Flowering Perennials: Characteristics and Culture

Revised by David Trinklein
Horticulture Extension State Specialist
Division of Plant Sciences & Technology

A perennial plant is one that lives two or more years. By definition, herbaceous perennials are nonwoody plants whose above-ground parts usually die to the ground each year. They survive winter weather by means of a vigorous root system, bulbs, corms, tubers, rhizomes or other underground root or stem modifications. Several shrubs that often die back to the ground each year are frequently grouped with herbaceous perennials even though they are technically woody plants. Roses, tree peonies and Russian sage are examples of flowering shrubs more frequently considered flowering perennials. Even though they are woody plants, they regrow vigorously each year from the root system if harsh winter weather causes a complete dieback.

Herbaceous perennials can be further subdivided into hardy and tender plants, based on the plant's ability to survive the winter. Examples of hardy perennials are tulips, lilies, daylilies, peonies and irises. Tender perennials include dahlias, gladioluses and cannas. While it may seem a misnomer to classify a nonhardy plant as a perennial, the presence of a storage organ (e.g., a corm or tuber) puts a plant into the herbaceous perennial category.

Herbaceous perennials are considered the backbone of most flower gardens. Plants provide almost year-round interest with a variety of flower color, form, foliage, texture and fragrance. Careful planning can ensure a succession of bloom that provides a changing kaleidoscope of color through the seasons.

A mixed borders of perennials.
Figure 1. Because perennials are less formal than annuals, they often are used in border plantings such as the one pictured above.

The pages of this guide list some major perennial plants and their important characteristics and cultural preferences.

Space is not available here to fully describe the plants and flowers. Reviewing garden websites or visiting a nursery, garden center or botanic garden will help you become familiar with available plants.

