Long-Lived Perennials

Some live for 50 years, others for three; find out which perennials will give you longlasting pleasure.

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Want a long-lived garden flower? Try peonies, which can easily pass 50 years if they're happy in their location.

By definition, perennials are herbaceous plants that come back year after year. But they don't come back every year forever. Some, like the peony, become fixtures in the landscape, easily living for 25 to 50 years or more and becoming landscape plants that get inherited from one generation of homeowners to the next. Others, like lupine and wallflower, call it quits after three to five years.

There's nothing wrong with that, the glass-half-fulls among us say. If no plants called it quits, there wouldn't be holes in the garden that we can fill with new and interesting plants. But if you honestly plan on planting only once where you can, the best thing to do is dedicate the ground to the long-lived.

But first, a word about good genes. They usually can't overcome an untenable environment. If a plant needs moist shade, putting it in dry sun will usually kill it pretty quickly, regardless of how long it's known to live. And as tough as some plants are, they need a minimal amount of care.

"If you don't divide shasta daisy and give it potassium, it will definitely be short-term," says Ruth Baumgardner, co-owner of Mouse Creek Nurseries in Riceville, Tenn.

Plants like the old-fashioned foxgloves, hollyhock and verbascum seem short-lived, but they're actually biennials. And some plants like blanket flower, lance coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Leucanthemum and Phlox divaricata may not be long-lived but they reseed.

Long-lived perennials

"I just helped a friend move a peony that's 125 years old. Her great-grandfather had planted it," says perennial expert Stephanie Cohen, whose new book The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer is already into its second printing.

Given the right place and the right care, these plants will typically live at least 15 years, and some a lot longer than that.

  • peony
  • hosta
  • bearded iris
  • Siberian iris
  • daylily
  • hellebore
  • euphorbia, spurge Euphorbia
  • red-hot poker or torch lily (Kniphofia)
  • monkshood (Aconitum)
  • bugbane (Cimicifuga)
  • gas plant (Dictamnus)
  • balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)
  • false indigo (Baptisia australis)
  • lily-of-the-Nile
  • astilbe (Astilbe)
  • purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)
  • Helianthus
  • butterfly weed (Asclepias)
  • goldenrod (Solidago)
  • bee balm (Monarda)
  • goatsbeard (Aruncus)
  • ironweed
  • Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium)
  • sneezeweed (Helenium)
  • sedum
  • trillium

  • Delphiniums

    Short-lived perennials

    These plants typically last for three to five years before fading away, or "the plants that live for three years if you don't kill them first," says Cohen.

  • columbine*
  • scabiosa
  • wallflower (Erysimum, or Cheiranthus)
  • basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis)
  • hardy mum
  • lupine
  • leopard's bane (Doronicum caucasicum)
  • feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)*
  • geum
  • cardoon
  • fire pink (Silene virginica) and many other pinks
  • blanket flower (Gaillardia)*
  • Coreopsis grandiflora, C. lanceolata*
  • lavender
  • Phlox divaricata*

    * reseeds freely

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