Sweet repeats: Try these perennials in your garden

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March 28, 2024

Firewitch dianthus flowers

Pretty perennials to plant for reliable blooms year after year

by Jay Sifford

Flowering annuals are overrated, at least in my opinion. They generally require copious amounts of water and fertilizer, only to be pulled and replaced twice a year. For those whose aesthetics lean toward more naturalistic plantings, most annuals appear too manicured or contrived. Fortunately, there are some perennial alternatives that generally require less care and resources and bloom reliably for much of the calendar year. Here’s a look at some of the easier to source, longer-blooming choices.

Homestead Purple verbena. Even though this easy-to-find perennial is a landscaper’s staple, its reliability as a star performer earns its place in both the front of the border and in planted containers. This low-growing, sun-loving perennial sports 3-inch clusters of dark purple flowers from May to November. Cutting the plant back after flushes of flowers will keep it tidy.

Firewitch dianthus. This low-growing perennial sports exquisite blue-gray foliage and vibrant pink flowers with the aroma of carnations. It blooms most heavily in mid- to late spring, continuing sporadically throughout the season. It is common to see flowers appear occasionally throughout the winter months if the weather is somewhat mild. This plant is equally at home in containers, in rock gardens, and at the front of the border in garden beds. Dianthus is prone to rotting if it stays too wet, so provide it with good drainage and full sun. You’ll thank me.

A butterfly lands on a purple flowering Stokesia plant.

Stokesia. This hardy perennial, also known as Stoke’s Aster, is native to the southeast. Stokesia sports large flowers on foot-long stems in shades of blue, pink and white. In fact, one cultivar, ‘Color Wheel,’ exhibits flowers that start out white, then turn lavender, then blue. This species attracts butterflies and bees, an important fact in light of garden trends that lean more toward sustainability. Stokesia prefers full sun to light shade and consistently moist soil. Remove spent flowers to encourage reblooming. This deadheading will allow you to enjoy these vibrant flowers from May through October.

This purple Rozanne Hardy Geranium has pretty blooms and is a reliable perennial to plant.
Rozanne hardy geranium

Rozanne hardy geranium. This perennial, also known as cranesbill, is a true gem in the garden. Not to be confused with the common geranium (which isn’t a true geranium at all), it has won numerous awards for its ease of cultivation and prolific flowers. Rozanne starts out with a clumping habit, but by year two tends to become a bit more wiry, weaving its way through the garden bed in a spectacular manner. It covers itself with bright blue flowers from May to November. Rozanne is adaptable in its cultural requirements, preferring consistently moist soil and partial to light shade. Too much shade, however, will hinder its flower production.

Russian sage. Horticulturally known as Perovskia until recently when it was reclassified as a salvia, this woody perennial may be confused with lavender at first glance. It sports greenish-gray foliage topped by spires of light blue flowers. Russian sage is native to dry, sunny areas of eastern Europe. Replicating these conditions will cause this plant to flourish and repay you with blooms from May to November. Be warned that excessive water will cause this plant to rot. 

Caradonna salvia. This aromatic and tidy perennial is one of my go-to plants. It reaches a mature size of 12-by-12 inches. In spring, it exhibits spires of small purple flowers that last up to a month. If the plant is cut back by two-thirds right after it finishes blooming, it will generally flower later in the summer. Plant Caradonna in full sun and average, well-drained soil.   SP

Jay Sifford is a Charlotte-based landscape designer. His work has been featured in Southern Living, Country Gardens and Fine Gardening, as well as Houzz and several books.

Featured image: Firewitch dianthus.


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