The weather is wonderful in Autumn and if you take the time to plant some perennials now, you will get to enjoy the rewards of your labor next spring and thereafter. This article is going to concentrate on some easy to grow sun loving perennials for your gardens. Part of the love of gardening is to wait impatiently until the winter winds give way to warm spring breezes and walk the gardens to see what little plants are peeking through the earth! Then you will be so glad you took the extra time to increase your number of perennials now.
I guess we’ve all heard the old saying in relation to planting and growing perennials. “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!” My experience with growing perennials has found this saying to be very accurate. I try to never expect too much from my new perennials the first year. They are just not going to live up to their full potential for a couple of years yet. These sun loving perennials can take the heat and will bring you years of enjoyment in your garden.
Achillea (Yarrow) Zones 3-8 Full sun
These are great heat and drought tolerant perennials native to North America. They really require very little care and love full sun. All perennials benefit from deadheading the old flowers to encourage more blooms, and the Achillea is no exception. The taller blooms will sometimes fall over from heavy rains. The flowers from the yarrow are excellent for drying for crafts. The most readily available are Achillea “Coronation Gold” which has flowers on 42 inch stalks in deep gold just as the name suggests. There are also other varieties in white and red but the next most common types are Achillea “Summer Pastels” which has flower stalks to 2 feet in a beautiful mix of pastel hues..
Chrysanthemum (Mum) Zones 3-8 Full sun
Almost everyone is accustomed to seeing mums everywhere for sale in the fall in beautiful colors. They have become a staple for our Autumn decorating but are sometimes overlooked as a lasting beauty in our sun loving perennial garden. Hardy mums are readily available, just do not confuse these with florist mums. Florist mums are usually not the hardy variety and will not last through the winter. The thousands available in the fall at nurseries and home-improvement superstores and even at the local Wal-Mart will be with you for a long time if you so choose. If you want your Chrysanthemums to bloom again around Autumn, you will have to give them a little attention through the end of summer. They will bloom long before fall if some time is not spent cutting or pinching them back a few inches every few weeks. The mums in my garden will start trying to set buds in July and August. I just keep pinching a couple of inches each time they have a growth spurt and start forming buds. So it really is a matter of preference when you decide to let them bloom. I have had Chrysanthemums become massive mounds after a few years in the garden easily reaching 4 feet tall and wide. Eventually they need to be replaced or divided, but they indeed put on a show. They are very hardy and insect resistant, so don’t throw out those mums!
Coreopsis (tickseed) Zones 4-9 Full sun
This is a hardy perennial for sunny, hot, and dry areas that need very little attention other than keeping the dead blossoms picked off. This is true for any blooming plant, there is always a better chance for more blooms to follow if they don’t go to seed. Instead of pinching every tiny dead blossom on perennials such as the Coreopsis, it is much easier to use scissors. They will reward you many more blossoms in pale yellow for the readily available “Moonbeam” which reaches 18 inches tall and bright yellow “Zagreb” reaching only 12 inches tall. There is several other varieties of Coreopsis in shades of yellow, some with contrasting centers. They will bloom continually all season in a sunny garden if kept deadheaded.
Dianthus (pinks) Zones 3-9 Full sun to part shade
This is one of my favorite little perennials. They are not only beautiful, but hardy, pest-free, fragrant and extremely versatile. Dianthus grows in the sun and will also be fine in partial shade. I have purchased Dianthus plants in little cell-packs just the way many annuals are sold. They are definitely perennial and will grow almost anywhere I put them, including containers. The common name “pinks” are actually for the jagged little edges of the flowers as though ” pinking” shears were used on them. There are many varieties of these little gems and they are related to the Carnation. Dianthus comes in wide arrays of all shades of pinks, fuschia, white and two-toned combinations. They are all fairly low growing, 10-14 inches. They will spread and eventually need to be divided to rejuvenate them. They are all fragrant but some are much more so in wonderful clove, cinnamon and floral . I have had some of them keep their foliage in one of my milder winters in Zone 6B (please see my AC article “Easy Perennials for Shady Areas”, for USDA Zone information.) They will have their first flush of blooms in spring, but again use scissors to keep them deadheaded and they will be repeat bloomers all season.
