Landscaping can be a lot of work. To minimize the effort and cost of tending to your garden, plant several perennials. They grow back year after year on their own, so by taking the time to plan and choose appropriate perennials for your climate, you should be able to watch them bloom for years to come.
Guided by average temperatures for different regions, the USDA distinguished 11 zones across North America. These zones can help you identify which plants will grow well in specific climates [source: United States National Arboretum]. The lower the number, the colder the climate -- so zone 11 is the warmest zone. If you garden in the Midwest, you live in plant hardiness zones three, four, five or six.
Using the zoning numbers as a guide will be your best bet for picking the plants you should grow. Most plant nurseries or gardening Web sites will tell you which plants work for which zones. It's important to choose plants that are best suited for your climate zone and soil. Doing so can save money and gardening time in the end.
In addition to climate and soil, think about whether you'll be planting in sun or shade, as well as what garden pests you have to contend with in your area. It's also a good idea to spend some time sketching out your space.
Planning a perennial garden requires more time than when you're simply planting annuals. Most perennials take about three years to fully adjust and thrive. But once these plants are established and healthy in your garden, the amount of maintenance they will require should be relatively low.
Despite its tender name and delicate appearance, bleeding heart is a hardy and fast-growing perennial that thrives in partial sun to full shade throughout zones three to eight. Certain varieties of Dicentra cucullaria, as bleeding heart is officially named, will even tolerate zones as cold as two or as warm as nine [sources: Dayton Nurseries; Midwest Gardening]. Bleeding heart typically blooms vigorously from at least May through June, with graceful clusters of flowers that cascade along curving stems. Blossoms range in color from white and pale pink to rosy pink and deep cherry red, while the fernlike foliage may be grayish green or deep green [source: Dayton Nurseries].
Bleeding heart prefers moist, acidic, well-drained soil, especially at the edges of woods where it is sheltered from high winds and early frosts [sources: Dayton Nurseries; Midwest Gardening]. The plant is native to North America and commonly found throughout the eastern United States. It can easily be divided and transplanted in the fall or spring.
Need a plant that will grow in drier conditions or sunnier spots? Take a look at the next perennial on our list.
This popular perennial is probably best known by its botanical name, Sedum cauticola, but its other common name, stonecrop, hints at just how easy the plant is to grow. Stonecrop is an ideal choice for borders and rock gardens because it needs very little soil or water and easily withstands both drought conditions and outright neglect [sources: Dayton Nurseries; Midwest Gardening]. Its thick, succulent leaves come in a variety of colors from gold to silvery green to dark burgundy to nearly black, while the flowers span a wide range of dusty pinks and deep reds. Stonecrop blooms in late summer and into fall, and plants can be pinched back or divided to maintain a compact shape. Stonecrop is resistant to deer and other pests, and it does well in full sun to light shade in hardiness zones three through eight. It can withstand just about anything except overwatering or excessive shade, making it a great choice for gardeners throughout the Midwest.
For another Midwest favorite that even the brownest thumb can grow with ease, be sure to check out the versatile plant on the next page.
It loves full sun, stands up to drought, and holds up beautifully in fresh or dried floral arrangements, so it's no wonder that yarrow has become a favorite perennial for gardeners throughout the Midwest and beyond. Also called by its botanical names Achillea, Achillea millefolium or Achillea filipendulina, yarrow comes in a huge range of colors from white to gold to pinks, purples and reds. Yarrow attracts butterflies and resists deer, rabbits and insect pests. It even tolerates salt, making it a good choice for roadside planting [sources: Midwest Gardening; Dayton Nurseries].
Yarrow can be grown in containers, beds and border gardens, and some compact varieties even work well as groundcover [source: Better Homes & Gardens]. Of course, the flip side of yarrow's easy, fast-growing nature is that many varieties of this perennial spread very quickly, so contain it in a pot or cut it back to prevent it from taking over your beds. Yarrow grows in hardiness zones three to nine, and most varieties will bloom from late spring through early fall, particularly if flowers are deadheaded to make way for new blooms.
The next perennial on our list is an old-fashioned favorite that adds color and height to any garden.
Hollyhocks, or Alcea rosea, are technically biennial, meaning that they take two years to complete their life cycle; however, they are also self-seeding plants that replace themselves very effectively, so once you plant a few, you should see them return every year in the same spot [sources: Texas Cooperative Extension; Roberson]. Hollyhocks can grow 6 to 8 feet tall, so they are often staked or planted next to a high fence or wall [source: Midwest Gardening].
