I remember buying plants for my very first perennial border and being completely overwhelmed by all the choices available. Everything in the garden center was vying for my attention. I made the mistake of buying plants based on looks alone, barely even reading the plant tags! Months later, some of the more exotic plants didn’t look so great because I didn’t have the time or expertise to properly care for them.
I wish someone had given me a “top ten” list of easy care perennials that would add drama and beauty to the yard, but wouldn’t require so much coddling. So, I’m giving you the list I should have had back then. If you’re getting started with a garden or want to expand your borders, try these must-grow ornamentals.
- Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) – Less drama in your life, but more drama in your garden! Hardy hibiscus is a perennial, even in some of the coldest growing zones. Colorful, showy blooms the size of dinner plates on large plants with pretty foliage make it perfect as a focal point in the garden.
- Knock-out roses – These aren’t the fussy, high-maintenance roses of formal English gardens. These roses were developed in 2000 with the novice gardener in mind. They resist most common diseases and will come back stronger and bigger each year. With a hard pruning in late winter, they’ll bloom non-stop from summer through first frost in most areas.
Coneflowers (Echinacea) – These easy care perennials are the classic beauties of any cottage garden. The original purple coneflowers and some of the white varieties are the easiest to grow. I leave some of the spent blooms on in the fall because stunning yellow finches will visit my yard to feast on the seeds.
- Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) – This native, easy care plant is a late-summer bloomer that can form big clumps in a sunny garden. It attracts many types of butterflies and birds. Leave the spent blooms standing all winter – they are just beautiful in the winter garden when coated with shimmering frost.
- Spiderwort (Tradescantia) – I discovered these easy care perennials in my yard when we moved last year. Their unusual-looking, purple flowers open in the morning and early afternoon, but close later in the day. Even when the flowers are closed,
their grass-like texture is appealing in the garden. I’ve noticed that they attract loads of pollinators, and I’m glad they are near my vegetable garden!
- Tickseed (Coreopsis) – Tickseed is covered in pretty, bright yellow or sometimes yellow and orange flowers in early summer. When they are finished blooming, give them a light shearing for an encore in late summer. Leave the late summer spent blooms standing to attract lots of hungry songbirds.
- Bee balm (Mondarda) – Another cottage garden favorite, bee balm has cool-looking spiky flowers in shades of red, purple, and pink. The bloom time can be staggered by cutting some of the tall stems back by about a third in spring, prior to flowering. Classic red bee balm is a hummingbird magnet, they cannot resist it. Bee balm forms big clumps in the garden, so give it some room.
- Ornamental grasses – No flowers here but lots of interesting texture that makes a nice “landing spot” for the eyes in a colorful garden. Grasses are useful for adding privacy to the yard since some varieties can get quite tall and when left standing in winter, they provide winter interest and cover for birds. A bonus is that grasses sound so soothing when they rustle gently on a breezy day.
Milkweed (Asclepias) – Make it a point to include this very important plant in your garden. Not only is it an easy care, native perennial, but it’s the exclusive food source for the larvae of the struggling monarch butterflies. Look for common milkweed or swamp milkweed for maximum impact.
- Stonecrop (Sedum) – Once you buy a sedum, you’ll never have to again unless you want a different variety – they spread nicely and can be grown from cuttings very easily. There are so many varieties available, and they all have succulent-type foliage, and they actually prefer poorer garden soils. Many low-growing varieties make excellent ground cover.