Top 8 ‘Tough as Nails’ Perennials

When it comes to plants, reliable is a characteristic we love! This is our top 8  ‘tough as nails’ perennials that will come back every year and tolerate a wide array of conditions. We would like to mention, even though they are tough, it doesn’t mean they can be completely neglected of nutrients, sun, and water. These plants, after their first couple years of more watchful care, will definitely catch your attention with their beauty, tenacity and reduced level of care once established.


Yarrow

achillea-yarrow-garden

Yarrow Vintage Rose with Salvia in the background.

Achillea millefolium is a Native American plant. Yarrow adds light texture to a garden and one of the best low care perennials for adding a burst of color.  It grows tall ( can be up to 3′-4′) with showy clusters of fragrant white, red, pink, or yellow flowers, depending on the variety. It does well in hot and dry spots and resistant to pests.  Their blooms typically last from early summer through early fall and are a wonderful cut flower! 
 


Feather Reed Grass

feather reed grass

Feather Reed Grass

Calamagrostis x acutiflora is an upright clump forming ornamental grass, with multiple varieties, that adds architecture, movement, and the seed heads add floating fluffy textures in the fall through winter.  It does best in moist, rich soil but can handle poor, dry soils as well. This is the perfect grass for urban areas and tough to grow sunny areas. In addition to its high tolerance for multiple conditions, it is pest and disease resistant. Prune down foliage to a couple inches above soil before new growth in the spring and add  organic fertilizer if it’s in poor soil if you want to give it a boost and that’s it!


Phlox

flame coral phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata Coral Flame.

There are so many varieties of phlox it’s impossible to describe them all but they come in low, medium, and tall growing forms to fit in just about any garden. It’s one of the most versatile and colorful plants that have been used in gardens for over 100 yrs and for good reason. Most are long-blooming, often fragrant, and tall varieties don’t require staking. They prefer moist, rich soil and full sun, but depending on the variety, some don’t mind poor, rocky soils or part-sun. Flower colors range from pure white to red, with nearly every shade of pink, lavender, salmon and purple and some multi-colored petals. With proper planting, you can avoid most disease issues, such as powdery mildew.


Daylily

handwriting on the wall daylily bloom

Handwriting on the Wall Daylily.

Hemerocallis means “beauty for a day”because daylily  buds blooms only one day but has successive blooms over 4-5 weeks. Some daylily varieties are labeled rebloomers since they perform a couple times in the season with successive blooms. The Daylily is considered “a perfect perennial” because it’s drought tolerant, can grow in almost any kind of soil, can grow in full or part-sun, offers an array of early season to late season blooming varieties, has showy vibrant colors, are pest and disease resistant, and attracts birds, bees, and butterflies. Can be grown on hillsides, around the city, or in a traditional garden with very little care needed.


Sedum

Sedum Pure Joy by Proven Winners paired with coneflower

Pure Joy Sedum with coneflowers.

Sedum, also called stonecrop, have thick succulent like leaves that form clusters of small colorful flowers (white,red,pink,or yellow) in late summer and fall that bees love! There are low-growing and tall varieties that love full sun and can handle drought conditions. Once these plants are established they require almost no care. Sedums are easy to split in spring and fall if they get too big for their space. These perennials can grow quickly! Foliage of the fleshy leaves are not only green but there are varieties with varying foliage colors. For example, Sedum Dragon’s Blood Tricolor has white and green foliage with pink edges or deep purple leaves like Sedum Dark Magic. Just make sure these plants have well-draining soil because they can succumb to root rot in prolonged wet soil.


Coneflower

pow wow wild berry echinacea- coneflower

Pow Wow Wild Berry Coneflower.

Echinacea, comonly known as Coneflower are bright, upright, and tough perennials! They can take the heat and drought conditions once established ,deer resistant, and trouble free! Echinacea purpurea is the native coneflower to North America but there are varieties with many different bloom colors. These flowering perennials can have blooms that last from mid-summer though fall! Give coneflowers full sun and avoid other plants shading them. They don’t need much in regards to fertilizer if you mix in plenty of compost into the soil when planting. They attract bees and butterflies and if you leave the flowers on in the fall, birds like to eat the seeds. Prune off dead flowers in summer to promote more blooms for fall.

 


Russian Sage

denim n lace russian sage

Denim N’ Lace Russian Sage. 2020 PW Perennial of the Year.

Perovskia atriplicifolia, commonly known as Russian sage is a must have plant to add to your garden! Russian sage has grey-green leaves that are very aromatic with bluish-purple flowers that bloom mid-summer through fall. It can tolerate clay soil, dry soil, street salt, and are deer and rabbit resistant. It’s also disease and pest resistant! It really is a tough plant! They can fill up a 3′-4’x3’x4′ space in your garden quickly. Birds, bees, and hummingbirds will appreciate this valuable addition as well! 


Hyssop

blue fortune hyssop

Blue Fortune Hyssop. Photo Courtesy of Monrovia.

Agastache, or commonly known as Hyssop or Butterfly Mint, have very fragrant foliage and flowers that attract bees and butterflies. The flowers bloom late summer through fall to add color when other perennials are winding down. Most hyssop varieties are native to North America and not only like compost rich soil but also lean, dry soil. They prefer a “tough love” approach so they don’t need much water once established and be sure not to over-fertilize. Only top-dress with compost in spring if you want. Hyssop prefer full sun but can tolerate part sun areas.

