Often I have friends tell me that they want a pretty garden but they don’t want to do all the work. I completely understand this feeling. So much of gardening is back breaking labor and continuous troubleshooting. However, even the most avid gardeners need plants that just do their own thing. Meet the Perennials. I’ve been obsessed with these flowering plants since I learned what perennial means: They come back every year! Furthermore, you hardly have to do anything to keep them going! They are the lazy/casual gardener’s best friend! If you are a beginning gardener, this is an awesome way to start as well. In this post, I will share some general care tips as well as my favorite summer flowering blooms. All blooms listed can easily be found in your local gardening center or nursery. So grab a plant and a spade without trepidation of hard work and failed attempts and enjoy the wonderful world of perennials.
Disclaimer: This tutorial is written specifically for zones 7-9. If you live on the western side of Washington, Oregon, California or in the Southern States, these tips should work great for you!
General Care Tips
- Read the labels! – Almost everything you need to know about keeping any plant happy is on the little tag sticking out of the dirt in it’s pot. The main 2 things you want to check before purchasing is if it is indeed a perennial and how much sun they need. Most of what is listed below require sunny spots that get at least 5 hours a day.
- Plant in the spring/early summer. You can purchase plants in the early spring, late spring, even in the early summer but you want to give them a few months of good growth and flowering if you want them to come back next year. July should be your cut off for purchasing new plants. I often like to wait until June (if I can hold out) because that’s when everything goes on sale!
- Well Draining Soil – this is essential. Good drainage is key. So if the area your looking at planting in gets water logged, is rocky, or sandy, you may want to reconsider.
- Watering – if the soil is dry, you should be watering your plants. Touch the top of the soil with your bare hand. If it feels moist, your plants are happy. If it’s dry, get that hose out and soak them! During the hot summer days, I water my perennials every evening. This give them the night time to soak it up and reduces evaporation from the sun.
- Compost – A little compost goes a long way – When I plant my perennials, I like to surround the ground around the plant with bagged compost. It’s great natural fertilizer and it keeps the moisture in the soil. If you live in the PNW you can get bags of Cedar Grove compost at most gardening centers for around $4.
- Fertilizing – For the most part, a layer of compost will keep them happy. If you’re feeling ambitious, add a flower fertilizer to the water you feed them once a week.
- Wintering – Once the plant looks completely dead, roughly around November, cut off all the stems to about 2 inches above the ground. Add a mound of compost and/or wood chips around the base of the plant will keep it well drained and warm during the cold winter months. This is essential if you want them to return next year.
- Be Patient waiting for them to return – This Spring in particular has been so cold and dreary, my plants have barely peeked out of the ground and it’s Mid April. You just have to wait and be patient during the Spring. Leave them alone and let them do their thing! If a perennial hasn’t come back by mid June, it’s safe to say it probably didn’t survive the winter.
- Not all perennials make it all of the time – Sometimes a winter is too harsh, or a spring too wet. It’s OK if you have a few that don’t make it from time to time, don’t take it personally. I get excited about those because it means I get to go shopping for new ones to fill in the space! I will tell you this though, I live at about 700 ft in elevation and it has been a very cold and wet Winter/Spring. I have many survivors. So if I can make them survive up here, you should have no problem where you live.
Where to Shop
You can find many of these plants in your local garden centers like Fred Meyer, Home Depot, Lowes, and my favorite local store: McClendons.
If you’re interested in getting fully immersed in plant heaven, I would recommend you check out some of the more fancy nurseries. When I go to Portland, Oregon, I always have to swing through the Portland Nursery, it’s my favorite! I often try to find excuses to visit friends on the Northeast end and force them to visit Molbak’s in Woodenville with me. Closer to home, I always enjoy a visit to Watsons in downtown Puyallup! If your in the local Seattle area, I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for the Sky Nursery as well. That’s where my gardening buddy, the Doc, gets all of her fancy flowers.
