Try these pretty perennials if you’re looking for reliable performers
Story by James E. Klett | Photos courtesy Colorado State University
The following perennials are tough, reliable options for Colorado gardens, given their excellent performances at the perennial research demonstration garden and test gardens at Colorado State University. Each plant has been in the test gardens for at least three years—many for more—and is well adapted to our area. Most have interesting ornamental characteristics into fall and are available at independent garden centers.
(Echinacea ‘KISMET® Raspberry’)
These prolific flowers form a solid canopy of vivid magenta blooms and have an attractive rustic look even as they fade. An incredible blooming plant, the echinacea’s striking raspberry-colored flowers last from early summer until frost. The attractive dark-green foliage has a very uniform growth habit and a compact, upright structure. The KISMET® series also features colors in orange, red and yellow.
Millennium Ornamental Onion
This is a showstopping plant with an insane number of blooms. The flowers are a nice shade of pinkish-purple and are favored by many bees and butterflies. The blooms combine well with the compact plant, which has nice, clean foliage and a uniform growth habit. The flowers last a long time and don’t flop, even with overhead irrigation. This onion also reportedly grows well in the mountains, up to 8,000 feet. Removing spent flowers hastens repeat blooms, or leave them for winter interest.
SUMMERIFIC® Cherry Choco Latte Rose Mallow
(Hibiscus ‘Cherry Choco Latte’)
This plant’s large, tropical-like blooms are striking. With a captivating, two-tone color combination of pink and white with dark-pink veining, this flower is a great choice for late-season color. The attractive dark-green foliage has bronze highlights that last throughout the season, and the nice growth habit doesn’t flop over. The plant’s midsized height forms a good balance with the large flower size, and it’s relatively low maintenance, as spent blooms self-clean.
LAMI™ Dark Purple Spotted Deadnettle
(Lamium maculatum ‘Dark Purple’)
Purple flowers with a uniform growth habit make this plant an impressive ground cover. A versatile perennial, this lamium doesn’t burn in sun and also performs well in shade. It reportedly performs well at 8,000 feet, too. It’s a vigorous ground cover with a long bloom period.
Bandwidth Maiden Grass
(Miscanthus sinensis ‘Bandwidth’)
This grass is a good pick for smaller gardens, as it maintains a nice, uniform growth habit of only 3 feet in height. It doesn’t bloom, but the foliage is very unique, with yellow stripes running across the blade. The contrasting leaves are very showy, so flowers aren’t necessary for interest. The variegated foliage doesn’t revert, and remains impressive in all three seasons.
Rose Marvel Salvia
This showy salvia has vivid fuchsia-pink flowers and a compact height for smaller landscapes—14-inches tall with a 14-inch spread. It survives a cold-hardiness zone of 4 or higher, and the pretty flowers attract pollinators. If you deadhead the first spring blooms, it encourages later blooming with flowers that can last through fall. This plant likes sun and some extra moisture, in addition to normal rainfall.
SpinTop Yellow Touch Gaillardia
(Gaillardia aristata ‘SpinTop Yellow Touch’)
This unique plant has a relatively small, compact, mounded growth habit, but it packs a lot of flowers on top of it. The showy and predominantly red flowers have yellow edges on each petal, and the attractive green foliage complements the blooms. SpinTop’s cold hardiness is impressive, and its survival rate is very good. Other entries in this series have superior cold hardiness as well.
FLAME™ New Improved Purple Phlox
(Phlox paniculata ‘FLAME™ Purple Improved’)
This plant’s abundant purplish flowers make a canopy of color at peak bloom. In fact, it’s rated higher than other phloxes for its impressively long bloom time. With dark-green foliage and a uniform growth habit, this phlox’s rich blooms are serious eye-catchers. The fragrant flowers maintain an attractive color, even as they fade. This perennial also has superior resistance to powdery mildew.
Giant Fleece Flower
This clump-forming shrub has panicles of showy white blooms and large, lance-shaped leaves. The flowers bloom from early summer through September and attract butterflies and birds. Pinkish-red seed heads provide late-fall interest. Larger gardens will appreciate its 60-inch height and similar spread. Allow spacing for the shrub’s mature size and trim stocks to 12 inches above the ground after winter dieback to encourage new growth come spring. This shrub has a cold-hardiness zone of 3 or higher, and prefers partial sun and some extra moisture, but is drought tolerant once established.
James Klett is a professor and extension landscape horticulturist at Colorado State University’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.