Echinacea (purple cone flower) Zones 3-9 Full sun
There is just nothing bad that can be said about this wonderful sun loving perennial. It is heat, drought and pest resistant and when it starts blooming around early to mid summer, it will continue until fall. Butterflies love their gorgeous pinkish-purplish blooms. There are also white and yellow cone flowers. They range in height from 2-5 feet and I always let plenty of blossoms go to seed for the birds as well as the increase in plants! This is the same Echinacea flower that is used as a popular herbal remedy.
Hemerocallis (daylily) Zones 3-8 Full sun to partial shade
Daylilies come in such a huge variety of flower colors and new ones are constantly being developed. They also have bloom times ranging from spring through to Autumn, so with a little planning you can have daylilies blooming in your gardens all season. I also happen to think daylilies have beautiful foliage even when they are not blooming. They have beautiful thin, arching, grass-like leaves that start emerging in spring. These perennials are not at all related to true lilies. Their blooms do look similar to lilies and each bloom only lasts for one day, hence their common name. They do put out tremendous quantities of flowers during their bloom season on tall slender stalks above the leaves. They really don’t have to have full sun to thrive but they have no problem tolerating it either. The popular golden “Stella de Oro” was the first daylily to be a repeat bloomer and now many more are becoming available.
Liatris (blazing star) Zones 3-9 Full sun
This is another tough sun loving perennial that gives a nice variety to the garden with its tall spikes of white, pink or purple flowers. Liatris love hot dry weather and make a good cut flower. It is also another favorite with the butterflies. This plant will not do well with too much water. I have the short variety named “Kobold” with violet-pink blooms only 20 inches tall. This perennial also comes in types that grow 5-6 feet tall, so I recommend that you can be certain which variety you are getting.
Phlox Zones 3-8 Full sun
This is such a wonderful old-fashioned sun loving perennial. They are extremely fragrant and very showy. There are some varieties that are very prone to mildew if air circulation is poor or rainfall is very heavy. Phlox are still worth it even with the mildew because the blossoms just can’t be beat. Once you have Phlox in your garden, you can have as many as you want because they are so easy to move and divide as you wish. They do spread eventually, but are not invasive. They come in white, lavender, purple and pinks. I recommend a fresh bouquet of these perennial favorites to fragrance your home. There is a dwarf ground cover phlox that only grows to 4 inches which blooms in spring only. The phlox I am referring to is 3-4 feet tall and blooms all summer. Phlox maculata “Miss Lingard” is one of the new mildew resistant varieties with fragrant white blossoms reaching 3 feet.
Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) Zones 3-9 Full sun
It’s hard to not love these hardy cheerful old-fashioned perennials. Rudbeckia’s need lots of sun and will do just fine with very little water. They are very easy to grow and make a great cut flower. Keep them deadheaded to encourage new blossoms and they will bloom all summer long.
There are a few new varieties available these days, but the most popular is Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm”, which is the familiar golden flower with the black center. It reaches 3 feet in height.
Salvia Zones -varies Full sun to partial shade
It is important to know the variety of Salvia you are getting because some can only be grown as annuals farther north than Zone 8. There are several other Salvias that are hardy perennials as far north as Zone 5. All Salvias are in the herb family known as sage and most will have very aromatic leaves. The perennial Salvias flower spikes in shades of purples and white. They are very easy to grow, hardy and pest-free. They love the heat and drought. I always cut back the flower spikes after their first dramatic flush of blooms in spring. They always repeat bloom most of the summer as long as I keep them deadheaded. Two hardy Salvias are the Salvia nemorosa “Cardonna”, hardy from Zones 5-9 and Salvia verticillata “Purple Rain” , Zones 5-8.