Think of perennial flowers as a long-term investment in your garden. They return every year, for 20 years or more, and look lovely in a mixed bed or flower garden.
Unfortunately, most perennials grow slowly, making them impractical to grow from seed. One perennial plant from a nursery can cost between $10 and $30, so filling an entire bed is a costly venture.
So what’s a budget-minded gardener to do? Select perennials with cost-saving features in mind. Perennials usually cost about the same price initially, regardless of the variety, but some require little maintenance in terms of fertilizer and water, making them an economical choice over the long haul. Others spread quickly, filling in spaces on their own or through division.
The motivated gardener can quickly increase a perennial bed by propagating new plants through cuttings or by layering plants. If you’re interested in propagation, choose plants that root easily. Trade plants with neighbors or buy bare root plants through a reputable online nursery. Below are just a few plants to get you started:
Inexpensive Perennials for Northern Gardens
Bleeding Heart: The lovely arching stems and dangling pink, red or white heart-shaped flowers of this plant look delicate and dainty in a shade garden. This plant lives for many years and spreads to at least 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. Plant it in moist, slightly acidic soil in partial shade.
Catmint: Sometimes considered an herb, this plant spreads quickly to form attractive round clumps of gray-green foliage and lavender spikes of flowers. Catmint tolerates infertile soils and drought and blooms most of the season. Hardy between zones 3 and 8.
Coneflower: This plant grows 4 feet high and spreads quickly. It tolerates dry conditions and poor soils and produces pink, white or lavender blooms from mid-summer to frost, long after most perennials have puttered out. Hardy to zone 3.
Coreopsis: Coreopsis is a common flower, available at nurseries, garden centers and even grocery stores. It’s cheap to buy, spreads quickly and tolerates dry soils and neglect. Hardy to zone 3.
Day lily: Day lilies are so easy to grow that they often grow wild along ditch banks. These plants also spread quickly and benefit from division every two to three years. They tolerate dry, infertile soils. Hardy to zone 3.
Hosta: It’s hard to beat hostas for the shade garden. The dark blue, light green or variegated leaves of hosta look striking mixed with other shade-loving plants. Hostas spread quickly, require little maintenance and are easy to divide. Hardy to zone 4.
Inexpensive Perennials for Southern Gardens
Blanket Flower: The daisy-like flowers of this plant bloom most of the season and may be yellow, orange or variegated. This plant thrives in hot, dry locations and is hardy between zones 3 and 11.
Butterfly bush: This plant is hardy to zone 4, so Northern gardeners can enjoy it as well, but it really takes off in moist, warm climates. Butterfly bush quickly spreads to 12 feet high and 5 feet wide, or more, and benefits from a severe spring pruning. True to name, the colorful flower spikes attract butterflies.
Hellebore: Try hellebore in a shady, moist location. This plant grows 4 feet high and 3 feet wide, depending on the variety. The long-lived flowers and evergreen leaves of hellebore provide impact when other plants have faded. Hardy to zone 9.
Joe Pye Weed: This plant grows 4 to 6 feet high and 2 to 4 feet wide, spreads quickly, resists deer and tolerates drought. This native prairie flower produces large, airy clusters of pink or red blooms in late summer. Hardy between zones 3 and 10.
Jupiter’s Beard: Also known as red valerian, Jupiter’s beard spreads quickly to 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. It tolerates dry conditions, heat and full sun and blooms almost all summer, making it a good value indeed. Hardy between zones 5 and 11.
To get the most value from your perennial garden, buy healthy plants adapted to your climate. Prepare the soil well before planting by mixing in manure, compost or peat moss. Since perennial beds are long-lived, you’ll only get one chance to improve the soil. Spend extra time removing rocks and enriching the soil for healthy, fast-growing plants.