Best Perennials for Northern Gardens

First things first, I know I haven’t written in a LONG time. Jeez, I’m not sure what happened. I have been going crazy this past week; my car is broken, my computer is NOT working (I am on my roomie’s now) and I was sick. Man, I’ve had a great week.

Anyways, all that negative stuff aside, I have a GREAT post today! This list is for all of you in my neck of the woods (northern MN), or somewhere between zones 2 to 5. Here is a list of 10 of my favorite perennials for cold climates. These plants are all fairly low-maintenance and tend to be hardy enough to withstand our severe winters. All of these have worked very well in my own (or my mom’s) Minnesota garden!


1. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis) – Zones 2-9, part shade. My mom has had one of these for about 15-20 years. After about 5-10 years she dug it up because we moved, and it transplanted very easily. Now it is about 3 feet tall, and about 5-6 feet in diameter. It blooms through the summer, and is really low maintenance. I just love the small heart shaped blooms, they are so different from anything else you usually see in a garden. I have also seen these come in white, if you’d prefer that.


2. Lupines (Lupinus Perennis) – Zones 3-6, full to part sun. These lovely plants spread a little more every year. Purple seems to be dominant here, and if you just let them go, most will be this color. If you’d like to see a nice balance between the purple, pink, and white blooms, you can always go around in late fall, and spread all of the pink and white seeds manually to make sure they will return in the spring!


3. Peonies (Paeonia) – Zones 3-8, full sun. I remember that my mother used to have these when I was growing up, and I loved the large blooms on them. I wondered if the ants I saw on buds were eating the flowers, but my mom told me that they were just eating the sweet layer over the bud of the plant. She was right; the flowers always bloomed and the ants went away. One thing that you should be careful of if you are just planting a new Peony is not to plant it too deep. If your Peony came in a pot, you should mark off (maybe use a twist tie) where the dirt comes to, and do not plant it any deeper than it was in the pot. If it is planted too deep, it will not bloom.


4. Creeping Phlox (P. Stolonifera) – Zones 2-9, full to part sun. Creeping Phlox is awesome for borders, or rock gardens. We have ours growing in between rocks on our rock wall. The purple blooms make the wall look so elegant, and really soften up the rest of the garden area.


5. Chives (Allium Schoenoprasum) – Zones 3-9, full sun. There are so many great things about Chives; where do I start? Well, first of all they give you really pretty purple flowers. They also help to keep the deer out of your garden. Oh, and did I mention they are great in salad? I am pretty sure they are one of the all around best perennials for Northern Gardens.


6. Hen and Chicks (Jovibarba Globifera) – Zones 3-11, full sun. Hen and Chicks are really a great filler plant. If you have any small spaces that just look bare, or have poor soil, just put a few of them in the dirt. They don’t mind poor soil conditions, and if you look closely at my picture, you will see that they are growing in a mossy ground cover. I have no idea why they are thriving there, but this moss is covering a huge rock slab in our yard, so I don’t think there is much dirt there at all. Anyways, theses will spread like crazy; the Hens will produce small Chicks that will root wherever they end up. We have ours on a hill, so a lot of the Chicks roll down the hill a bit before rooting.


7. Irises (I. Siberica) – Zones 3-9, full sun to part shade. These are just wonderful flowers that will add some great color to any flower bed. They have no problem coming back every year, and look great in part shade (the colors are much more vibrant).


8. Gaillardia (Gaillardia Aristata) – Zones 3-9, full sun. Gaillardia is awesome, and that’s all there is to say. They seem to attract bees and butterflies, not to mention pesky amateur photographers (that would be me).


9. Hostas – Zones 3-8, full to part shade. Hostas are probably the most popular perennial plant for gardening in the shade. There are so many different varieties to choose from, which is why they are a favorite of many. My mom loves them, and they faithfully come back every spring in our gardens. Most often, they will just look like the foliage you see above, but they do flower occassionally.


10. Stella de Oro Daylily – Zones 2-9, full sun. These daylilies came highly recommended by my mom, who got some of them a few summers ago. The great thing about them is that they bloom continuously! Most daylilies only bloom once throughout the summer, and although it is usually a magnificent showing, why not get some of these so you can have that beauty all summer long?

There you have it, my friends. Jocelyn’s Top 10 List of Hardy Perennials for Northern Gardens. I want to say thanks to my wonderful mother for helping me out with a couple questions about her perennials for this posting! Happy (belated) Mother’s Day to her and all of you other lovely mothers out there!

11 thoughts on “Best Perennials for Northern Gardens

  1. Hey Wicked,I know what you mean about the garden envy. I feel the same way with all of you warm climate gardeners! The only bad thing about Minnesota gardens is that the season seems so short! I would love to move someplace a bit warmer so I could have a longer growing season!

  2. Fabulous post, and I agree – all great choices!

    I wintersowed lupines last year. They didn’t bloom, but they returned this year, so I hope I’ll get blooms this summer! They’re still quite small yet.

  3. Thanks Kylee! I hope your lupines bloom for you this year, they really are a beautiful sight! They should bloom for you this time, and once they start blooming, they will start spreading! Good luck!

    PS- I love your blog! We should trade links! Let me know if you’re interested!


  4. Kylee, By now you have discovered that your lupines did not bloom last year. But get ready for the show this year! Lupines are a short-lived perennial, so be sure to let them self-seed (or collect the seed and put it where you want it). That way, you’ll have them in bloom every year. You can always give some away if you have too many. Lupines are actually fast-growing as far as perennials are concerned. A good rule of thumb for perennials is that “the first year they sleep (don’t grow much/they are setting down roots), the second year they creep (some growth, but often not impressive), and the third year they LEAP. The shorter lived perennials can afford to do more the second year and longer lived ones (like clematis and peonies) take their time. The point is, if the plant looks healty but small, that’s just what it is. Be patient and you will be rewarded.

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  6. I’m not seeing astilbe on the list, I have had very good luck with them. Their wispy flowering spikes and lovely green foliage make my garden a showpiece in the making. I have been working on my gardens for 6 years now and totally agree with the choices you have made for the top 10 list; spectacular!

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  8. Because there isn’t a bigger list to reference here.. and I don’t mean to say it that way but I have decided to add some more plants that have made it through the long hall of winter here in Minnesota..
    CALENDULA – RUSSIAN SAGE – MORNING GLORY – BEE BALM – STRAWBERRIES – MINT – YARROW – BASIL – ROSES BUT NOT ALL ROSES – DIANTHUS – PHLOX – PEONY – IRIS – BLANKET FLOWER – Keep in mind that some of this list is more then just perennials but also biennials but all of these plants are plants that came back the following summer after winter happened – HOSTA – SEDUM – ASTER – ORNAMENTAL GRASS – HYDRANGEA – GRAPES –

  9. Can you grow purple creeping phlox in Ontario is a perennial? I was thinking of putting it in my Rock Gardens and I was thinking of using cotton candy I forget what it’s called it’s a grass what do you think what’s your opinion. Thanks Candace

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