top of page

Have a Sunny Garden? Try These Perennials

Kristina Valle, Dakota County Master Gardener

Do you have an area of your garden that receives 6 to 8 hours of sun each day? If so, you will want to plant “sun perennials” in that space. Perennials that prefer a sunny location should thrive in your yard, assuming, of course, that you provide them with healthy soil, ample water, and some tender loving care. Read this article for profiles of “sun perennials” for every season between the frost dates.

Have a Sunny Garden? Try These Perennials

Calling all sun worshipers! 

Since I have a north facing house position, my front yard is mostly shady. Most of the plant color in my yard is found in the back yard, where the southern light creates the perfect environment for my sun-seeking perennials to blossom.  In this article I will feature my top 3 full-sun-perennials for each season, that will ensure a constant show of color in your garden from last to first frost.  The plants featured below perform best in full sun, which is defined as 6+ hours of direct sunlight a day.  


These early bloomers pop up in our gardens as winter gives way to spring, seeking out the sun that has already begun to warm the soil.  


This is the most eager plant in my garden and the fern-like leaves are already pushing through the soil.  I especially love this hard-working plant for its ability to choke out weeds which it succeeded in doing last year in a problem area of my garden. The plant comes in a variety of colors and heights that are sure to suit any color scheme or garden size. It is important to note, however, that it can be aggressive so plan carefully.  

Bloom Duration: early spring to late fall.  

Fernleaf Yarrow

Creeping Phlox 

My rock wall signals the first colors of spring as the matted green leaves appear, giving way to bright, florescent shades of pink, purple, and white flowers.  This is a great ground cover and can be tucked in between rocks in an alpine garden.  You can get a second bloom later in the growing season by deadheading any spent blooms.  

Bloom duration: 3-4 weeks


Perennial Salvia is a great addition to the garden if you want to support our early pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  Salvia is a drought tolerant choice that holds steady through our dry spells. It needs at least 8+ hours of direct sunlight a day to thrive.  Depending on the variety, this plant can range in size from 1’ to 5’, giving you multiple options for garden placement. To encourage multiple bloom cycles, trim off the spent flowers, or if it is under blooming, you can cut the plant back mid-summer to encourage more blooms.  

Bloom duration: 6-8 weeks in spring and then after a haircut, into late summer/fall. 


By the time summer rolls around, the heat is reaching new heights and as we have seen in the past few years, rolling drought puts a lot of strain on our plants.  Luckily, these sun-loving perennials are built to withstand some weather-related strain.  

Common Milkweed

Beautiful and fragrant purple/pink poms top off THE host plant for the Monarch butterfly.   Even planting one milkweed plant in your yard will help support future generations of this at-risk butterfly.  Once hatched, the young caterpillars will feast on the leaves so be cautious using chemicals around this plant. Common Milkweed is best placed in the center or the back of your garden due to its height, which averages around 3’-5.’ The seeds pods should be collected at the end of the season to prevent reseeding.  

Bloom duration: June – September. 

Hardy Geranium - G. Rozanne 

If you are looking for a sprawling, prolific bloomer, this is your plant.  The violet-blue petals persist through the heat of summer and into fall, attracting bees and hummingbirds.  This low maintenance plant really pulls its weight in the garden, but if it starts to lag, you can prune it back mid-season to rejuvenate it. Stunning along a border, or in the garden where you can create a cascading effect. 

Blooming Duration: Early Summer – Late fall. 

Coneflower (Echinacea)

A garden staple, the coneflower supports pollinators in spring and summer, and provides seeds to songbirds (like Goldfinch) throughout the fall and winter months.   When choosing a coneflower, opt for a less showy bloom with a single blossom to attract more pollinators.  Think of the center of the flower as a landing pad. If it is obstructed by a complex petal structure, pollinators may find the flower less attractive and move on in search of flowers easier to access.  To ensure a long bloom season, deadhead the spent flowers to promote a second flush of blooms. 

Blooming Duration: July – September.


Cooler temperatures are followed by fading flowers and the promise of garden cleanup before the snow flies.  Luckily, the color show does not have to end. These plants will round out the year with their warm, vivid colors.   


Aside from its striking color amid a dulling floral background, this plant plays a critical role in continuing the nourishment of late season pollinators. Great for filling out a space in the garden that is abundant in spring and summer bloomers, to keep the color rolling into fall. You can cut these down to the ground once the first frost arrives or wait until spring to allow birds to enjoy the seeds through winter.  

Blooming Duration: August – October


As a member of the stonecrop family, Autumn Joy Sedum is unique. The taller varieties, which can grow up to 24”, have large succulent leaves and tight clusters of flowers that deepen to rose or salmon as the temperatures cool in the fall. This variety is perfect in a garden where spring and summer blooming flowers have faded.  Creeping sedum is used as a ground cover and is well suited for rocky landscapes with dry soil conditions where it is harder to grow other types of plants. 

Blooming Duration:  Late summer into fall. 

Autumn Joy Stonecrop

Hardy Mums

A true sign of fall, this beautiful plant comes in a multitude of colors and is prized for its late season blooms.  It is important to note that there are two distinct types of mums:  the “hardy mum” and the “florist mum.” 

“Florist mums” are typically found at the end of the season at grocery or hardware stores.  They are not adapted to our winters and are mainly a short-lived decorative plant. A “hardy mum” may need to be sourced out of a catalogue or special ordered from your nursery and should be planted in the spring to encourage root establishment through the year.  Once established, you will be rewarded with a reliable display of color into fall each year.  

Bloom Duration: Late summer – Late fall. 

It is important to remember that while there are many plants that are versatile in their light requirements, with the ability to exist in a range of sun exposures, plants do have a best sun exposure which should be adhered to as much as possible to ensure that your plant is in a space where it can reach its full potential.  These sun perennials need full sun to perform their best and to delight you year after year.

Photo Credit: (All Creative Commons) (1), Mike Myers, (All Creative Commons) (2), University of Minnesota Extension (3), Stockbridge School of Agriculture ( (4), Penn State Extension; (5), Horticulture and Home Pest News; (6), UW Arboretum ( (7), PNW Plants ( (8), Illinois Extension (UIUC) (9)

bottom of page