Hollyhocks bloom from June through August, and their bright colors and deep flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Unlike drought-tolerant perennials like yarrow and stonecrop, hollyhocks like lots of water and do best in well-drained soil. Hollyhocks are found in an assortment of colors including white, yellow, pink and red, and they work well in both fresh and dried bouquets. They are able to tolerate both high and low temperature extremes, with most varieties flourishing in zones two through eight and some growing best in zones three through nine.
The next perennial may just be the polar opposite of hollyhock in terms of its appearance, but it's a great addition to any Midwest garden.
Unlike the tall, spiky hollyhock, Artemisia is a low-growing perennial selected for its silver-green foliage. The common names for Artemisia may sound like a list of ingredients from a potions class at Hogwarts -- mugwort, wormwood, ghost plant, silver sage, silver mound, sagebrush -- but the plant adds soft, interesting texture to containers, borders, and even flower arrangements [source: Dayton Nurseries]. Artemisia is deer resistant, but other pests such as aphids, mealybugs and slugs consider it a tasty treat.
Artemisia is fairly drought resistant and does well in full sun to partial shade. Different varieties flourish throughout the Midwest in zones three through 10, and while there's probably an Artemisia that's just right for your garden, be sure you know what you're getting before you take it home. Some varieties of Artemisia are low, fast-spreading plants well-suited to groundcover, while others grow into large shrub-like mounds better suited to the center of a bed. Still others can spread aggressively if not carefully contained [source: Better Homes & Gardens].
Some say that the next plant on our list can help you ward off the common cold. But while that research is still inconclusive, there's no doubt that this perennial is perfect for gardens throughout the Midwest.
Coneflower has proven popular because of its full, colorful bloom. They thrive best in the sunlight, but can handle some shade if the soil is rich. In sunny conditions, it will grow well in drier soil. When first planting and establishing this flower, you will need to water it regularly but once it has grown in, the plant will stabilize itself. The only conditions to look out for are heavy clay or overly damp soils. Coneflowers normally do not survive long in these conditions.
The botanical name Echinacea purpurea comes from Greek words meaning reddish purple hedgehog. And it might remind you of that ingredient advertised on your bag of cough drops. For years, people have been using the roots of this popular perennial to boost their immune system. While it has no antibacterial uses, it should help you fend off that cold or sooth your sore throat. Of course, the reddish purple is easy enough to understand as it describes the color of a common strand of coneflower. The hedgehog reference might not be as readily understandable. If you look at one, though, you can see that it references the coneflower's half circle cone head, which looks similar to the spiky animal.
Peonies have been grown in gardens for more than 2,000 years. Throughout the ages, many people believed peonies had medical healing powers. The Chinese were especially fond of the flower, whose name in Chinese is "sho yu," meaning "most beautiful" [source: Flowers and Plants]. So if it's been good enough for thousands of years, surely it's good enough for your Midwest garden, right? Absolutely. And if color is your goal, one of the most popular -- and colorful -- perennials of America's heartland is the peony, or Paeonia.
They're tough and resilient, which makes them perfect for the many seasons of the Midwest. Able to grow back every year for more than 100 years, peonies aren't infected by disease or damaged by pests [source: Koehne]. They're hardy in the face of neglect, and their blooms -- which flower in red, pink or white -- are a fragrant harbinger of summer.
The cold is actually good for the plant, which needs a dormant period between blooms. Though they will be slow to grow in their early years, they can eventually reach heights of 2 to 3 feet (between .6 and 1 meter). For the best growth, peonies should have good sun exposure and be planted in well-drained, loamy soil.
The herbaceous peony comes in five forms: single, double, semi-double, anemone and Japanese. If you want a larger plant, you could go with a peony tree, which is actually more of a shrub. Only the flower head will die away in late fall and winter, but the remaining body of the shrub will stand its ground all year long. However, the blooms on these shrubs are not as hearty as those on their herbaceous relatives.
Combining peonies and coneflowers will look nice and be a long-lasting combo. Both flowers are far more tolerant of deer feeding than other plants, which goes a long way in the deer populated forests spanning the Midwest area.
