14 Tough Perennials That Can Take Abuse (and Still Thrive)
Do you have area in your yard where you either have an existing garden, or a place where you’d like to plant a flower garden to add curb appeal, or just for your enjoyment, but not much will grow there. Perhaps the area has poor soil, either not enough water or too much water, salty road spray or it gets piled with a big heap of snow in the winter. What you need are tough perennials that can take abuse. Despite gardeners’ best attempts, sometimes plants have to survive without the best of circumstances and these perennials fit the bill.
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How These Tough as Nails Perennials Made the Cut
- These perennials can tolerate low water or drought conditions.
- The plants on this list can tolerate road spray and salt spray.
- They can tolerate poor soil conditions.
- These perennials can tolerate mounds of snow in the winter and snow melt in the spring.
Sample Garden with Perennials That Survive Abuse
One of my favorite gardens is in an area on the corner of our ½ acre lot that borders two streets. The perennials in this bed are forced to survive pretty awful conditions. Not only does this bed look great, it is thriving in spite of all the abuse it endures. This flower garden has all of the conditions I list above. Plus, the snow plows push snow onto the garden from the intersection. So this flower garden has a 6 foot plus mound of snow on it for most of the winter. That snow includes salt and other muck and chemicals from the road. And sometimes the snow plows will scrape the surface of the soil.
For a little background on this flower bed, when we moved into our fixer upper home about 4 ½ years ago, this flower bed was just plain ugly. The bed had a diseased maple tree growing in it, so plants roots have to contend with the old tree roots. The previous owners had covered the mess with a layer of mulch to make it look okay for the sale. Once I started digging in, the mulch was covering about 6 inches of river rock with landscape fabric underneath. Check out this flower garden makeover when you’ve finished up here.
Although, I’m working on amending the soil, it’s still very rooty (my made up word), rocky and sandy, and I’m amazed that anything grows in this flower bed, let alone thrives. So plants in this garden have to not only be able to survive very dry conditions (because I don’t always drag the hose that far to water), they must be able to survive a wet winter and spring from snow pack and melt.
Perennials That Can Take Abuse and Thrive
This will be our 5th summer and I have lost many, many perennials in this flower bed. Here are the star perennial plants in that garden that have stood the test of time and actually thrived.
Daylilies – I don’t mean the awful hemerocallis fulva (a/k/a ditch lilies). I have 7 or 8 hybrid varieties of daylilies in this garden bed and they are thriving. Daylilies are definitely a tough-as-nails perennial that can take some abuse and thrive in spite of said abuse. My favorite daylilies are any from the “returns” family, like: Happy Returns, Rosy Returns, When My Sweetheart Returns and many more. Stella de Oro is another tough as nails daylily, but I think it’s overused.
Sedum – Not one of my favorite plants, but it wins in the category as tough-as-nails. I have dug up sedum and not gotten around to replanting it and it still survives. I think it could be run over by a Mack truck and it would survive. There are many varieties of sedum from low ground covers to tall plants.
Catmint – An amazing long blooming perennial that can take neglect and still thrive. Catmint can be sheared when it starts looking weary and within a week or two, it will be blooming and look amazing again. Look for shorter varieties that don’t flop, like Cat’s Pajamas or Walker’s Low Junior. If you do have taller varieties, you can keep them from flopping, or splitting down the middle by placing a hoop stake around them in the spring when they first emerge from the soil.
Russian Sage – Some gardeners say Russian Sage can be an aggressive perennial, but I have not experienced that. I recommend going with a shorter variety like Little Spire, or Blue Jean Baby. They stay upright and don’t flop over. Be sure to place a plant marker by your Russian Sage, because it’s slow to emerge in spring.
Blazing Star (Liatris Spicata) – A North American native. Not only is it tough, pollinators love liatris. Liatris is also a beautiful cut flower and a favorite of florists.
