Midwest Gardening — Best Performing Perennials (2022)

Proven perennial winners hardy in Northern and Midwest climates

Listed here are some of the most reliable hardy perennials for northern and Midwest gardens. Keep in mind that a severe winter in your zone may actually expose your plants to conditions of a more northern zone. Some winter protection is always recommended in the north or Midwest garden to ensure that your perennials survive whatever the weather presents, even hardy perennials. Hardy perennials heavily protected with deep mulch, leaves mounded in and around the base, and a good snow cover will often survive winters in zones north of their hardiness rating.

Be sure to see the Perennial Index for complete information on more Perennials.

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Adnophora Liliifolia: Full sun to mostly shade Hardy in zones 3-9. Also known as ladybells or grannybells, this perennial spreads prolifically by seed as well as with aggressive runners. Large groupings can be quite striking with delicate purple-blue nodding bells born atop light green foliage, blooming from late summer to autumn. Supporting stems are tall and strong. This very adaptable perennial tolerates a wide variety of soil and light exposure. Well drained soil is a must, but moist rich soil is preferred. Adnophora will do very well in warm southern climates as an alternative to its’ relative, Campanula. The plant grows to 18” high and 12” wide. Deadhead to prevent reseeding. Deep roots make division difficult. Adnorphora is a long living perennial. More info

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Agastache: Full sun to light shade Hardy in zones 5-10B. Agastache is a perennial also known as Hyssop and hummingbird mint. This is a genus with a broad variety of species, all of which attract butterflies and hummingbirds. In general they all enjoy full sun, bloom from midsummer to autumn, are drought tolerant, and are excellent container plants. Growth habit is upright with tall flower spikes. Removing spent spikes will encourage more blooming. Although a southwestern species, certain agastache can thrive even in cold wet winters of the northeast, but most prefer the drier zone 5 and warmer growing areas. Agastache comes through winter best if you do NOT cut back. Cut back to about 4” in spring. Most Agastache self seed readily, so deadhead to prevent reseeding. Several varieties are detailed in the Perennial Index. More info

Agastache foeniculum or anethiodorum is one of the best for the north central growing zones. Since it is found native in northern Wisconsin, it should be hardy to zone 4. It is commonly called anise hyssop or Blue Giant Hyssop. The leaves are often used for seasonings and tea, emitting an aroma similar to mint, anise or licorice. It grows up to 4 feet tall and produces dense spikes of bright blue tubular flowers in July and August. It grows sturdy and erect. Blue Giant prefers full sun and well drained soil, but will do quite well in part shade with moist conditions. For fragrance and attracting wildlife, this is a must have in the north central garden. Deer resistant!

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Asiatic lily (also Oriental lily): (lilium) Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-8. Striking masses of blooms in pinks, whites, yellows and reds. Oriental lilies generally are larger overall with slightly larger blooms, often blooming later than Asiatics. Asiatics are available in more colors and multiply more rapidly. They are easier to grow than Orientals and tolerate a wide range of soils. Orientals however are fragrant and sometimes have more “tropical” looking blooms. Blooms generally in June and July and are great cut flowers. Corms multiply rapidly, divide and/or thin as needed - they dig up and separate easily. Divide every 3 to 5 years. Lilium is hardy and strong, but if grown in too much shade the stems may become spindly and have trouble supporting the masses of blooms. Give them at least 6 to 8 hours for strong plants. Lilium does not like wet soils, clay soil should be amended with organic material or peat to improve drainage. Most liliums are hardy to zone 4, some to zone 3. Should not need winter protection up to zone 4 if snow cover is dependable, at least 3 inches of mulch is recommended. Most varieties are about 4 feet tall, but can be as short as 2 feet and as tall as 5 feet.