Characteristics and culture of flowering perennials

Common name,
Scientific name
Anemone, Japanese
(Anemone japonica)
18–30Sept.–frostW, PSSWDLMDislikes transplanting. Spring plant only.
Anthemis, Golden Marguerite
(Anthemis tinctoria)
12–24Aug.–frostYFSWDLMAttractive fine-cut leaves. Divide every 3 to 4 years. Self-seeds readily.
(Artemisia sp.)
9–36Aug.–Sept.W, YFSWDSLEMany species and varieties, including Silver Mound and Silver King.
Aster, Michaelmas daisy
(Aster hybrids)
12–72July–frostW, R, B, L, V, PFSM, WDLMMany varieties of differing growth habit. Divide every other year.
(Astilbe sp.)
12–24May–JuneW, PFSM, WDLEEasy to grow. Good companion plant to hosta.
Baby’s breath
(Gypsophila paniculata)
18–30June–JulyW, PFSWDLEEasy to grow. Avoid acid soil. Add lime if necessary.
Balloon flower
(Platycodon grandiflorum)
18–24May–Aug.B, W, PFSWDSMWeak-stemmed plant, may need staking. Avoid wet soil.
(Aurinia saxatile)
12–18MayYFSWDSMGray foliage. Suitable for rock garden.
(Penstemon sp.)
6–28June–JulyP, R, LFSWDSMAvoid acid soil. Fairly short-lived. Some good as cut flower.
(Monarda didyma)
18–24July–Aug.R, P, L, WFSWD, DLMUseful for hot, dry places. Also endures light shade.
(Campanula sp.)
8–36May–JulyW, BFS, SSWDSLMNeeds good drainage. Avoid clay. Mulch in winter. Species vary in height.
(Bergenia cordifolia)
12–15May–JuneP, WSSMLMWaxy foliage remains green in winter.
Blackberry lily
(Belamcanda chinensis)
24–36July–Aug.OFSWDLEFlowers followed by blackberry-like seed pods.
Black-eyed Susan
(Rudbeckia fulgida)
24–36June–JulyY, OFSWDLEVery heat tolerant. Good for bold splash of color.
Bleeding heart, Old-fashioned
(Dicentra spectabilis)
18–24MayP, RFS, SSWDLMBest in part shade. Leaves may die-back in summer.
Blue false indigo, Rattle weed
(Baptisia australis)
36–48May–JuneBFSWDSLEForms dark pods with large seeds that rattle.
Blue flax
(Linum perenne)
12–28June–Aug.BFSWDLEShort-lived. Easily grown from seeds planted in spring.
(Boltonia asteroids)
24–48Aug.–Sept.W, PFSWDLEChoose named cultivars. Species gets too tall for most gardens.
Brunnera, Siberian bugloss
(Brunnera macrophylla)
12–18May–JuneBSSM, WDLMFlowers resemble forget-me-not.
Butterfly weed
(Asclepias tuberosa)
12–20Aug.O, Y, RFSWDSLEDifficult to transplant. Suited to hot, dry sites. Attracts monarch butterfly.
(Iberis sempervirens)
8–12AprilWFSWDLMFor rock garden and stone walls.
(Chrysanthemum x morifolium)
10–36July–frostW, R, O, V, L, PFSWDLEVariety determines growth habit. Pinch tips of tall types in early summer to promote bushiness.
(Aquilegia hybrid)
6–36April–JuneW, R, P, V, B, L, YFS, SSWDSLEFairly short-lived. Reseeds easily. Sow seeds in early summer.
Coneflower, Purple
(Echinacea purpurea)
24–36Aug.–Oct.PFSWDLETolerates very poor soil. Heat and drought tolerant.
Coral bells
(Heuchera sanguinea)
18–24JuneW, P, RFS, SSWDLMDivide every 3 years. Good cut flower.
Coreopsis, Thread-leaf tickseed
(Coreopsis verticillata)
18–30June–Aug.YFS, SSWD, MLEEasy to grow. Blends well with other perennials. Blooms all summer.
(Hemerocallis hybrids)
15–36June–Sept.R, O, Y, L, PFS, SSWD, M, DLEEasily grown. Adapts to many conditions. Excellent hybrids available.
(Delphinium elatum)
36–60July–Aug.W, B, LSSWDLMLikes cool weather. Give afternoon shade. Needs excellent drainage.
Evening primrose
(Oenothera sp.)
8–36July–Aug.Y, PFSWDSLMFlowers open in evenings. Good rock garden plant. Some can be invasive.
False dragonhead
(Physostegia virginiana)
18–48July–Sept.P, WFS, SSM, WDLEAlso called obedient plant. Very vigorous grower.
False sunflower
(Heliopsis helianthoides)
36July–Sept.Y, OFSWDLMFlowers good for cutting.
(Tiarella cordifolia)
10–12May–JuneW, PSS, SWDLMCompact, spreading growth habit. Flowers similar to Astilbe.
(Digitalis purpurea)
24–28JuneV, P, WSSM, WDLMGrow as biennial. Prefers cool temperatures.
(Gaillardia x grandiflora)
24–30July–Sept.Y, RFSWDLMEasy to grow. Heat tolerant.
Geum, Avens
(Geum hybrids)
12–20JulyR, O, YFSWDSLMDivide every 3 years. Provide winter mulch.
Globe thistle
(Echinops ritro)
24–48July–Sept.BFS, SSWDSLETolerates poor soil. Replant every 3 to 4 years.
(Trollius europaeus)
12–18MayY, OFS, SSM, WDLMDo not let dry out. Good beside pools.
Gooseneck loosestrife
(Lysimachia clethroides)
24–36July–Aug.WFSWDLEVery aggressive. May become invasive.
Helenium, Sneezeweed
(Helenium autumnale)
36–48Aug.–Oct.Y, RFSM, WDLEGood cut flower. Divide and replant every 3 years.
Hibiscus, hardy
(Hibiscus palustris)
24–60July–Sept.W,P, RFSM, WDLMVery large flowers. Tolerates damp soil.
(Alcea rosea)
48–72July–Aug.W,P, RFSWDLEGrown as biennial. Seed outdoors in July.
Hosta, Plantain lily
(Hosta sp.)
6–36July–Aug.W, LSS, SM, WDLEExcellent for shady areas. Many have variegated leaves.
Iris, Bearded, German iris
(Iris x germanica)
12–36April–JuneB, V, R, P, W, Y, L, OFSWDLEEasy to grow. Many varieties available. Very dependable and easy to grow.