Even those who don't garden are probably familiar with the popular hibiscus plant. Many associate the flower with exotic locales, such as Hawaii, where the flower is not only decorative but also purposeful. Females wear the flower behind their left ear to signify marriage and behind their right ear if they are still single. But don't think this popular perennial is reserved for warm island climates. Certain strains of the plant do well in the Midwest, too.
The perennial hibiscus, Hibiscus moscheutos, will bloom throughout the summer as long as it is planted in high levels of sunlight and moist soil. The lower zones, specifically five and six, will do best with these plants because of the increased sun exposure. While your color choices will be limited to pink, red and white, the plant can bloom for months, keeping your garden bright through fall.
The hibiscus that is able to withstand the Midwest winter isn't exactly the same as the tropical flower you may be familiar with, but they are similar in appearance. To be sure you can spot a perennial hibiscus, look for a plant with heart-shaped leaves in a dull green shade. The blooms themselves will be white, pink or red and very large. The buds will be large, somewhere between 2 and 4 inches (5.08 and 10.16 cm) in length. This perennial version is root hardy enough to thrive in the ever-changing seasons of the Midwest. They'll die down to the ground each winter and then replenish in the spring.
With well-established hibiscus, the stem and foliage of the plant is very strong. It's even referred to as bark. In some cultures, the bark can be multipurpose. By soaking the tough plant in sea or salt water, the fibers will soften. They can then be stripped into thin pieces to be used in the production of many things, from grass skirts to wigs [source: Flower Expert].
If your garden is covered with shade, don't despair -- there's a perennial that's perfect for your yard. Hostas can grow in shaded, well-drained, moist soil in zones three and above. They can vary in size from 6 inches to 6 feet (15 cm to 1.83 meters) and pair nicely with ferns, another good shade-happy choice. They're often grown for the foliage -- it's thick and available in a variety of colors and shapes, including circular, oval or heart-shaped leaves.
You probably won't be the first in your neighborhood to plant hosta -- this perennial is one of the most popular plants in the Midwest. This is due largely in part to its easy nature. All around, hostas are low maintenance and shade tolerant, which are great qualities for any garden, especially those in a Midwestern climate. But the plant does need a healthy mix of sun and shade. While full-on sun will bring a full color bloom, it will dry out and kill most of the foliage. This is why you should try to plant your hostas in an area that will receive a few hours of morning sun but be protected by shade the rest of the day [source: Hosta Guy].
Most people plant hostas from potted plants, making establishment that much easier. By using this approach, you have more freedom with timing, as they should be quick to establish whether planted in late spring or early fall. During the early stages, it is important to provide the plant with consistent water and some sort of compost or organic material to add nutrients to the soil. After it's fully established, the plant should support itself. Although, it's ideal if your hosta continues to receive consistent amounts of water.
Daylilies, or Hemerocallis, demonstrate their hardiness by thriving and multiplying in ditches along the roads. Several varieties bloom throughout the summer. Plant them in well-drained soil in full sun, in zones three through 10. You may want to plant your lilies in front of shrubs. The dense greenery will serve as an interesting visual backdrop to these tall beauties.
The name of this perennial divulges its nature -- it's lovely bloom only lasts one day. But don't worry, these plants are stocked full of bulbs ready to bloom the day after the others die off. Because of this, well-established daylily plants can provide you with a full bloom from as early as May through the early October.
They are similar to the hosta not only in looks, but in their care as well. Like the hosta, these plants are pretty low maintenance. And they are also often transplanted from a pot, which means they can be planted over many of the warm months of the Midwest's year. Make a hole roughly 12 inches deep and 9 inches wide (31 by 23 centimeters), then place the roots into the hole and fill with a mixture of soil and fertilizer. Leave a foot or two (one-third to two-thirds of a meter) between plants and be sure that the crown of the root is level with, or above, the soil line [source: Hittle]. Make sure to water the plants each week until the plant is fully established in your garden.
Daylilies may be even easier to tend than the hosta since they don't rely on consistent watering. They've been known to live through both over- and under-watering conditions [source: Hittle]. Their resilient nature makes them more able to handle sun exposure, so you may want to plant your daylilies where they'll receive somewhere between a half and a full day of sun.