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Aster (hardy): Full sun to light shade Hardy in zones 5-9, some to zone 3. The hardy perennial asters are fairly long lived and easy to grow and care for. Blooming later in summer and fall, they are a nice addition to the garden when other perennials and even the annuals are fading. They prefer reasonably fertile soil that is moist and do not like drought, so keep them watered in dry periods. Grown in rich soil, the plants get quite tall. The common asters, novi-belgii’, are not hardy north of zone 5, the New England Asters are generally hardy to zone 3 or 4 and are semi-woody. Divide every three years in spring. Asters are excellent cut flowers. Several varieties are detailed in the Perennial Index. More info

A. x novi-belgii ‘Alert’ has double vivid red-purple blooms with bright yellow centers. This traffic stopper has a long bloom period, beginning in August or September and continuing through September, even into October in most regions. The low growing perennial has a neat growing habit making excellent for front of the border, in containers, and cut for fresh arrangements. Plant in full sun with fertile, moist soil. Rich soils will produce taller plants. Will tolerate heavy, wet soil Mature height is 12 - 15” and spreads about 18”. To encourage fuller branching and more blooms, pinch the plant back only until the fourth of July, but blooming may be slightly delayed. ‘Alert’ is long living and resists disease, occasionally bothered with powdery mildew. Allow enough space to provide good air circulation to reduce the incidence of mildew. Divide in spring every few years. Attracts butterflies, deer resistant. Hardy in zones 4 - 8, has also proven hardy in zone 3.

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Astilbe: (Astilbe spp) Part shade to shade Zones 4-8, some to zone 3. A long blooming shade loving perennial hardy to zone 3 or 4. They thrive in moist shade with dark green feathery foliage and bright airy plumes of red, white or pink in late spring to mid summer. Astilbe will do well along water features that are moist or even very wet, if shaded. The Chinese species, A.chinensis, may withstand more heat, humidity, and slightly drier conditions.. Will tolerate sun if well watered. 2 to 3’ tall, propagate by division. Plant in masses for a bright drift in dark areas. Fresh or dried plumes are wonderful in floral arrangements. More info

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Azalea, deciduous: (Rhododendron canescens) Sun-part shade Zones 4-9. Shade loving flowering shrub, actually. The spectacular blooming qualities and wide variety of this flowering shrub frequently places it in the garden bed to start the spring perennial show. Azalea is generally hardy for zones 5-9; For zone 4, ‘Golden Lights’ is bred to withstand -30 F, and is mildew resistant with golden blooms in late spring. ‘Yaku Princess’ is hard to find, and not quite as hardy as ‘Golden Lights’, but may make it in zone 4 with protection. Azalea are shallow rooted and should not be planted too deep. They prefer a cool, moist organic soil and are not tolerant of dry periods, make sure they get enough water. Rhododendrons continue to grow well into autumn and are susceptible to early freeze damage. Water thoroughly until the ground freezes to allow the plant to properly acclimate to winter. Evergreen Azalea and Rhododendron are susceptible to dessication (drying out from winter winds and lack of moisture. Applications of an anti-transpirant in December and February will help prevent the foliage from drying, turning brown and dropping off.

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Balloon Flower:(Platycodon) Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-8. Puffy buds open to bell-shaped flowers with five points of blue, white or pink. This perennial is slow to break dormancy in spring so be patient, signs of life will not appear until late spring. Grows 18-24” tall, stake the plants before flowering, if they fall over the stem will break. Prefers some sun but will tolerate shade. Deadhead to encourage repeat flowering. Divide clumps in spring or fall, but division is not usually necessary, and should not be disturbed unless necessary after established. The plant is known to re seed, deadheading will reduce seed production.The balloon flower is a long-living perennial. It will benefit from winter protection in zones 3 and 4, mulching 3-4” thick should do it.

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Bee Balm: (Monarda) Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-10. Monarda is a butterfly magnet. They are easy to grow in fertile soil, but can be susceptible to mildew, so dry conditions in sun is best. ‘Marshall’s Delight’ has spikey globe-shaped pink heads with minty foliage. ‘Gardenview Scarlet’ has red “mophead” flowers and grows to 2-3 feet. Both are mildew resistant. Most varieties grow to 28-40” tall and bloom in midsummer. They prefer sun, but may tolerate some light shade. Some are hardy to zone 3, many will survive in zone 3 with protection. Can be invasive, so divide every 2 to 3 years in spring or fall (fall is best), which will also reduce mildew by thinning and increasing air circulation. Failing to divide may also encourage crown rot. Drought resistant, but may be short lived in hot dry regions.

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Bellflower: (Campanula spp.) Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-9. In the north, campanula will tolerate full sun if not allowed to dry out, but most benefit from some shade, and some are hardy to zone 3 or 4 but not all. Flowers are bell shaped in blue, blue-purple, or white, some blooming from spring to fall. A range of varieties from small mounding plants excellent for edging a garden bed, to tall back of the border varieties. Taller varieties may need staking. Propagate by division, some propogate fairly easily by seed. Division in fall is best, but may be divided in early spring. More info

C. lactiflora are all hardy to zone 4 and bloom from around mid July into September. Blooms are violet blue, and they enjoy moist shade, but can tolerate dry shade.

