Low-Maintenance Plants That Return Year After Year
Perennials are the foundation of any flower garden! See our list of easy, no-fuss perennials that are especially perfect for the beginner gardener, with an emphasis on native plants. Bring beautiful blooms to your garden—year after year!
What are Perennials?
Perennials are those flowers that return reliably year after year—whereas annuals are those one-season wonders that add color and need to be replaced every spring. It’s the perennials which form the backbone of a garden, whereas annual are planted for spots of color. Think of perennials as the foundation.
An advantage of perennials is that they require minimum maintenance. After establishment, most perennials require minimum pesticides or pruning. They just need well-drained soil that’s amended with compost or organic matter. However, there are literally thousands of varieties of perennials, and while some are indeed as easy as pie to grow, others require at least as much attention as annuals. So, if an easy garden is what you seek, you should take care to choose the right perennials.
One tip: Choose native perennials when possible! Don’t be tempted by a beautiful flower that grows in the far North or South if it’s not meant for your zone! See the USDA Native Plant database.
When to Plant Perennials
You can plant a perennial any time, but the best time to plant is fall and spring. This allows the plant to get well-established before winter or very hot, dry summers. We prefer fall because the soil is already warmed. Planting in summer is okay, but you’ll need to water frequently.
The following are among the easiest perennials which are common through most of North America.
Why These Perennials Are So Easy
The plants listed here are perfect perennials because they …
- do not need fussy care, such as pinching, staking, and deadheading (although some of these plants, like daylilies, can benefit from deadheading)
- are fairly resistant to pests and diseases, and may even be unappealing to deer (although a hungry deer will eat just about anything)
- have a long life span (more than 5 years)
- adapt to a wide range of conditions
- do not spread all over the garden via invasive rhizomes
- grow and bloom well even if you do not divide them
- are tough enough to hold their own against invasive neighbors
- will grow almost anywhere in North America (Zones 2 to 9)
Check out these easy tips for perennial garden care.
Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are a popular native flower and been a stape for so long that just about everyone grows them. Sturdy stems bear cheerful golden daisy-like flowers with a black, conelike center. They occur singly atop 1 to 2-foot stems. Take note, though, that this is a late starter, flowering at the end of summer. ‘Early Bird Gold’ is a selection of the more common ‘Goldsturm’ that is physically identical to it but “day-length neutral”: It starts blooming early and doesn’t know when to stop, so it can bloom from late May until Christmas in some climates. (Northern gardeners can figure on a late June through October season.) Read our Growing Guide for Black-Eyed Susans.
2. Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.)
Echinacea purpurea, commonly known as coneflower, is a popular and easily grown native perennial U.S. whih produces long-lasting lavendar flowers on smooth 2 to 5-foot robust stems and bear a prickly, green to orange center. It blooms from midsummer to early fall, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The flowers are used to make an extremely popular herbal tea. Read our Growing Guide for Coneflowers.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are the workhorse of the garden and very low-maintenace, thriving in full sun but also can tolerate partial shade. It’s not an original native but it’s been here a long, long time Lots of choices here, from big flowers to small, from dwarfs to giants, from early bloomers to fall bloomers—all trumpet-shape and borne over attractive, arching, grasslike foliage. Some varieties, such as the ever popular ‘Stella de Oro’ (yellow flowers), bloom all summer! Colors include yellow, orange, pink, purplish red, and “white” (well, more like cream), often with a contrasting eye. Each flower lasts but a day (thus the name, “daylilies”), but stems can produce dozens of flowers … and there can be dozens of stems!
Aruncus, commonly known as goat’s beard, has an extensive native range in North America. This is a big, tough perennial with stems so sturdy that they have survived tornados unharmed. The giant leaves are fernlike, and the frothy white flowers are rather like astilbe blooms. It’s a bit slow to develop and thus may not reach its full size for 4 to 5 years, but goatsbeard can live for 100 years or more in the same spot. Expect blooms in early summer.
Ever popular, hostas are tough as nails as long as you remember two things: You must buy slug-resistant varieties (these usually have thick leaves), and hostas are beloved by deer. (Read our advice for getting rid of slugs and deer in the garden.) Hostas come in a variety of sizes and are grown mostly for their foliage—usually large leaves, with attractive veining in shades from dark green to chartreuse and blue, often with beautiful yellow or white variegation. The trumpet-shape flowers are white to purple and usually fairly insignificant; however, there are some large-flower, highly scented varieties. Hostas require full shade to partial shade and bloom early summer to fall. Read our Growing Guide for Hostas.
Your great-great-grandmother probably grew peonies (Paeonia spp.)—and it’s highly likely that they’re still exactly where she planted them! Peonies are about the longest-lived perennials around. The deeply cut leaves are a glossy dark green that reddens in the fall, but their main attraction is the huge, showy, blowsy blooms pink, white, or red (and, more recently, yellow or peach). Flowers can be single, semidouble, or double, but take note: many of the double varieties require staking. Peonies bloom in mid- to late spring. Read our Growing Guide for Peonies.
