black eyed susans
Brandy Terrill / EyeEm/getty
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A Beginner’s Guide To Perennials

Perennials are plants that live for more than two years, coming back season after season without needing to be replanted. Trees, bushes, and shrubs are technically perennials—they’re classified as woody perennials in the horticultural world—but when we talk about perennials we are typically talking about herbaceous perennials. Herbaceous perennials are flowers and other non-woody plants that die back to the ground each fall. The roots live on through the winter, and regrow again the following spring and summer. Spring bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils are some of the most well-know examples of perennials, but there are plenty of others (including some herbs and vegetables!) that deserve a place in your garden. And just to be clear—perennials don’t live forever; they can die at any time just like any other living thing. Some perennials have an expected lifespan of only a few seasons to begin with, like columbine and lupine, while others can thrive for a lifetime.

lily
Michelle Thompson / EyeEm/getty

WHY PLANT PERENNIALS

The wonderful thing about perennials is that because they come back every year, you’ve got way less work to do when it comes to filling in your flower bed. They’re extremely hardy, so you’ll rarely have to water or fertilize them (though you should do both occasionally, and mulch them, too), and they tend to spread and multiply each season, giving you more beautiful foliage and flowers at not cost.

Filling in your flower beds with perennials will save you money in the long-run, too, since you won’t need to re-buy seeds or transplants each season. Yes, perennials at nurseries do tend to be pricier than annuals, but you can expect them to keep blooming for years to come. That said, it’s still a good idea to plant some annuals, like marigolds, impatiens, verbena, and these other flowers that can survive with little help, for some continuous color all summer long as most perennials flowers only bloom for a short window of time during the growing season.

rhubarb
gabort71/getty

SELECTING PERENNIALS TO PLANT

There are dozens of perennial flowers and plants to choose from. One of most important factors to keep in mind when selecting one for your garden is the hardiness zone where you live. The USDA hardiness zone map helps you determine what plants will survive the winter in your area. Some plants may be perennials in some climates but not in others depending on how cold the winters are. Peppers, for example, are what’s known as a tender perennial—they’re perennials in their native warm climate of Central America, but in most of the United States we grow them as annuals. (Though there is a way to grow peppers from the same plant every year.) Similarly, lavender can be treated like a perennial or an annual depending on where you live. If you’re buying plants from your local nursery, chances are they’ll only sell perennials suited to your area, but you’ll want to pay attention to the hardiness zone if ordering perennial seeds online or from a catalogue. For this reason, it’s a good idea to go with perennials that are native to your region as you know they’ll have a good chance of survival (and they provide crucial habitat for pollinators, as well!).

Related: 15 Native Wildflowers Every Gardener Should Plant

You’ll also want to take into account how big your plant will be when it is full grown since a lot of perennials tend to spread and multiply. Bushes and shrubs, especially, will likely be much smaller when you first get them than you would expect them to be in a few years, so plan accordingly. Perennials can always be cut back or transplanted to another spot in the garden, so choosing the wrong spot is not the end of the world, but it always helps to plan out your garden design before you start digging a hole. On that note, too, if you’re planting a perennial flower, you’ll want to think about how it will look in your landscape at the time it’s in bloom since you’ll likely only have color for a brief window during the summer.

hydrangea
Masahiro Maeda / EyeEm/getty

LISTS OF COMMON PERENNIALS

Below you’ll find a list of some of the most popular, easy-to-grow perennial flowers, vegetables, and herbs. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a jumping off point for those seeking out perennials to add to the garden. To broaden your search, we suggest taking a look at the many resources available from the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Flowers

Aster; Black-Eyed-Susan; Bleeding Heart; Clematis; Chrysanthemum; Coneflower; Crocus; Daisy; Daffodil; Helenium; Hiacynth; Hosta; Hydrangea; Iris; Lily; Peony; Phlox; Tulip

Vegetables

Artichoke; Asparagus; Jerusalem Artichoke; French Sorrel; Ramps; Rhubarb

Herbs

Chives; Horseradish; Lavender; Oregano; Rosemary; Sage; Thyme

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