C. persicifolia blooms white or blue in early summer and is 2 to 3 feet tall with strong stems. It tolerates dry shade, and is easy to grow from seed. Very heat and cold tolerant, it is hardy to zone 4.

C. poscharskyana has blue blooms, growing to 1 foot or taller and spreads easily. Commonly know as blue or white clips (or chips), they are non stop bloomers excellent for edging a border or in rock gardens. Both blue and white clips self sow, blue clips more readily. Both are easily divided in spring or fall.

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Black-Eyed Susan: (Rudbeckia) Full sun Hardy in zones 4-9 One of many Rudbeckias, Black-Eyed Susan has striking bright gold daisy blooms from mid summer until frost. Great for cut flowers. They are very easy to grow and drought tolerant. They spread easily, be prepared to thin out as necessary. Propogate by division, fall is the best time, but they may be divided in early spring. They grow 2 to 3 feet tall. See additional Rudbeckias.

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Bleeding Heart: (Dicentra spp.) Half to full shade Zones 3-8 or 9. This North American native loves shade and evenly moist soil. Clusters of heart shaped pendant blooms of pink, rose or white from mid spring to summer on arching stems. Bleeding Heart prefers slightly acidic soil, moist and rich. Dig in some peat moss when planting. Divide in early spring. The old fashioneds are most cold tolerant.

Common Bleeding Heart Dicentra spectabilis) has pink or white flowers and does fine in partial shade. Hardy to zone 2 or 3 with mulching.

King of Hearts has rosy pink flowers off and on all summer. Will tolerate near full sun to light shade and is hardy to zone 4. Snowdrift, Luxuriant and Zestful are dwarf varieties. more info....

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Centaurea (Perennial Cornflower): Full sun Hardy in zones 3-9. An unusual flower with 2 inch showy blue flowers with spider-like petals, and is long blooming. Centaurea is one of many varieties of Bachelor Buttons. ‘Montana’ has dark green foliage and flowers in late spring, re-blooming in fall if cut back after the first bloom, and is 2’ high. ‘Gold Bullion’ has bold/chartreuse foliage, is 12-15” high and may also rebloom if cut back promptly. Needs good drainage, will spread (but not be invasive) best in enriched soil. ‘Gold Bullion’ is striking in small clumps, breathtaking as a ground cover. Centaurea is tolerant of dry conditions. Plant in sun to light shade. Divide in spring or fall every 2 to 3 years to minimize spreading. May be hard to find, try Wayside Gardens, or Bluestone Perennials, or Whiteflower Farms. More info

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Clematis: Full Sun, some in light shade Zones 4-8, some to zone 3. With so few climbers hardy enough for the true northern garden, clematis is a must have. Selection for zone 4 is excellent, and several are hardy to zone 3, Wayside Gardens even offering a zone 2, Silmakivi Clematis. Also offered by Wayside Gardens is a new miniature, Clematis Bourbon. At 3-4 feet, it is perfect for containers, with a small pillar or a mailpost, or tumbling down a slope. All are long bloomers, but start at varying times. some can tolerate light shade. Height can range from 4-8 feet, for posts, pillar frames or tall arches. Follow pruning instructions or you may lose all your next seasons blooms! Jackmanii hybrid is used widely in the north. an old fashioned, it is hardy to zone 4, and produces abundant 4 to 7 inch deep purple flowers on new wood. Jackmani should be cut back to a few inches in early spring and remove all vines. Plant all clematis deep, as much as several inches deeper than they grew in the pot so the crown is 3 to 4 inches below the soil level. and be sure to keep the roots cool by shading from surrounding plants, and the plant in full sun. Feel all clematis every 4 to 6 weeks with a 10-10-10- fertilizer, do not use manure around the plant, and do not mulch around the crown to avoid fungus. If you soil is acid, add a little lime to the soil when planting.