Coneflowers (Echinacea) – There are so many cultivars of coneflowers and some are better than others at being tough perennials. If you have a really tough area, I would recommend just sticking with purple coneflowers, or pow wow wild berry. Those seem to be the toughest in my gardens.
Black-eyed Susan – Aww, the cheeriest flower ever! Cheery and tough, make Black-eyed Susan a winner in a garden where it’s a bit neglected. Another awesome pollinator flower!
False Indigo (Baptisia) – This is an amazing plant and makes my Underused Perennials list. Baptisia is tough as nails and you can’t even kill it if you want to. The thing to remember with Baptisia is to plant it where it will remain forever. It has a very long tap root and does not like to be moved. Also, give it space to grow, because they get massive. Here in my Zone 4b gardens, Baptisia is a spring bloomer and the bees love it, as much as I do.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa) – a native perennial that, you guessed it, butterflies and other pollinators love. This is another plant that I have to mark in my gardens, because it takes it’s time coming up in the spring.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – There are many breathtaking cultivars. Stay away from common yarrow, it spreads like crazy, and you will likely regret planting it in a few years. Yarrow will rebloom if you deadhead the spent blooms.
Hardy Geraniums (Cranesbill) – There are so many varieties of cranesbill. Rozanne and Max Friel get my vote, as they are very long blooming perennials. There are also many cranesbill varieties that will grow in shade. If cranesbill outgrows its bounds, the plant will benefit from a good haircut.
Irises are another tough as nails perennials. Yes, they are a little picky about how deep they are planted (the rhizomes like to rest on top of the soil). But, I’ve dug up irises tossed them in a pot and left them sitting all winter and they were still alive the following spring. It’s nearly impossible to kill irises, unless iris borer gets ahold of them. It does take a few years for irises to become established, but once they do, you will have plenty to share.
Blanket Flower (Gailardia) – This is a perennial plant that actually likes growing in crappy soil. It basically doesn’t like rich soil and doesn’t tolerate over-fertilization. Be sure to use a plant marker in the places where you have blanket flower, because it is slow to emerge in spring. Blanket Flower is also loved by pollinators. The combination of orange butterfly weed and blanket flower is stunning in the picture below.
Globe Thistle (Echinops) – The name on this one will scare many away from it. After all, who wants thistles in their flower gardens. Trust me when I say, that once Globe Thistle gets established it’s tough as nails and not weedy at all. It is also a favorite of bees.
Tough Perennials for Shade
Although most of the perennials suggested above are for full – part sun, there are also some shade plants that can tolerate just about anything.
- Bleeding Heart
- Lily of the Valley – Be careful where you plant this one, as it can be crazy aggressive.
- Ajuga – This ground cover is beautiful in the spring, but it can be aggressive too.
A Few Things to Remember About Tough Perennials
Don’t neglect your perennial flowers on purpose. In order to look their best and thrive, even tough perennials will benefit and reward you if you take care of them. The perennials in this article are tough and will likely survive neglect, but they won’t look their best. To become even more indestructible, all the plants in this article need to become established. You can’t expect to plant a new perennial and not have to take care of it.
Be willing to experiment and find what works best for you in your situation. What works for me in my zone 4b gardens, may not work for you. If you have things you can fix, like crappy soil, then do what you can to amend your soil.
There are more plants that can survive anything, but they are referred to as garden thugs and you definitely don’t want to add invasive or aggressive plants to your garden, no matter how desperate you are.
With this list of perennials, not only do you have plants that can take abuse, or indestructible perennials, you have gorgeous flowers that attract pollinators and add tons of curb appeal to your home. Is there a perennial that I didn’t include in my list that you’ve found to be tough as nails in your gardens? If so, please leave a comment to let other gardeners know.
Thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens today. I hope you are leaving with some ideas of tough plants you can try in your less than perfect garden terrain. There are tons of awesome gardening resources here, along with gardening tips, tricks and how-tos, plus, some beautiful garden pictures. Feel free to hang out in the gardens for awhile.
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