Hardy perennials, which, by definition, return year after year, will survive harsh winters---some even without mulch or other protections. The downside, according to Clemson University Extension Service, is that many winter-tough perennials won't thrive in long, hot summers. Choosing hardy perennials well suited to your conditions will increase chances of long-lived blooming plants in your yard.
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Many groundcover perennials will survive hard winters and spread each year. Alpine rock cress grows 6 to 12 inches high with early-spring, pinkish-white blooms; it does best in full sun. Excellent for rock gardens, rock cress complements a planting of spring bulbs. Creeping phlox is low growing and blooms in mats of flowers early in the spring. A rapidly spreading perennial, creeping phlox is available in a range of colours. Tiarella, also known as foam flower, prefers shady spots and puts up spikes of pink blooms in late spring.
One of the best known hardy perennials, basket-of-gold is a shrubby yellow perennial sometimes called gold dust. It grows up to 12 inches and blooms from mid-spring through early summer. It needs full sun and dry, well drained soil; according to the North Dakota State Extension Service, many hardy perennials are subject to root rot in poorly drained soil. Another sun-loving perennial, blue dogbane, blooms in early summer, with light blue flowers on 3-foot plants.
For shady areas, the large-leafed ligularia, also known as golden groundsel, blooms with daisy-like flowers in leafy clumps. Another hardy perennial, sea holly blooms with blue and grey-green flowers beginning in midsummer. Sea holly can grow up to 4 feet, with large, attractive leaves; it prefers full sun. Gayfeather, also known as liatris, attracts butterflies and bees; it has grassy foliage and flowers in late summer with feathery spikes of pink, purple or white blooms.
Shade-tolerant hardy perennials
In shady gardens, astilbe blooms in early summer and will grow from 1 to 4 feet tall. A small and pretty hardy perennial that will grow just about anywhere is yarrow---it grows wild in many areas of the country and will bloom and re-bloom in the harshest conditions. Another classic perennial, the bleeding heart is far more hardy than its delicate blooms would suggest. It does well in shaded areas and survives for years if well established. Penstemon, popular in many northern gardens, is available in many colours and varieties---check for shade tolerance for the varieties you choose.
Veronica, sometimes called speedwell, blooms in early summer and is available in several varieties. Another blue perennial with notable hardiness is May Night salvia; it grows up to 3 feet and blooms all summer. If you love foxgloves but they won't survive in your area, try monkshood---it puts up tall spires late in the summer with deep blue flowers that attract butterflies and bees.
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