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Chrysanthemum: Full sun Hardy in zones 5-9, some in zone 4. Hundreds of mum species area available, be sure to select one hardy for your zone. And unknown to most gardeners, blooming mums purchased and planted in the fall, do not overwinter well. They should be planted in the spring so they are well established over the summer. Even then, mulch heavily at least the first winter, especially in zones 4 and 5. Leaves of the hardy garden mum are aromatic and the stems are strong enough to hold the showy flowers. Decreasing day length initiate the late season blooms. Well drained, evenly moist soil and full sun is required. Pinch back frequently until July to encourage a full bushy plant, loaded with blooms. Propagate by cuttings or by division.

Columbine: (Aquilegia) Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-9. These are graceful flowers with spurs extending from the base of the bloom that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and resists deer and rabbits. Pick them when half open for a lovely cut flower. The Latin word aqulinum means “eagle like” - the spurs of the bloom suggesting talons of an eagle. However not all cultivars have spurs. When grown in zones 9 and 10, columbine must have shade to survive. In zone 3, winter protection of heavy mulch is advised. Plant Aquilegia where the exquisitely unusual blooms can be viewed close up. The plant itself can become somewhat unattractive late in summer, so combine them with low growing greenery so the blooms rise above for a lovely display. Aquilegia is available in single or bicolors in red, yellow, blue, or white as well as single and double blooms. Be aware that most varieties self seed. They are very adaptable and easy to grow in average well drained soil. Columbine will not tolerate heavy, poorly drained soil. To maintain attractive foliage, the soil must be kept uniformly moist. When the foliage does become ragged, cut to the ground. Columbine is often referred to as Granny’s Bonnet. Several varieties are detailed in the Perennial Index. More info

Aquilegia ‘McKana Hybrids’ are the standard by which all other aquilegia are judged. They are medium to tall, up to 30”, with a wide range of colors available. Colors tend to be pastel but some are bright, all are certainly colorful. The blooms have long spurs, are nodding, and are bi-colored. They typically bloom in April and May. The foliage is gray green with a clump forming habit.

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Coneflower: (Echinacea) Full sun Hardy in zones 3-9. This North American native comes from the daisy family. Droopy daisy-like flowers are produced from late June until frost, in bright colors. It is very easy to grow, requiring only ordinary soil, and is quite tolerant of heat, drought, cold and poor soil. Cut flowers are long lasting, or left on the plant the cone in the flowerhead supplies nourishment for birds. E. pupurea is a rugged species, ‘Fragrant Angel’ is hardy to zone 3. One of the few fragrant Coneflowers, it has double rows of white petals held horizontally. Strong branches make great bouquets. ‘Coconut Lime’ is also hardy in zone 3, a double flowering white bloom has large flower heads with a row of white petals surrounding a lime green pompom cone of lime green. Propogate by division in fall. Several varieties are detailed in the perennial index. More info

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Coral Bells: (Heuchera sanguinea) Sun to full shade Hardy in zones 4-9. There are many varieties, all with dainty bell-shaped flowers on long stems, and new hybrids with a bronzy foliage. Many varieties have foliage in interesting colors and or textures and grow in neat mounds from 12 to 18”. Most prefer light shade, some prefer sun, especially in the north. Plant in moist but well drained, organically enriched soil. Coral bells are resistant to disease, drought and pests. ‘Crimson Curls’ is long blooming with cream flowers atop the curliest purply color leaves. This one is hardy to zone 3.

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Coreopsis: Full sun Hardy in zones 3-9, some to zone 2. Coreopsis is a bright and cheery perennial that blooms all summer. They are very easy to grow in well drained soil. Hot, dry conditions don’t bother coreopsis at all. Cut back after the first bloom to encourage continued blooming. ‘Moonbeam’ has pale yellow flowers produced profusely all summer, floating atop delicate foliage. After flowering is finished, cut back all the stems to a nice foliage mound. ‘Moonbeam’ is hardy to zone 3. The new ‘Jethro Tull’ has very unique flower petals. They are produced as a “tube” and notched, in bright yellow. Flowers are produced all summer, deadhead to encourage the flowering. Propagate by division in fall. It is hardy to zone 5. Several varieties are detailed in the Perennial Index. More info

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Daylilies: (Hemerocallis) Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-9. Here’s an old fashioned, super hardy favorite that just keeps getting better and better. Evergreen varieties are hardy to zone 4, all others easily to zone 3. They are easy to grow in good well drained soil, but is very tolerant of neglect, heat and dry conditions, and even poor soil Daylily does not do well id soil is perpetually wet, and prefers full sun or some shade. A full day of sun will produce the most blooms. Only reblooming varieties need to be deadheaded. the bright and cheery ‘Stella de Oro’ has become a staple in gardens and landscapes. A little fertilizer in spring and fall is all they need, but will manage fine if you forget. Do not remove leaves until completely brown, or wait until spring. Divide clumps in spring or fall, every 2 or 3 years.