Iris, Japanese
(Iris ensata)
18–36June–JulyB, W, Y, L, PFS, SSM, WDLMNeeds moist soil. Suitable at the edge of ponds. 
Iris, Siberian
(Iris siberica)
18–24May–JuneW, BFS, SSM, WDLELikes rich soil. Never let dry out.
Lamb’s ears
(Stachys byzantina)
12–18JunePFS, SSWDSLMWill grow in dry, poor soils. Woolly grayish leaves.
Lady’s mantle
(Alchemilla mollis)
10–12June–JulyYFS, SSMLMCompact, spreading habit. Prefers a cool, moist location.
(Lavendula angustifolia)
12–20July–Aug.LFSWDSLMNeeds well-drained soil. Very fragrant foliage.
(Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
8–12Aug.–frostBFSWDSLESometimes called plumbago. Semiwoody groundcover.
Lenten rose
(Helleborus niger)
5–8Feb.–MarchWSSM, WDLCNeeds rich soil. Do not disturn root system.
Liatris, Gayfeather
(Liatris sp.)
24–48July–Sept.W, LFSWDSLEAdapts well to dry locations. Spike florets mature from top downward.
Lily turf
(Liriope muscari)
6–10Aug.V, WFS, SS, SWDLEEvergreen border plant. Forms clumps. Cut back old growth in early spring.
(Convallaria majalis)
6–8MayW, PSSM, WDLENeeds shade. Used as a groundcover or cut flower.
Loosestrife, yellow
(Lysimachia punctata)
18–30July–Sept.YFS, SSM, WLENeeds semi-shade in dry soils. Can be invasive.
(Pulmonaria sp.)
8–12May–JuneBSS, SMLMVery distinctive foliage with unusual variegation.
(Lupinus hybrids)
24–40June–JulyB, W, P, YFS, SSWDSLCDislike hot summers. Short-lived in Midwest.
Meadow rue
(Thalictrum aquilegifolium)
24–30June–JulyP, V, WFS, SSM, WDLMNeeds afternoon shade. Prized for foliage and flowers.
Meadow sweet
(Filipendula vulgaris)
24–36June–JulyW, PFS, SSWDLEFleecy, graceful flowers. Prefers humus-enriched soil.
Painted daisy, Pyrethrum
(Tanacetum coccineum)
12–24June–JulyP, R, WFSWDLCWill not tolerate wet soils. Prefers cool temperatures.
Pasque flower
(Pulsatilla vulgaris)
6–10AprilB, WFSWDSLMFor rock garden. Needs good drainage. Blooms early.
(Paeonia hybrids)
18–36May–JuneW, P, RFS, SSWDLEVery long-lived. Huge, elegant flowers.
Perennial salvia
(Salvia x superba)
18–24June–JulyB, V, PFSWDLEEffective blue flower color. Attracts bees.
Phlox, Creeping
(Phlox subulata)
3–5April–MayP, L, WFSWDSLMAlso called ground pink or thrift. Tolerates poor soil.
Phlox, Garden
(Phlox paniculata)
18–48June–Sept.R, P, L, WFS, SSWDLMMany varieties available. Blooms mid-summer.
Pincushion flower
(Scabiosa caucasica)
18–24June–JulyBFSWDLMUnique blue flower with conspicuous stamens.
Pink, Cottage
(Dianthus plumarius)
10–15May–JulyR, W, PFSWDLMVery fragrant. Bluish gray foliage. Edging plant.
Pink, Maiden
(Dianthus deltoides)
4–9MayR, P, WFSWDLMDwarf pink. Gradually spreads to form a green mat.
Poppy, Iceland
(Papaver nudicaule)
8–12JuneR, O, P, WFS, SSWDSLMOften grown as annual. Seeds started indoors will flower first season.
Poppy, Oriental
(Papaver orientalis)
24–40May–JulyO, R, P, WFSWDSLENeeds good drainage. Place in protected spot, or mulch in winter.
Red-hot poker, Tritoma
(Kniphofia hybrids)
36–48July–Sept.O, Y, P, WFSWDSLENeeds excellent drainage. Mulch in winter.
Rock soapwort
(Saponaria ocymoides)
5–10June–JulyP, WFSWDSLMPruning back helps retain compact form. Needs good drainage.
Russian sage
(Perovskia atriplicifolia)
36–48June–JulyBFSWDLEUniquely colored, aromatic foliage. Light blue flowers that attract bees.
Sea lavender
(Limonium latifolium)
15–24Aug.–Sept.B, WFSWDSLMLarge foliage. Delicate blue flowers on large panicles.
Sedum, Stonecrop
(Sedum sp.)
4–24June–frostP, R, Y, WFSWDSLEVery heat and drought tolerant. Many species with varying heights.
Shasta daisy
(Leucanthemum x superbum)
12–36June–Aug.W, YFSWDLMSomewhat short-lived in garden. Dwarf and tall forms available.
(Cerastium tomentosum)
3–5May–JuneWFSWDSLMSmall gray woolly leaves. Forms dense carpet. Needs excellent drainage.
(Tradescantia virginiana)
8–24May–Aug.B, V, WSS, SM, WDLEEasily grown. Bright blue flowers. Native plant.
Stoke’s aster
(Stokesia laevis)
12–30Aug.–Sept.B, W, PFSWDLMNeeds good drainage. Mulch in winter.
Sweet pea, Perennial
(Lathyrus latifolius)
60–96June–Aug.P, R, WFS, SSM, WD, DLEVery easy to grow. May crowd out other plants.
Sweet William
(Dianthus barbatus)
6–15May–JuneR, P, WFSWDLEBiennial that self-sows easily. An “old-fashioned” favorite.
(Armeria maritima)
8–12June–JulyP, V, WFSWDSLENeeds good drainage. Mulch in winter.
(Coreopsis grandiflora)
24–36June–JulyY, OFSWDLETolerant of dry soils. Good for low maintenance areas.
Veronica, Speedwell
(Veronica sp.)
2–36May–Sept.B, WFSWDLEEasy to grow. Species differ in growth habit.
Violet, sweet
(Viola adorata)
6–8April–MayV, L, W, YFS, SSWD, MLEForms a dense mat. Reseeds easily. Can be invasive.
Yarrow, Sneezewort
(Achillea sp.)
2–36June–Aug.Y, P, R, WFSWDLEEasy to grow. Delicate aromatic foliage.
(Yucca filamentosa)
20–30June–JulyWFSWDLEVery durable. Bears huge spike with white flowers.

