Perennials for Sunny Gardens

Want perennials that like sun bathing? Grow these high-powered beauties for fun in the sun. 
By: Dee Nash
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Photo By: Photo courtesy of Proven Winners Plants.

Echinacea 'Flame Thrower'

'Flame Thrower' is a bi-color, orange and yellow coneflower hybrid with petals surrounding a dark brown cone. It grows in moderately fertile, well-drained soil and is fragrant. It attracts butterflies and moths and is a beautiful addition to a prairie garden or a mixed herbaceous border. 


Good drainage and a soil lean in nutrients is essential for this Mediterranean plant to perform at its best. Lavender is fragrant, but it is also great for its silver leaves that are deer resistant. 

Coreopsis 'Zagreb'

Easier to grow than C. 'Moonbeam', 'Zagreb' is a taller fern-leaf coreopsis with a brighter bloom. It is easy to grow in well-drained and moderately fertile soil. 'Zagreb' looks good at the front of the sunny border.

Coreopsis 'Red Shift'

This coreopsis, part of the Big Bang series, is a chameleon. Its flowers are yellow with darker yellow/red centers throughout summer, but when fall comes and temperatures drop, the same flowers turn beautiful shades of red. It is a great accent in the front of a cottage garden. 'Red Shift' is hardy to USDA Zone 5. 

Echinacea purpurea 'White Double Delight'

Part of the Cone-Fection series, this double-flowering echinacea is a white cousin to 'Pink Double Delight'. Like all coneflowers, it grows in moderately fertile and well-drained soil. It does need plenty of moisture and mulch to get it established and then becomes more drought tolerant thereafter. 

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

'Magnus' coneflower is known for its ray of purple flowers that don't reflex as much as other coneflowers. Purple coneflowers should be grown in full sun to light shade. Light shade will enhance flowers in the hottest weather. Coneflowers are drought and disease resistant and magnets for butterflies and other pollinators. 

Dahlia 'Sunshine'

With its bright peachy/yellow blooms and dark foliage, 'Sunshine' is a great perennial dahlia for gardens in USDA zones 8-10. It can also be grown in cooler climates if tubers are lifted and stored in fall. In very hot climates, grow 'Sunshine' where it has protection from afternoon sun.

Cestrum 'Orange Peel'

'Orange Peel' cestrum is a hybrid of C. diurnum and C. nocturnum. Perennial to USDA Zone 7 with occasional dying back to the ground in winter, this cestrum is a beautiful cultivar that blooms all summer once the weather is hot and sunny. 

Red valerian

Red valerian likes sandy, well-drained soil with regular moisture. Butterflies are attracted to its small, tubular florets. Although it is not native to the U.S., it has escaped cultivation and naturalized in various parts of the country. Because of its feathery appearance, it looks especially nice in wildflower gardens. One caution, it does self-sow with abandon. It can be grown in full sun in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

'Bengal Tiger' Canna

In a full sun garden, there is no prettier canna than the variegated 'Bengal Tiger'. Because of its beauty and ease to grow, this canna was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 2002. All cannas should be grown in full sun to avoid disease problems, and 'Bengal Tiger' is hardy to Zone 7. 

Lychnis coronaria, Red Campion

Red campion's silver foliage announces its water wise status even before it begins to bloom in hot pink, purple or even sometimes white. Because it is native to Africa and the Middle East, rose campion requires sharp drainage and prefers poor, sandy soils.

Phlox paniculata 'Bright Eyes'

A nectar-rich and stable phlox cultivar, 'Bright Eyes' is a pollinator magnet. While some other cultivars revert back to the standard pink phlox, 'Bright Eyes' does not. Avoid watering overhead as that will cause mildew problems for most phlox.

Hemerocallis 'Reflections in Time'

Daylilies are among gardeners' favorite perennials because of their variation in style and color. The next time someone wants you to plant 'Stella D'Oro' why not plant a different daylily instead? They come in a multitude of shapes too from spiders to doubles.

Monarda didyma L., red bee balm

Bee balm is happy whether it's grown in full sun or partial sunshine. However, full sun will prevent mildew from forming on its leaves. 'Jacob Kline' is a more mildew resistant selection. Bee balm is part of the mint family and is especially attractive to hummingbirds.

Setcreasea pallida, syn. Tradescantia pallida, purple heart

One of the easiest sun perennials to grow, purple heart contrasts nicely with lighter colored flowers like trailing white or pink petunias. It is a low-growing plant with pink flowers in summer. It requires very little water to grow abundantly. Purple heart is cold hardy to USDA Zone 7 and can be easily started with cuttings.

Calamagrostis x. acutiflora 'Overdam'

'Overdam' is a variegated feather reed grass that grows from two and a half to three feet tall with a circumference of two feet wide. As an ornamental grass, 'Overdam' makes a good accent plant in the center of the border or at the end of a pathway. Its feathery blooms are attractive and whisper in the wind. No worry about it reseeding everywhere either because 'Overdam's' seeds are sterile.

Phlox paniculata, pink garden phlox

Pink garden phlox is a standard pass-along plant that is the backbone of many a sunny, perennial border. It's tubular flowers are very attractive to butterflies so this is a good plant for a sunny butterfly garden.

Ratibida columnifera, Mexican hat

Also known as prairie coneflower, Mexican hat is a wonderful native that loves intense heat and sun. Buy plants or start from seed in warm weather climates. It's a great plant for native bees too.

'Banana Cream' shasta daisy and Magic Show 'Hocus Pocus' speedwell

Two Proven Winners perennials that perform beautifully in the sun are 'Banana Cream' shasta daisy with its creamy yellow rays around a sunny yellow center and Magic Show 'Hocus Pocus' speedwell's bright blue blooms on vertical stems. 

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