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Delphinium: Full sun Hardy in zones 3-7. Striking spires of vivid blue or white flowers and now some new pinks. Results in the garden can vary. They are billed as deer resistant, long living, long blooming and with strong stalks. In some cases, all is true. In some cases they are rapidly devoured by deer, live as little as 2 years, bloom a few to several weeks, and again if cut back after the first bloom, and are lying on your garden floor after a good rain. These are such gorgeous plants it is well worth the search for the one that will thrive and stand strong in your garden (try ‘delphinium elatum’ instead of ‘Pacific Giant’). Plant in a sunny spot, sheltered from wind may help, and in good, organically enriched soil Then, feed them heavily up to bloom time, and again after cut back. Divide every 2 to 4 years to preserve it’s health. Protect from deer if necessary. Some varieties hardy to zones 3 and 4. See details in the Perennial Index

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Ferns: Part to full shade, some in full sun Hardy in zones 3-9. There are hundreds of species of hardy ferns. Ferns can add light and airy texture and color to your shade garden. Foliage in silvery whites to bright limes add easy color to an otherwise dark spot. They prefer well drained, organic soil, slightly acidic. Mulching will help maintain a consistent moisture.

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Gaillardia (blanket flower): Full sun Hardy in zones 3-10. This is a tough, hardy perennial with daisy-like flowers and makes a great cutting flower. Blooms from June through September. It tolerates drought and poor soil and is deer resistant. Deadhead religiously to prevent prolific self seeding. Grows to 12-15” in nice bunches. Some gaillardia are annuals. More Info

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Geranium, hardy: (Crane’s bill) Sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-8. This is not the hothouse annual! There are many cultivars, all have mounded foliage with cup shaped flowers. Most are long bloomers, some self seed (watch for tiny plants to pop up, to either remove or plant elsewhere). Full sun is preferred but some can tolerate light shade, especially further south. The cultivar Rozanne is very tolerant of heat and humidity and has one of the longest bloom season of the Crane’s bills. It is also very compact, making it a great choice for containers and garden borders. Winter protection is suggested in zones 3 and 4, use 3-4 inches of mulch. More info

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Hosta: Part to full shade Hardy in zones 3-7. Where to begin? There is such a large variety, over seventy species with hundreds of cross breeds, and with a broad range of hardiness. They are easy to grow and provide a variety of foliage colors and textures for the shade garden. Tall stems shoot up in late spring to support lily-like flowers of white or shades of blue. Propagate by division in fall.

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Iris: Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-9. There is an iris for every garden. Over 200 species offer just about unlimited choices for color, sun or light shade, dry soil or water garden, dainty or bold. When not in bloom, the spiky foliage is a nice contrast to leafy plants in the garden. For a dramatic look, plant your iris in groups of 3 to 7 of the same variety 18-24” apart, and with the leaf fans all in one direction. Don’t count on re-blooming varieties to actually re-bloom in the north, but deadheading will help. Also apply a light dose of fertilizer after the first bloom is finished, and water well during summer dry spells. New fans will appear, and if your growing season is long enough with a warm autumn, the flower spikes may develop and appear. Where the weather cooperates in zones 5 and warmer, re-bloom is in late summer or fall. In zones 3 and 4, plant re-bloomers in a sheltered sunny spot may encourage re-blooming. Dig up and divide every few years in the fall to keep healthy. Iris prefer a near neutral pH and well drained soil. Over watering may cause the rhizomes to rot, and wet periods may cause leaf spot fungus. Spray with a copper based fungicide to control. If you had trouble with iris borers, after the first hard frost, clean up all old iris plant material and burn or dispose of it. You may want to apply an insecticide in spring when the plants are about 4 inches high if you have had a persistent problem. Use Demethoate, and apply again in 14 days.