Description of terms and codes


The height range, given in inches, helps to determine whether a plant is suitable for an edging (1–12 inches), for the middle of a bed (12–36 inches), or for a background plant (more than 36 inches). Where a very wide range is given (such as Bellflower, 8–36 inches), some dwarf varieties are indicated.

Bloom period

The month or months of peak bloom are listed. Time of flowering varies with exposure and climatic area. These listings are primarily for central Missouri.


Plants are keyed with their most common colors. Many blends, shades and tints exist.

  • Blue (B)
  • Green (G)
  • Lavender (L)
  • Orange (O)
  • Pink (P)
  • Red (R)
  • Violet (V)
  • White (W)
  • Yellow (Y)

Bearded irises.Bearded iris.



Cultural requirements


  • Full sun (FS)
    Locate plant away from the shade of buildings, large trees or other objects that will not allow at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
  • Semi-shade (SS)
    Give partial shade either as a long period of light shade or as more dense shade during the afternoon. Most plants in this category must have shade during the hottest part of the day.
  • Shade (S)
    These plants must have continuous shade with no direct sun. In heavy shade, other necessary cultural requirements must be carefully fulfilled.


  • Well drained (WD)
    Periods of standing water on the soil are damaging to perennials in both summer and winter. In heavy soils, add liberal amounts of organic matter to ensure good internal soil drainage. If external drainage is poor, consider raised beds or drain tile below. For information on improving soils, see MU Extension publication G6955, Improving Lawn and Landscape Soils.
  • Dry (D)
    These plants will not tolerate moist conditions very long, but they will withstand considerable dryness.
  • Moist, but well drained (M)
    Plants in this category do not tolerate drying, but they also do not tolerate any water standing around their roots. In the garden, they need regular watering during dry periods.
  • Wet (W)
    Plants will tolerate boggy conditions or even standing water. However, they are not the aquatics, such as waterlilies. Aquatic plants are not included in this publication.


  • Loam (L)
    Any good well-kept garden soil fits this category. Yearly additions of organic matter help develop a good loam. Where a poor soil is to be planted for the first time, amend it by mixing in at least 4 inches of organic matter.
  • Sandy loam (SL)
    This type of soil is required mainly by plants that need excellent drainage. If the original soil is a tight clay, large amounts of sand will have to be added to achieve this type of soil.

Relative ease of care

  • Easy (E)
  • Moderate (M)
  • Challenging (C)


Unusual or outstanding plant and cultural characteristics are listed briefly. Included are notes on cultural ease, winter hardiness, or special uses, or emphasis of an extremely important cultural requirement.

Chrysanthemums.Garden chrysanthemum. Garden phlox.Garden phlox.

Original author: Mary Kroening, Missouri Master Gardener Program