10 Best Full-Sun Perennials for Michigan Gardens

Garden flowers

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Perennials or plants that return year after year in your flower bed are the foundation for most easy-care gardens all over the world. The hard part is finding sun-loving perennial plants that thrive in Michigan—a state with a colder climate in the winter months (mainly zone 5). Michiganders need hardy perennials that can go dormant and spring back to life in the warmer months. There are quite a few, such as black-eyed Susans and dianthus, which remain in bloom for a month or more. Sedum and butterfly weed can withstand some of the harshest conditions—including drought.

Tip

Many sun-loving plants might also be intensely water reliant. Unless you are sure you're planting a drought-resistant plant, plan for a regular watering schedule, once or twice daily, during the peak summer months for your perennial sun-seekers.

Here are 10 of the most beautiful and easiest to grow full-sun perennials for Michigan gardens.

  • 01 of 10

    Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

    Rudbeckia Daisy Flowers. Black-Eyed Susan
    Maria Mosolova/Photodisc/Getty Images

    Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) or gloriosa daisies are hardy daisy-like flowers consisting of gold petals and a dark center seed head. They can grow in hardiness zone 4 through 9, making them ideal for Michigan's winter temperatures. The vibrant flower heads stand atop scratchy, hairy foliage. Plant size varies significantly from dwarf 1-foot-tall cultivars such as 'Becky' and 'Toto' to the giant Rudbeckia maxima, which can reach 9 feet tall. Rudbeckia plants start blooming in midsummer and can repeat bloom into fall. Seed-started perennials can bloom the first year if you start them early enough.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 1 to 9 feet
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining, slightly acidic or slightly alkaline
  • 02 of 10

    Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula Rubra)

    Rosaceae Rosoideae Filipendula rubra Queen of the Prairie

    Emma Forsberg/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

    The sturdy yet delicate-looking queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra) is a species of the flowering rose family that's native to shadier habitats with moist, alkaline soil that's well-drained. Filipendula rubra prefers the cooler climate of the Great Lake region to hot, dry summer heat. It grows 4 to 8 feet tall and has fragrant fluffy heads of tiny candy pink or peach flowers that bloom for about three weeks between early and midsummer. This non-invasive perennial spreads rapidly. Cut back the tall plants in the fall.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 4 to 8 feet
    • Soil Needs: Moist, alkaline soil, well-drained
  • 03 of 10

    Dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus)

    Dianthus gratianopolitanus

     chipmunk_1/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Variety is essential when shopping for dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) because hardiness can differ. However, most dianthus plants are hardy even in sub-zero temperatures. Most dianthus bloom for more than two months beginning in the spring, but many require deadheading to promote rebloom. Several varieties are also evergreen and make useful edging plants.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Height: Up to 3 feet
    • Soil Needs: Rich, neutral to slightly alkaline well-draining soil
  • 04 of 10

    Blue Fescue Grass (Festuca Glauca)

    Elijah Blue Fescue

    daryl_mitchell/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

    Blue fescue grass (Festuca glauca) 'Elijah Blue' is a clumping ornamental grass. It is a true grass that grows to only a foot tall or shorter. It loves full sun and well-drained soil and can tolerate poor soils. The more sun this grass gets, the more likely it is to show its signature blue-gray color and pale yellow flowers. In cold climates, blue fescue grass can turn brown in winter, but many people leave it standing to help protect the roots from the cold temperatures. Cut back the foliage in early spring to within a few inches of the ground.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Height: 12 inches
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium, well-drained soil
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Garden Phlox (Phlox Paniculata)

    Nora Leigh phlox plants

    Nakano Masahiro/Getty Images

    In contrast to its ground-hugging relatives, garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) is tall. They are considered mildew resistant and can resist frost—a helpful trait in Michigan. Garden phlox is a colorful, long-lasting feature in sun-drenched summer gardens, which makes them a valuable asset in continuously blooming flower beds. Major tall phlox cultivars are 'David,' which has white flowers and large leaves that die back at the end of the growing season, and the cold-hardy 'Nora Leigh' with variegated leaves and pretty two-tone white and magenta blossoms.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 10
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
    • Height: 3 feet
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, loamy soil
  • 06 of 10

    Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus Mosheutos)

    Rose mallow or "hardy hibiscus" white flower

    Thomas/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) is also known as "rose mallows" and "swamp mallows." But some gardeners prefer "hardy hibiscus" and "dinner-plate hibiscus," which are names befitting these cold-hardy plants that nevertheless bear large blooms reminiscent of the tropics. Technically, they are herbaceous perennials. The most common cultivars are 'Disco Belle Rosy Red' and 'Galaxy,' which bear blooms that are white, bi-colored, red, or pink. Each flower lives only a day or two, but other buds on the stem quickly replace them.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 10
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Height: 2.5 feet tall and up to 10 inches in diameter
    • Soil Needs: Average to wet soil
  • 07 of 10

    Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa)

    Pearl crescent on butterfly weed

    John Flannery/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Hardy butterfly weed is well-adapted to less-than-ideal conditions, including cooler temperatures. The orange flowers of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) attract monarch butterflies as well as tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails—both the caterpillar and the mature flyer—and even hummingbirds. Also known as Indian paintbrush, orange milkweed, pleurisy root, and yellow milkweed, butterfly weed blooms from early summer to the first frost in most areas. It grows up to 2 feet tall and has glossy leaves and seed pods. If you want to avoid an invasion of butterfly weed, cut off the seed pods before they open.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Height: 2 feet
    • Soil Needs: Dry, rocky, or clay soil
  • 08 of 10

    Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

    Gaillardia x grandiflora

    Sarah Beth/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

    Blanket flower (Gaillardia) is a short-lived, late-blooming perennial with richly colored, daisy-like flowers. There are more than two dozen species of Gaillardia, but most blanket flowers come crossbred from two hardy species: Gaillardia x ​grandiflora. Although short-lived, Gaillardia can reseed and spread through the garden. Since the original 12- to 18-inch-high plants are hybrids, expect some variation from self-seeding. Generally, the leaves are gray-green and lance-shaped. The plant has 3- to 5-inch-diameter flowers, some with petals surrounding disks and others with trumpet-shaped florets surrounding a disk. They come in gorgeous shades of yellow and red from midsummer to fall. To winterize this plant in states like Michigan, cut back the spent flowers and give the plant light mulch.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 10
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Height: 12 to 18 inches
    • Soil Needs: Medium to moist well-draining soil
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Stonecrop (Sedum)

    Flowering stonecrop sedum

    Justus de Cuveland/Getty Images

    Tall sedums such as 'Autumn Joy' stonecrop are unparalleled garden performers that look good through all four seasons. There is no need to deadhead these plants, which thrive in well-drained soil and full sun. Sedum can go years without division, but once the plant begins to thin out in the center, a division is necessary. These tough, adaptable, drought-resistant plants tend to bloom in beautiful shades of pink and mauve for two to three months. The colors start pale and deepen as they mature.

    Tall 'Showy Stonecrop' sedum doesn't bloom until the fall and requires little care. The flower heads form early in the season and remain attractive well into winter. They start green like a broccoli bud, and slowly change color, usually from pink to mauve. This resilient plant boasts thick, succulent leaves that can withstand drought and rainy weather.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Height: 18 to 24 inches
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, well-drained soil
  • 10 of 10

    Yarrow (Achillea)

    Yarrow Achillea millefolium

    Patrick Standish/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

    Yarrow (Achillea) is a hardy North American native plant. Most cultivated varieties have become staples in gardens everywhere because they are robust, easy to grow, and produce gorgeous flowers and foliage. They also thrive in Michigan's zone 5. There are about 85 species of yarrow with fernlike foliage and flat umbel flowers, while ‘The Pearl’ produces small button-like blossoms, and others have flowers resembling daisies.

    With sprays of soft, feathery, aromatic foliage and their tendency to stay in tidy clumps, Achillea makes great filler plants and edges. These rugged, adaptable plants spread out up to 2 feet. If they do not get enough sun, they get leggy and flop over. Yarrow repeatedly blooms throughout the summer. For the most blooms, keep the plants deadheaded.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Height: Up to 36 inches tall
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining sandy, loamy, clay

More Info on Full-Sun Gardens and Further Research