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Lady’s Mantle: (Alchemmilla) Part shade to full sun Zones 3-7. Lady’s Mantle has large gray-green leaves with dainty star shaped yellow-green flower clusters in early summer to early fall. Northern gardeners should plant in full sun, and protect with mulch in zone 3. Drought tolerant. More info

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Lavender: (Lavandula) Full sun Hardy in zones 5-9. The “true” or common English lavender is the species angustifolia, but there are many others that are similar in the family. A highly fragrant, hardy native perennial that is very drought tolerant. The plants are rather shrubby but compact, with silvery green foliage and slender flower spikes of blue or purples in summer. Many are only hardy to zones 6 or 7. These “true” lavenders are the sweetest smelling of the lavenders. Lavandula stems are used as herbs, dried flowers are used as potpourri and as medicinal teas, and oils are used in aromatherapy. All prefer full sun and dry soil, and are heat and drought resistant. The fragrant flowers attract butterflies and are excellent for cut and dried arrangements. Harvest the blooms when in fresh bud and dry by hanging in a warm shady place. More info

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Lily of the Valley: Convaflaria majatis) Part shade to shade Zones 2-7. A classic perennial that is a highly useful groundcover for shade. The sweet scented lily of the valley produces masses of bright white bells, brightening a shady spot. easy to care for, long lived, and spreads readily. ‘Bordeaux is improved, with more and larger blooms dangling above the foliage, rather than among it. ‘Bordeaux’ is also hardy to zone 2.

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Lungwort: (Pulmonaria spp.) Part shade to shade Hardy in zones 3-7. Lungwort is easy to grow, and perfect in a low light bed. They spread slowly to form a ground cover but is never aggressive. Plant in rich soil with organic matter in a spot that stays moist but not wet. Bright blooms of pink, blue or white appear in April and May. After blooming, cut off old leaves so fresh leaves are produced for the rest of the season. Plants tend to be slug resistant, disease resistant and deer resistant. Feed in early spring as soon as the flowering has stopped and twice more during the summer to keep the plant vigorous. Lungwort is dependable and easy to grow, requiring very little care. Divide in fall every 3 - 5 years to keep lungwort healthy. More info

Mallow: (Malva) Full sun to part shade hardy in zones 3-8. Mallow grows quickly, self seeds and requires very little attention. It blooms floriferously and repeatedly in pale pinks, white or blue. The masses of blooms persist from early summer to early fall. Generally only hardy to zones 4 or 5, but may be hardy in zones 3 or 4 when heavily protected and planted in a sheltered, warm winter spot.

Nepeta: (Catmint) Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-8. A member of the mint family, certain varieties are very attractive to cats, inducing a temporary euphoric state. As for gardening, ‘Catmint’ is a very easy to grow, drought tolerant, flowering perennial with few problems or pests. Nepeta is often used instead of lavendar, which is not nearly as hardy.

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‘Walker’s Low’ is named for a garden in England, not for its height. It grows as high as 30” and can spread to 3 feet wide. Lavender blue flowers bloom profusely in early summer, as early as April or May in warmer climates, and then sporadically until frost. Sheering after the first heavy blooming will encourage another bloom, but the plant will not reach 30”. Sheering will also keep the foliage neat and fresh. Foliage is a soft gray green. The spicy scent is a nice addition to a vase of cut flowers, or in potpourri. In addition to attracting cats, ‘Walker’s Low’ will attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Deer and rabbits are indifferent to the plant, being scented and gray foliage. ‘Walker’s Low’ is hardy enough for zone 4 and will tolerate sandy soil, salt, humidity and drought. Seeds are sterile, so this perennial must be propagated by division.

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‘Blue Wonder’ is a dwarf catnip with a mounding, bushy habit that reaches only about 12” tall with a spread of 12 - 24”. Dark blue blooms are small but abundant along 6” flower spikes. The bloom season is long, usually from May through September. Aromatic foliage is gray green. ‘Blue Wonder’ is hardy from zones 3 to 8, but does not do well in the heat and humidity of the deep south. Afternoon shade will benefit the plant in hot climates. It will thrive in dry soil in full sun. Of course bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to this aromatic plant, but is not bothered by deer or rabbits. Seeds are sterile, propagate this perennial by division.

