Are there truly "no fail perennial flowers?" Maybe not 100% for everyone, but there are definitely easy perennials to grow that are more low maintenance than others.
See my take on a national magazine's list of perennial flowers compared to my choices for seven of the best perennials to grow after years of experience gardening in the Pacific Northwest.
Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
When I read this article from Better Homes and Gardens listing no fail perennials for different regions across the U.S., I was curious about their list for Pacific Northwest (PNW) perennials.
(Note: the BHG article is now titled "low maintenance perennials" but used to be called no fail perennials - my recommendations and thoughts remain the same.)
And I had to laugh because NOT ONE was a perennial flower I'd recommend.
Maybe it's just me and the way I garden, but I have had experience with most of the perennials listed - and guess what?
And the ones that didn't were simply boring or had pretty garish colors. So maybe not a complete fail, but certainly might call for keeping them off of short lists like this.
So of course I had to share my thoughts!
Following is the list of plants from BHG and my thoughts on them and then a list of the perennials I would recommend (spoiler: the real keepers if you're looking for easy, long blooming perennial flowers).
(Not so) No Fail Perennials - BHG
Clockwise from top right:
- Shasta Daisy- I'm willing to admit this is a classic perennial flower and that I even have them in my garden, but...they stink (just try bringing them indoors!), they need staking so not low maintenance, and worst of all- they bloom for only a few short weeks and then look pretty ugly. Three strikes, they're out.
- Dahlia- While I love the flowers of dahlias - is this really a perennial in the PNW? It's a tuber/bulb and in the PNW it's supposed to be dug up each season if you want to see them the next spring. If you leave them in the ground, they will turn to mush in a cold winter (like all mine did last year). That doesn't sound very no-fail or low maintenance to me - or even perennial, since they only come back sometimes. They also require major staking and are always covered in earwigs.
- Sword Fern- Duh. It's like, everywhere here, so yes, I guess that means it won't fail and you won't have to do much with it. However, since it grows on the roadsides and in areas with trees naturally, it's pretty boring to add to your garden.
- Soloman's Seal- This cracked me up, even though I've never grown it. Why? It's a "moist shade" plant. I don't know what kind of place you have to live in where there's moist shade, but the PNW isn't it. The roots of Douglas Firs and Pines suck up any amount of moisture there is, leaving it bone dry under them. Our no fail plants must like dry shade.
- Primrose- At first I thought they meant the little primroses you buy in early spring. I actually like them and plant them in my garden and they always surprise me by blooming again in the fall (I have some blooming right now in fact). But they are talking about the Evening Primrose (oenothera) that from all I read is pretty invasive. I've never have the nerve to plant it. Plus, it's a biennial that will only leaf out in the first year, flower in the second...and then die. Although they will send seeds everywhere and sprout from roots left in the ground. Decidedly not low maintenance.
- Wild Ginger - This ground cover is another moist shade plant, so...no.
- Cardinal Flower (lobelia)- This the only plant from their list that I agree is probably a nice, no-fail perennial, but I wouldn't know for sure because I've never grown a red plant in my life. I also don't plant orange. If you do, this might be a plant for you since it is native, though it does tend to be short lived.
- Lupine- This flower grows wild in the PNW and are breathtaking in the spring, but in the garden there's one word that describes their problem: bugs. In fact, they have an aphid named for them, lupin aphid. They decimate the leaves to the point that they look awful about mid-bloom and after, leaving no choice but to cut them back early. Losing bloom, having to spray and or cut back isn't low maintenance.
Truly No Fail Low Maintenance Perennial Flowers
1. Hardy Geranium
There are many varieties of hardy geranium (common name Cranesbill) and some bloom longer than others, but all usually bloom a couple of months.
The plant pictured above regularly blooms June through mid-October for me. It is a variety called 'monster' and it does get big, but it's easily sheared back.
I've been able to get lots of starts from this one plant, although the others in full sun don't bloom as long as this one. But something that blooms for almost 5 months? That's no fail!
Yarrow (achillea) plants are happy in poor soil, take drought well, and bloom reliably almost all summer long, especially when cut back once mid summer.
I would always have this plant somewhere, which is easy to do since they spread enough that you can pull plants from them in the spring to plant in other areas or give away (it's a gentle spread, though - they don't take over).
3. Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Heuchera plants are beautiful and long lasting with both lovely blooms and leaves. There are so many different varieties now other than the basic "coral bells" that grandma grew.
The plant pictured above on the left with the dark, silvery leaves (similar to 'mohogany monster') survived and bloomed in a semi-dry shade area nicely contrasting with the green of its companion plants.
This is one plant that I think the flower spikes look good even after they've bloomed, so I usually leave them. Which means there is basically nothing to do other than water this plant all season long. Love.
4. Hebe (Shrubby Veronica)
I was so happy to discover this plant! Native to New Zealand, the hebe variety I had grew wonderfully under a Japanese Maple that took most of the available water (dry shade again) - and still bloomed for a long time.
Being evergreen, it's technically a small shrub, but it's a bit tender in bad winters so a couple years it died down but grew back again from part of the root.
It blooms mostly in the summer, but it would also send out sporadic little light purple blooms all the way into October.
Even though they sometimes don't make it through harsh winters, they are such a great dry shade option that I'd always have at least one in my garden.
NOTE: Since growing hebes, I've found them harder and harder to find in nurseries or even online. A great substitute for a similar flower is perennial veronica, though it's not evergreen and needs full sun.
Brunnera macrophylla is my favorite plant for dry shade and I LOVE it! In the spring it sends up spikes of blue, forget-me-not like flowers for a few months.
And then it continues to look good with it's heart shaped leaves and glowing foliage all season long. It's a shade-loving plant that did as well in dry shade as it did in moist shade. Plus, it's deer resistant.
I like them all and am happy when it reseeds- I've been able to harvest and plant or give away a number of plants over the years.
6. Japanese Anemone
Japanese anemone plants start blooming prolifically around the end of August and goes until frost kills it. This is a joy to me since this is the time when others plants are giving up the ghost.
I also like how it spreads to fill in gaps, but in a totally nice way (depending on the variety and if planted in full sun - it tends to spread more planted in shade). You can also plant in containers or raised beds to contain the roots.
It fills such a gap in the garden (late summer to fall blooms) that I happily put up with a bit of trimming.
NOTE: there are varieties that don't spread nicely - they take over - so read the labels carefully. I've read that 'Wild Swan' anemone is a well-behaved cultivar.
Last but not least is the humble New England Aster. Yes, it's just a bush for most of the season. But it's a nice looking green background for the spring and summer bloomers.
But, oh the color it brings to the fall garden when it starts blooming! The plant is covered in long lasting blooms.
Plus, talk about no-fail: I transplanted cuttings from one plant into areas of shade, sunny borders, poor soil beds, and good soil - it grew and thrived in all those places.
That, my friends, is a plant we should all have.
More on Flowers
- 11 + Easy Cottage Garden Flowers To Grow
- 15+ Reliable Fall Flowers to Plant
- 7 Beautiful Summer Flowers to Grow
- 14 Plants for Spring Blooms
Perennial is the term for flowering plants that return each year (or most years, depending on the weather and the hardiness of the plant). This is in contrast to annuals that bloom through one season only and die at the end, needing to be replanted every year.
There are also biennial plants that grow greenery the first year and bloom the second.
The trade-off with the longevity of perennials is a shorter bloom time. Many perennials bloom only for a month (though you can find quite a few that bloom for many months, like the varieties included in this list).
Most annuals will bloom longer, many for 4-5 months, basically spring through fall, until they are killed by frost.
The plant tag should be a help in determining if a plant is an annual or perennial. If it doesn't, how is is displayed? Plants called "color spots" area almost always annual, as are hanging basket plants. Perennials are usually grouped together with signage stating they are perennials.
In the garden annuals will die at the first frost and while perennials may die back through the winter, they will show new growth at the base the following spring.
The most common annuals you will see for sale are marigolds, petunias, pansies, begonias, and zinnias.
Common annuals include the plants on my list of easy to grow perennials as well as daylilies, coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and peonies.
Now, I'd really love to hear what your favorite perennials are and why you like them - there's always room for one more plant!Disclosure: affiliate links in this article will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price. Click here to read our full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.
Make This Year's Garden A Success!