemones are non-tuberous plants that grow from fibrous roots.
The Japanese anemone is a graceful hybrid anemone with cup-shaped flowers in pink, white or rose that grow on long two-foot- to four-foot-tall stems.
The flowers bloom late into the summer amid dark green, fern-like leaves.
Ferns include some 12,000 species that reproduce by spores—those small dots on the underside of fronds. Ferns have been on this planet for more than 300 million years, so expect minimal maintenance for these survivors.
Ferns often accompany other woodland plants, such as hostas and caladiums. In Michigan, maidenhair fern, semi-evergreen autumn fern, and evergreen male fern do well outdoors.
Despite the delicate appearance of most ferns, they are particularly hardy plants that thrive in dappled shade and wet, well-drained soil. They do not produce flowers. When ferns grow too large, they can be divided in the spring.
Astilbes produce tall feathery plumes of long-lasting flowers, some plumes spikier or fluffier than others.
These plants are among the easiest perennial flowers to grow, and they are nearly free of pests. They provide color for a shade garden or soften a sunny spot, where they are likely to grow taller. However, their foliage will burn in full sun, and they do best in partial shade. Most astilbes sold are hybrids resulting from crosses between species.
Astilbes produce white, pink, lavender and red flowers.
This large-leaved perennial has clusters of blue, tubular flowers.
More specifically, the flower buds and young blooms on this spring ephemeral plant are pinkish, but when they mature, they turn a rich blue. Thanks to this progression, there will be both pink and blue flowers on the same plant at various times in the spring.
Also known as Virginia cowslip, these plants can fill a field. They produce flowers from midsummer through fall. They do best with moderate rain and well-drained soil.
Foamflower, also called false miterwort, is a spring-flowering herb that produces flowers with long stamens.
Heuchera and foamflower are the parents of the popular garden ground cover Heucherella. While some types of Heucherella want a lot of suns, foam flower thrives in full sun to partial shade.
Foamflower, which is deer resistant, produces white and pink blooms that emerge in early to late spring on long stems up to 18 inches tall.
Fountain grasses (Pennisetum) are an elegant perennial addition to hardy zone 5 gardens. It is a mound-forming ornamental grass with pretty plumes that do well in partial shade.
This low-maintenance grass is a garden favorite. It gets its name from the cascading leaves that resemble a fountain. The grass grows in mounds or clumps, which keeps fountain grasses from becoming invasive.
Fountain grasses produce a small tan, pink or purple flowers resembling foxtails from late summer into fall. Foliage remains lush into the winter.
Meadow rue (Thalictrum) is a flowering perennial well suited to a shade garden. The plant's delicate leaves resemble common garden rue, the origin of its name, even though it is not related to the herb.
For shady locations, use the white-flowering Thalictrum polygamum, or tall meadow rue, which is suited to partial shade.
Thalictrum aquilegifolium, which produces lavender-colored blossoms, is listed for full sun to partial shade, and partial shade should be sufficient for a healthy plant.