While daylilies aren't too tough to tend, you should watch out for some of their common predators. Insects such as aphids, spider mites, slugs, snails, cutworms, beetles and bulb mites may feed on your prized plant. Deer will likely snack on the bloom, too. Putting up fencing or asking your local gardening store for a pesticide can help combat these annoyances [source: American Hemerocallis Society].
Using less water on gardening doesn't have to mean less of a garden. Learn how to save 30 percent of your gardening water just by watering at the right time of day in this article.
More Great Links
- American Hemerocallis Society. "Frequently Asked Questions." (Jan. 22, 2009) http://www.Daylilies.org/AHSfaq2.html#pests
- Better Homes & Gardens. "Artemisia." (Jan. 20, 2012) http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/perennial/artemisia/
- Better Homes & Gardens. "Yarrow." (Jan. 20, 2012) http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/perennial/yarrow/
- Dayton Nurseries. "Bleeding Heart." (Jan. 20, 2012) http://www.daytonnursery.com/encyclopedia/perennials/dicentra.htm
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- Dayton Nurseries. "Yarrow." (Jan. 20, 2012) http://www.daytonnursery.com/encyclopedia/Perennials/Achillea.htm
- Evans, Erv. "Peonies for the Home Landscape."North Caroline State University Department of Horticultural Sciences. (Jan. 22, 2009) http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8501.html
- Floridata. "Perovskia atriplicifolia." (Jan. 24, 2009) http://www.floridata.com/ref/P/pero_atr.cfm
- Flowers and Plants. "Peony." (Jan. 21, 2009) http://www.flowers.org.uk/flowers/facts/k-r/Peony.htm
- Flower Expert. "Hawaii State Flower." (Jan. 21, 2009) http://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/aboutflowers/stateflowers/hawaii-state-flowers
- Green, Doug. "Coneflower." Gardening Tips Perennials. (Jan. 21, 2009) http://www.gardening-tips-perennials.com/Coneflower.html
- Hittle, Thomas J. "Daylily Culture Tips." KansasNet Internet Services (Jan. 22, 2009) http://www.kansas.net/~tjhittle/Daylilygrowingtips.html
- Hosta Guy. "Made in Shade Gardens. Growing Hostas." (Jan. 22, 2009) http://www.Hostaguy.com/GrowingHosta.html
- Koehne, Maryalice and Deb Wiley. "The New Peony." Midwest Living.com Jan. 24, 2009) http://www.midwestliving.com/garden/flowers/new-Peony/
- Midwest Gardening. "Alcea Rosea Hollyhocks." (Jan. 20, 2012) http://www.midwestgardentips.com/alcea_rosea_hollyhocks.html
- Midwest Gardening. "Best Performing Perennials A-C." (Jan. 20, 2012) http://www.midwestgardentips.com/best_performing_perennials_a-c.html
- Midwest Gardening. "Best Performing Perennials N-Z." (Jan. 20, 2012) http://www.midwestgardentips.com/best_performing_perennials_n-z.html
- Midwest Gardening. "Tips for the ordinary weekend gardener in the Northern Midwest." (Jan. 24, 2009) http://www.midwestgardentips.com/
- Perry, Dr. Leonard. "So you Want to Grow Perennials." (Jan. 24, 2009) http://www.backyardgardener.com/masterg/g-80.html
- Polomski, Bob and Karen Russ. "Peonies." Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center. (Jan. 21, 2009) http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/hgic1170.htm
- "Purple Coneflower." (Jan. 24, 2009) http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/Wildseed/33/33.1.html
- Roberson, Kelly and Felder Rushing. "No-Fail Perennials for the Midwest." (Jan. 19. 2011) http://www.bhg.com/gardening/gardening-by-region/midwest/types-of-midwestern-perennials/#page=3
- Texas Cooperative Extension. "Annual, Perennial, Biennial." (Jan. 20, 2012) http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/wildseed/growing/annual.html
- Trop-Hibiscus. "Growing Tropical Hibiscus Up North." (Jan. 24, 2009) http://www.trop-Hibiscus.com/gindr.html
- United States Forest Service. "Dutchman's Breeches." (Jan. 19, 2012) http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/dicentra_cucullaria.shtml
- United States National Arboretum. "USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map." (Jan. 24, 2009) http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html
- www.midwestliving.com. "Ten Best Annuals & Perennials." (Jan. 24, 2009) http://www.midwestliving.com/garden/flowers/best-annuals-perennials/