Perennials are plants that, once planted, usually return year after year in your flower bed. Their roots remain alive under the soil through the winter and sprout leafy, flowering plants in the spring. These should be the backbone of an easy-care garden. Generally, they're in bloom for a month or more, depending on the plant.
Here are 10 of the most beautiful and easiest to grow full-sun perennials for Michigan gardens.
Black-eyed Susans, aka gloriosa daisies, are a hardy type of Rudbeckia with daisy-like flowers consisting of gold petals and a dark center seed head. The scratchy, hairy foliage is not their best feature, but the vibrant flower heads more than make up for that.
Plant size varies greatly, from dwarf 1-foot-tall cultivars such as 'Becky' and 'Toto' to the giant Rudbeckia maxima, which can reach 9 feet tall.
Black-eyed Susans flower best in full sun, but they can also handle partial shade. Rudbeckia plants in general start blooming in midsummer and can repeat bloom into fall. Seed-started perennials can bloom the first year if you start them early enough.
Queen of the Prairie
The sturdy yet delicate-looking Queen of the Prairie is a species of the flowering Rosaceae family that's native to shady habitats with moist, alkaline soil that's well drained.
It grows 4 to 8 feet tall and has fragrant fluffy heads of tiny candy pink or peach flowers that bloom for about three weeks between early and midsummer. This non-invasive perennial spreads rapidly. The tall plants can be cut back in the fall.
Variety is important when shopping for Dianthus, Dianthus gratianopolitanus because hardiness can differ. Most dianthus bloom for more than two months beginning in the spring, but many require deadheading to promote rebloom. Several varieties are also evergreen and make good edging plants.
Dianthus does well in any well-drained soil, particularly in slightly alkaline beds. They don't tend to live long and should be divided or seeded regularly.
Blue Fescue Grass
Blue fescue grass, or Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue,' is a clumping ornamental grass. It is a true grass that grows to only a foot tall or shorter.
Plant Elijah Blue in full sun. It loves the well-drained soil and tolerates poor soils. The more sun this grass gets, the more likely it is to show its signature blue-gray color.
In cold climates, blue fescue grass can turn brown in winter, but many people leave it standing to help protect the roots from cold. Cut back the foliage in early spring to within a few inches of the ground.
In contrast to its ground-hugging relatives, Phlox paniculata, or garden phlox, is tall. They are considered mildew resistant.
Garden phlox is a colorful, long-lasting feature in sun-drenched summer gardens, which makes them a valuable asset in continuously blooming flower beds.
Major tall phlox cultivars are 'David,' which has white flowers and large leaves that die back at the end of the growing season, and the cold-hardy 'Nora Leigh' with variegated leaves and pretty two-tone white and magenta blossoms.
Hardy hibiscus, Hibiscus moscheutos, goes by common names such as "rose mallows" and "swamp mallows." But some gardeners prefer "hardy hibiscus" and "dinner-plate hibiscus," which are names befitting these cold-hardy plants that nevertheless bear large blooms reminiscent of the tropics. Technically, they are herbaceous perennials.
The most common cultivars are 'Disco Belle Rosy Red' and 'Galaxy,' which bear blooms that are white, bi-colored, red, or pink.
Popular hardy hibiscus cultivars grow up to 2.5 feet tall; in the case of 'Galaxy,' saucer-like blooms can span up to 10 inches across. While each bloom lives only a day or two, they are quickly replaced by newcomers. Hardy hibiscus plants should be grown in full sun and in average to wet soil.
The orange flowers of butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, carry out the work of the plant name: They attract monarch butterflies as well as tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails—both the caterpillar and the mature flyer—and even hummingbirds.
Also known as Indian paintbrush, orange milkweed, pleurisy root, and yellow milkweed, butterfly weed blooms from early summer to the first frost in most areas. It grows up to 2 feet tall and has glossy leaves and seed pods. If you want to avoid an invasion of butterfly weed, cut off the seed pods before they open.
Hardy butterfly weed is well-adapted to less-than-ideal conditions, growing well in clay soil and in dry or rocky soil. It does best in full sun, but it tolerates some shade.
Gaillardia, or blanket flower, is a short-lived, late-blooming perennial with richly colored, daisy-like flowers. There are more than two dozen species of Gaillardia, but most of the modern blanket flowers are Gaillardia x grandiflora, which was crossbred from two hardy Gaillardia species.
Although short-lived, Gaillardia can reseed and sprawl through the garden. Since the original 12- to 18-inch-high plants are hybrids, expect some variation from self-seeding. Generally, the leaves are gray-green and lance-shaped, while the 3- to 5-inch-diameter flowers, some with petals surrounding disks and others with trumpet-shaped florets surrounding a disk, come in gorgeous shades of yellow and red.
Blanket flowers love full sun, but they can handle partial shade, although they get a bit floppy and will not flower as profusely. They bear flowers from midsummer to fall.
Tall sedums such as 'Autumn Joy' are unparalleled garden performers that look good through all four seasons. There is no need to deadhead these plants, which thrive in well-drained soil and full sun. If the plants flop, they can be cut back in early summer to form a bushier, sturdier plant. Sedum can go years without division, but once the plant begins to thin out in the center, a division is necessary.
These tough and adaptable plants tend to bloom in beautiful shades of pink and mauve for two to three months. The colors start out pale and deepen as they mature. Tall 'Showy Stonecrop' sedum doesn't bloom until the fall and requires little care. Their thick, succulent leaves are able to withstand drought and rainy weather. The flower buds form early and remain attractive well into winter. If the deer didn’t eat them, sedum would be a perfect plant.
'Border Stonecrop' is a small section of the hundreds of species of sedum. These taller sedums have thick stems, fleshy leaves, and tight flower heads.
Tall sedum grows from 6 to 24 inches tall and can spread out up to 24 inches across. Although sedum flowers don't open until late summer or early fall, the flower heads form early in the season. They start off green like a broccoli bud, and slowly change color, usually from pink to mauve.
Sedum grows best in full sun and is drought tolerant. They can also be grown in partial shade, but such plants will not be very sturdy.
Achillea, or yarrow, is a hardy North American native plant. The cultivated varieties have become staples in gardens everywhere because they are tough, easy to grow, and produce gorgeous flowers and foliage.
There are about 85 species of yarrow with fernlike foliage and flat umbel flowers, while ‘The Pearl’ produces small button-like blossoms and others have flowers resembling daisies.
With sprays of soft, feathery, aromatic foliage and their tendency to stay in tidy clumps, Achillea makes great filler plants and edges.
These rugged, adaptable plants grow 6 to 36 inches tall and spread out up to 2 feet. They love heat and full sun. If they don't get enough sun, they get leggy and flop over. Yarrow blooms repeatedly throughout the summer. For the most blooms, keep the plants deadheaded.