Lavender is a classic! With it’s fragrant flowers and bushy appearance, this hardy plant is an essential to any flower bed. Make sure you give them lots of space though, they like to get big! I prefer French lavender over English since they bloom longer and have pretty foliage but it is said that English lavender is hardier and has a better scent. You’ll have to let me know which one you prefer.
Just the name itself makes me happy. I found this treasure at Home Depot and could not pass it up. With it’s tall fuzzy pink stalks, what’s not to love?
An absolute must if you care about our dwindling bee population. These flowers are a bee’s favorite meal. Although they come in an array of colors, I’ve been told by a trusted fellow gardener that they prefer the red blooms over the blue and purple. I picked up one of each this year, so I look forward to finding out for myself!
Fragrant minty leaves and gorgeous flowers that come in so many colors. The humming birds go bonkers over these blooms. Lately it seems that all the nurseries are selling the “black and blue” variety and let me tell you, it’s a winner. The hummingbirds like it so much, I now have two!
One of my favorites. I’ve had the same two plants for 6 summers now. They come back big and strong every year. Don’t let the name put you off, these little yellow flowers are pure joy!
Black Eyed Susans
Another happy yellow flower with a distinguishing black center. From the same family as the sunflower, these beauties will happily spread out and soak up all the summer sun!
AKA Echinacea come in every tone of pink, red, orange, yellow, and even lavender. There are so many breeds, it’s hard to choose just one! The talk stalks will burst forth with bright daisy like blooms that fold back as the center pushes out creating a cone like appearance.
You’ve probably seen these growing near ponds off the side of the road. They are some of the first splashes of color found out in the wild around spring time. They make fantastic backyard accents as well.
Phlox is so fun. Just the word, phlox. It sounds like it’s from another planet. These ground hugging perennials have the cutest flowers and a knack for spreading out all over the place. You’ll often see stone boarders with these pretty plants billowing over.
Red Hot Pokers
Well the name says it all. These crazy flowers literally break the barriers of what we often expect blooms to look like. These make fantastic accents as well as amusing conversation pieces for any garden.
Lupines are part of the pea family and as the flowers die out, their pods will appear. But before that happens, you’ll have colorful spires in rich vivid tones.
I have tried and tried to grow this, one of my favorite flowers but with a big dog who often tramples through my beds, it never lasts more than a day! Still, I purchased another one this year at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show and am housing it indoors for the moment to let it grow big and strong. I’m hoping to put it in between some of my taller plants to deter the dog from tromping my dreams to death once again!
Although I have yet to successfully winter one of these pretty plants, I tend to still grab one during June sales. They fill in quickly and are just so darn pretty with their ombre daisy like blooms.
Another one that humming birds adore! These dainty trumpet like flowers are a perfect fit for their little beaks.
These strange looking poof balls look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book! In actuality, they are a relative of onions and garlic but with a far prettier blooms and less tasty bulbs. They stick straight up and can be real head turners!
Often cosmos are annual plants but their are a few varieties that are perrenial. I especially enjoy the chocolate cosmo and so do my bees!
These cute old-timey ground hugging plants are the classic you’ve never heard of. It surprises me that for how often I see them sold, I rarely see them in a garden. Perhaps they are just to small and odd for some. I think they’re adorable.
This one is the coolest! It’s a low growing thistle and it’s blue! Ice blue! I got mine at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show and have had beautiful blooms for the past 3 summers. Certainly a unique addition!
Your quintessential daisy. White petals and yellow centers. A must for any flower bed.
This is my latest addition. I got it last summer. Again, I bought it because of the name. Right now, out of all my perrenials, it is thriving like crazy! No blooms yet, but it’s building itself up to be HUGE! And the orange orchid like flowers are gorgeous! Bees and humming birds both adore them.
So there you have it. My favorite perennials. I hope you’ve enjoyed my post. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments, I am eager to help you in your gardening experience! Cheers!