 

Download our Drought Tolerant Plants List!

bloomstruck hydrangea

Acidic Soil Loving Plants

Water, Sun, and Soil (Nutrients). These are plants three basic needs.

Plants need nutrients and a relationship with elements in the soil can determine the health of plants. Soil pH is important to the uptake of nutrients and related to some common issues that may arise. For example, you may add fertilizer to your garden but still have little effect on your plants if for some reason your soil pH is off.

The texture of the soil is an additional variable (loamy, silty, sandy, or clay) and another topic all together. There is a method at the bottom of the post that will also improve soil texture/aeration.

Now, we will go over acidic soil ranges, what plants grow best in acidic soil, and what you can do to improve your soil’s pH.

What is acidic soil?

The range of pH is from 0-14. Acidic soil is considered anything below 7.

Acidity ranges:
Slight  6.0
Strong  5.5
Very Strong 5.0
Extremely 4.5

Most plants like to grow within the 6-7.5 pH range for optimal nutrient uptake. In Southern MN, you may notice a lot of clay soil with lime, which tends to be more alkaline, 7 or above. Water coming from hoses in this area are usually more basic (increases alkalinity) as well.

Other factors that affect soil acidity are rainfall, nitrogen fertilizers, plants like pines, and subsoil acidity. The best way to know your soil acidity level is a quick home test. We have soil pH tests plus soil nutrient tests. If your plants are thriving than you probably wouldn’t need to test it unless you are curious.

Plants that enjoy acidic soil:

Plants that enjoy slight acidity, 6.0-7.0 range:
Most plants! Each plant has a pH range it can tolerate and many plants can handle 6.0.

Plants that tolerate strong acidity, 5.5:
Trees and shrubs –  Raspberry 5.5-7.0, Pears 5.5-7.0, Peaches 5.5-7.0
Vegetable and Fruits- Potato 5.5, Squash 5.5, Garlic 5.5-8.0, Carrot 5.5-7.0, Sweet Peppers 5.5-7.0, Tomatoes 5.5-7.5, Cauliflower 5.5-7.5, Cucumber, 5.5-7.0, Pumpkin 5.5-7.0, Eggplant 5.5-6.5, Sweet Potatoes 5.2-6.0, Rhubarb 5.5-7.0
Flowers – Begonia 5.5-7.0, Black-Eyed Susan 5.5-7.0, Clematis 5.5-7.0, Marigold 5.5-7.5, Nasturtium 5.5-7.5, Pansy 5.5-6.5, Snapdragon 5.5-7.0, Zinnia 5.5-7.0, Fox Gloves 5.5-6.5, Cyclamen 5.5-6.5

Plants that tolerate very strong acidity, 5.0:
Trees and shrubs – Spruce 5.0-6.0, Juniper 5.0-6.0, Blackberry 5.0-6.0, Apple, 5.0-6.5, Serviceberry 5.0-6.0, Fothergilla 5.0-6.0, Magnolia 5.0-6.0
Fruits – Strawberries 5.5-6.5, Grapes 5.5-7.0
Flowers – Coneflower-Purple 5.0-7.5, Cosmos 5.0-8.0, Gladiolus 5.0-7.0, Lupine 5.0-6.5

Plants that tolerate extremely strong acidity, 4.5:
Trees and shrubs – Azalea 4.5-6, Blueberry 4.5-6, Hydrangea-Blue flowered 4.0-5.0, White Pine 4.5-6.0, Rhododendron 4.5-6
Flowers – Lily-of-the-Valley 4.5-6.0

As you may have noticed, plants have a range of pH that they will grow in and thrive. Those plants that have very strong and an extremely strong acidic soil needs, may need additional amendments to keep soil pH down. If you are noticing any issues like yellowing leaves, no fruit production, growth seems stunted, and not blooming, checking the pH is recommended first before using fertilizers.

What can you do to change soil pH?

The best way to improve soil pH is through addition of amendments and adding organic material. To increase acidity, add sulfur, and to decrease acidity, add lime. With both of these amendments, you will have to do it in stages as to not shock the plant. Read instructions on any product you use since each may differ.

These are our favorite supplements to use to adjust the soil pH and will not shock the plants if used as directed:
Epsoma Soil Acidifer – Organic, Safe, long-lasting, and won’t burn the plants if used as directed. Repeat in 60 day intervals if needed.
Epsoma Berry Tone for Berries – Organic, Good if you need to slightly increase acidity, Use early and late spring, Use on blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, Will help produce bigger plants and more berries.

Ways to adjust soil pH by adding organic material:
Add compost, manure, and peat moss to your garden beds. If you add compost and manure your soil, it may become more neutral so the addition of peat moss, which is acidic (3.0-4.5) can help temporarily adjust acidity. This is best to do in the fall since it takes more time to adjust the soil pH using this method but feel free to feed plants with top dressing of compost/manure during the growing season which is another great way to improve the soil’s aeration.

Modifying your soil’s pH will take some time. Depending on the type of soil you are working with, the addition of supplements and organic material may be needed year-after-year.

If you test your soil and notice you have troubles with keeping your soil more acidic, choose plants that will tolerate more neutral or alkaline soils. There are plenty out there!