Salvias (also known as sages) have gained their new fame because they flower for a long period of time and also grow fairly rapidly. There are also many salvias that will stay low enough to be used at the front edge of your flowerbeds. In addition to the colorful flowers and interesting foliage of salvias, one of the main benefits of growing sages are the hummingbirds and butterflies they attract. See our Growing Guide for Salvia.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a stunning tall flower with tubular blossoms that often looks best at the back of a garden; it’s also rabbit- and deer-resistant. Common foxglove is a biennial, which means they form a rosette and leaves in their first year, bloom in their second year, and then die. Foxglove reseed easily, so plant foxgloves two years in a row for flowering plants. Also, new perennial varieties of foxglove have been developed that flower in year one. See our Foxglove Growing Guide.
NOTE: Foxglove are highly poisonous, so don’t plant them if you have pets or young children who might gnaw on the plants. Additionally, foxglove are not native to North America and may be considered invasive species in some locations. Check with local regulations before planting.
More Easy Perennials to Grow
Got more space to fill? None of the above plants caught your fancy? Okay, here are a few more…
9. Cushion Spurge
Cushion Spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) is a native plant with chartreuse flowers rise from mounds of green foliage. This plant blooms in early spring, turns a colorful chrome-yellow in early summer, and turn red in the fall. It’s a dramatic plant for the perennial border and is drought-resistant, deer-resistant, and butterfly-friendly!
Image: Bright yellow cushion spurge ‘Euphorbia polychroma’ in spring garden. Credit: Hopsalka/Getty.
Columbine (Aquilegia) is a beautiful woodland perennial with dropping, bell-like red petals which attract hummingbirds. Once started, columbine propagates for years and, although perennial, increases rapidly by self seeding. See how to plant columbine.
11. Russian Sage
This shrubby plant with sturdy white stems has silvery, highly aromatic leaves and a haze of lavender-blue flowers. Blooming from summer to fall, Russian Sage is a robust plant that is drought-tolerant once established and very attractive to pollinators. Its softer look can provide a beautiful supporting role to bolder perennials, like coneflowers and rudbeckia. Read more about sage.
Image: Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). Credit: cstar55/Getty.
12. Showy Stonecrop
One of the taller members of the genus Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum), these popular garden plants are extremely easy to grow. White to pink cauliflower blooms appear over succulent, blue-green leaves. Blooms in fall. Read more about stonecrop.
Astillbe (Astilbe x arendsii) has a low growing habit that makes it work as a border plant or ground cover. The flowers are fluffy pink or white panicles above dense fern-like foliage. See our Astilbe Grow Guide.
14. Siberian Iris
This is the easy iris—it produces abundant blooms in purple, lavender, pink, white, or yellow in attractive, grasslike foliage. Blooms from late spring to early summer. Read more about growing irises.
A very common wildflower, phlox blooming anytime from late spring through the summer months in pastel pink, purple, or white flowers. Most species need full sun to thrive. Butterflies and hummingbirds love phlox! Read more about growing phlox.
16. Baptisia australis, commonly known as False Indigo
One of the oldest known perennials to exist, most native Baptisia species is an upright perennial and features blue-lavender, lupine-like flowers on mountains of clover-like blue-green foilage. Baptisia australis has dark seed pods formed in fall that are a good counterpoint in cut flower arrangements. A carefree plant that grows in full sun or light shade, they are typically deer-resistant and attract butterflies.
17. Heliopsis helianthoides or False Sunflower
A native perennial often found wild along roadsides and in fields across the U.S. and much of Canada, this upright, sunflower-like perennial features daisy-like flowers with yellow-orange rays surrounding yellow center cones. The flowers will brighten up your garden in full sun to light shade from midsummer to fall. Pollinating bees and butterflies enjoy the blossoms. The plant tolerates dry to average soils and does not require rich soil to thrive.
18. Bee Balm (Wild Bergamot)
Bee balm (Monarda spp.) blooms every year in mid to late summer. It’s beloved by pollinators including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds who enjoy the sweet nectar found in its tubular-shaped florets. In zones 4 to 8, it grows in full sun to part shade and prefers average to consistently moist soil. Deer tend to leave it alone due to its minty scented foliage. See our Bee Balm Guide.
19. Perennial Hibiscus, also known as Rose Mallow
Native to the Eastern U.S., hearty hibicus flowers from midsummer into early fall and grows best in full sun to light shade. Natives grow near bodies of water so this plant needs consistent moisture to thrive and isn’t recommended for containers. Deer usually leave them alone, but bees and hummingbirds enjoy their blossoms. See our Hibiscus Growing Guide.
20. New England Aster
The native aster has colors ranging from lavender to blue to white, with showy flowers. The perennial’s hairy, clasping leaves are arranged densely on its stout stems, and the plant can grow to six feet or more in height. Learn more about growing asters.
Which of these easy perennials is your favorite? Do you have any favorite perennial flowers which you would recommend to the Almanac community? Please let us know below!