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Penstemon: (Bearded Tongue) Full sun to part shade Zones 3-9. A North American native, this hardy perennial is very drought tolerant. Prolific flowering in spring or summer in brilliant blues, lavenders, pinks or red. Very tolerant of moist conditions except very wet, it does best in dry sunny, very well drained or sandy soils. Generally grows to 12-14” high. Penstemon attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Some are hardy to zone 3 (‘Sweet Grapes’), but many varieites are only hardy to zone 6. ‘Sweet Grapes’ is lower growing at about 6” and prefers full sun. It is tolerant of drought and poor soil. Prolific lavender blooms on five inch stems appear through midsummer. More info

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Peonies: Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-8. Spectacular plump cabbage rose like flowers are the first lush look of summer. The speed at which these plants rise from beneath the soil and produce masses of flowers is utterly amazing. and when they are done blooming, you have a beautifully mounded, dark rich green “shrub”, that always looks glossy and healthy. Plant if the fall (late August or September) in a sunny spot, in soil enriched with compost. Don’t plant too close to other shrubs or trees, where roots will interfere. And do not plant too deep or flower production will be retarded. The pink “eyes” of the root should never be more than 2 inches below the surface, one inch in clay soils. Once established, little or no care is required, and you will be rewarded with blooms for a lifetime. Divide in fall (late August or September) every 15 to 30 years for the health of the plant, or divide more frequently to produce additional plants. Each division should have 3 to 5 “eyes”, the reddish buds on the tubers. This super hardy perennial is hardy to zone 3.

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Phlox paniculata hybrids: Full sun Hardy in zones 3-9. Indispensable in the perennial garden, there continues to be more color selection available, from white, through pinks and purples, and on to reds and coral. Tall, leafed stems are topped with large clusters of showy flowers. Phlox grows and spreads easily, prefers good well drained soil in the sun, but doesn’t seem to mind poor soil or neglect too much. Tall garden Phlox does best in full sun, which helps to produce larger blooms and stronger stems. Will tolerate hot dry weather nicely, and light shade. Phlox is susceptible to powdery mildew, take care to water early in the day or with a drip method. Propagate by division in fall. Generally hardy to zone 4, some to zone 3. More info

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Phlox subulata: (creeping phlox) Part to full sun Hardy in zones 3 - 9, Creeping phlox is a short groundcover perennial that is widely used in rock gardens, on slopes, along paths and spilling over garden walls. It grows and spreads slowly, forming a dense mat. Mature size is usually about 6” tall and 2 feet wide. Like tall garden phlox, it prefers moist well drained soil that is slightly alkaline. They both will tolerate poorer and dry soils as well as slightly acidic conditions. Each spring after flowering, the plants should be sheared back about one third to one half to renew vigor and to reduce the large topgrowth that a shallow root system is trying to support. Phlox subulata is evergreen, however in zones 3 and 4 it should be covered (evergreen boughs or reliable snow cover). A show stopping carpet of color is produces in late April or early May. To help extend bloom time, fertilize in early spring just after the plant tips begin to emerge from the soil. Sprinkle a granular timed release 9-12-12 fertilizer into the soil and mulch over. After two to three weeks of blooming fertilize again, but do not sprinkle directly onto the plants or you may burn them. Pull/rake back the mulch and sprinkle into the soil, then replace the mulch. Water well. More info

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Pinks: (Dianthus) Part to full sun Hardy in zones 3-8**. Cottage garden pinks are excellent low growing, prolific bloomers for the front of a border, rock garden, or edging. Many varieties are hardy to zone 3 or 4. Some self seed. Pay careful attention when selecting dianthus - some are hardy perennials, some are biennials and some are annuals in the northern garden. ‘Bath’s Pink’ is the northern garden’s favorite and is hardy to zone 3. Clove scented pink blooms cover the plant all summer. ‘Heart Attack’, a perennial Sweet William Dianthus, is hardy to zone 4, living 5 years or more. but Sweet William ‘Crimson Velvet’ is a bienniel. Dianthus Desmond is hardy to zone 5, and Cranberry Ice to zone 3. Dianthus chinensis is an annual. Carnations are also part of the Dianthus family, some are hardy and some are not. CONFUSING!, be careful. Look for Dianthus plumarius, and ask at the garden center if the hardiness is not well labeled. Annual and perennial varieties should be in separate sections, which helps. More info

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Poppies: (Papaver oreintale) Full sun Hardy in zones 3-8. Perennial poppies have recently become popular in the north and midwest. Lavishly blooming in May and June, the 5-8” blooms are available in pinks, plum, red, whites and creams. They can grow well in nearly any soil, but do prefer rich loam. Make sure they get enough water in dry spells, and that is about all you need to do. They should be hardy to zone 3 and easy to grow, but I believe the jury is still out on those questions. Gorgeous blooms if they work out well in your garden.

Midwest Gardening — Best Performing Perennials (39)

Rudbeckia Full to part sun Hardy in zones Commonly referred to as Coneflower or Black Eyed Susan, the genus and species are quite broad and not that simple. ‘Black Eyed Susan’ for example is a species in the Rudbeckia genus, and there are many cultivars within the ‘Black Eyed Susan’ species. Most are known for their long blooming period. Whichever perennial Rudbeckia you select for your gardens, you can expect a tough, native perennial that withstands a wide range of conditions and neglect. Some cultivars are bienniel (self seeding) or annual. More info

Midwest Gardening — Best Performing Perennials (40)

Russian Sage: (Perovskia) Full sun to light shade Hardy in zones 3-9. Aromatic silvery-blue stalks with tiny lavender flowers from mid to late summer. It grows to 3-4’ in a nice shrub form, and tolerates heat and drought, perfect for dry soil. Excellent for neglected areas, such as roadside plantings where the sprinklers won’t reach. Also sets a nice cooling backdrop for bright warm colored flowers, especially reds and orange. ‘Filigran’ is the hardiest, to zone 3. It is elegant with feathery dense foliage, and with the strongest upright stalks. ‘Blue Spires’ has wonderful dark blue flowers all summer and is hardy to zone 3. Rabbits and deer don’t care for Russian Sage, but bees love it. Spreads by seed and underground runners. Cut plant back to the ground sometime between late fall and early spring.

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Salvia: Full sun to part shade Hardy in zones 3-9. Salvia is an easy to grow hardy perennial that is heat and drought tolerant. It is long blooming, generally midsummer to early fall. Brilliant spire are covered with mini-flowers in rosy or lavender pinks, or blues and purples grow anywhere from 18” to 4 or 5 feet tall. Cut back after the blooms fade and keep them watered for another bloom. Cut back to the ground in very early spring, and divide every few years as needed to control size.

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Sedum: (Stonecrop) Full sun Hardy in zones 3-8. One of the easiest perennials to care for, Sedum is tolerant of heat, humidity, drought and neglect. When not in bloom the plant adds interest to rock gardens or a sunny perennial border, each variety has interesting foliage characteristics: brown/burgundy leaves; or bright gold spiky stems; or large purply black leaves. Most bloom in summer, ‘Autumn Joy’ blooms in fall with more traditionally colored green foliage. With well drained soil, sedum lives a very long life. Divide every 3 to 5 years to discourage crown rot. See more

Midwest Gardening — Best Performing Perennials (43)

Spotted Dead Nettle, or Lamium: (Lamium maculaturm) Part to full shade Hardy in zones 3-8. A vigorous growing groundcover reaching only about 10” high. It blooms in pink, purple or white in late spring to early summer. ‘Beacon Silver’ has silvery foliage with green edges and pink flowers. Lamium needs evenly moist well drained soil. It does not like poor soil, wet soil, clay or compacted soil, heat, drought or sun. Lovely, if you have the right spot.

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Veronica (Speedwell): Sun to part sun Hardy in zones 3-9. Plentiful spiky blooms, displaying best color in sun, but will do fine in light shade. Veronica is onne of the most trouble free hardy perennials, with beautiful plants when not in bloom. Varieties range from short ground covers to tall back of the border plants. Very long living when grown in well drained soil and sun, and is very resistant to drought, insects and disease. Most are hardy to zones 3 or 4, but some only to zone 6.

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Yarrow: (Achillea) Full sun Hardy in zones 3-8. There are many varieties and colors of yarrow with a wide range of characteristics. Some spread aggressively, some are bienniel. They are sun loving, hardy perennials with long bloom times. Carefully selected, they are a wonderful addition to the perennial garden, excellent for drying or accenting floral arrangements. Achillea is a drought tolerant plant and should not be ground in moist conditions. Rich soil, moist conditions and part shade may cause the usually strong stems to flop over. Resistance to salt also makes yarrow and excellent choice for roadside plantings. More info

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