Best drought-tolerant perennial

Agastache ‘Morello’ (Terra Nova Nurseries), North Carolina State University

‘Morello’ has dense, showy, deep pink colored flowers that the bees love. Our 100 degree-plus days didn’t keep this showstopper from flowering.

Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit (Kieft Seed), The Gardens at Ball

Well-established landscape coneflower. Held its incredible colors all summer. This All-America Selections Winner features high-demand prairie colors to the garden. The incredibly vibrant segregating mix delivers maximum flower power with superior garden performance. Plants are shorter, better branched, and fuller than tissue-culture varieties.

Echinacea Lakota Santa Fe (Proven Winners), Walters Gardens

We’ve been looking for easy-to-grow echinacea for years and one of the best that we’ve found is Santa Fe. Since it’s from seed, it has slight

variation in color, but it’s mostly in the red-orange color range. We’ve been pleased by both its container and landscape performance, and it’s been great on a liner production level as well.
Delosperma Delmara Orange (Green Fuse Botanicals), Mast Young Plants

This first-year flowering perennial had significantly larger flowers and a heftier habit than other delosperma we have tried.

Perovskia ‘CrazyBlue’ (Darwin Perennials), The Gardens at Ball

Unique interlacing branches with deep blue flowers. Looked good all season through all weather. ‘CrazyBlue’ is deer resistant, as well. It holds up in the landscape or in large containers as a tall accent plant. Very hardy (Zone 4).

Salvia Mystic Spires Improved (Ball FloraPlant), Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Best heat-tolerant perennial

Eucalyptus Silver Drop (Proven Winners), Mast Young Plants

These silvery foliaged plants make beautiful thrillers in containers or background plantings in a garden bed, and can also be used in dried or fresh flower arrangements. The essential oils in eucalyptus smell great and have a wide range of medicinal uses. Silver Drop is a more cold-hardy variety, hardy to Zones 9-11 but reported to even have survived winters in Zone 7.

Gaillardia SpinTop Yellow Touch (Dümmen Orange), North Carolina State University

Nice compact plants that are covered with large, attractive orange flowers with the edges dipped in yellow. Thrived in our heat.

Pennisetum ‘Red Rocket’ (Intrinsic Perennial Gardens), Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Salvia Mirage Cherry Red (Darwin Perennials), The Gardens at Ball

This S. greggii had continuous color through all weather extremes. The bold, brightly colored blooms stood out in the landscape. The Mirage Series is self-branching and resists breaking. It is very heat-tolerant and takes the cold as well. It will continue to bloom well into the fall and is hardy to Zone 7. Very low maintenance with high-color impact.

Sedum Rock ‘N Grow ‘Popstar’ (Proven Winners), Walters Gardens

Finding a low-profile sedum that doesn’t lodge (open up) can be a challenge, however, ‘Popstar’ rose to the occasion. For most of the year, ‘Popstar’ looks great as a foliage plant with blue-green leaves. Later in the season, it explodes with salmon pink flowers. With its great habit, ‘Popstar’ is definitely an improvement over S. cauticola, which can’t seem to bear the weight of its own flowers. We’ve definitely had dry, hot weather here in Michigan (including record-setting heat in September), but ‘Popstar’ didn’t even bat an eye.

Verbena Santos Purple (Kieft Seed), The Gardens at Ball

A tough, long-lasting landscape perennial through Zone 7. Very heat and drought tolerant, and performs well in cool weather, too. Santos Purple is compact and upright. The well-branched plants bloom late-spring through the summer. It showed high powdery mildew resistance. Makes a great addition to combo planters or baskets.

Best pollinator-friendly perennial

Dianthus Rockin’ Red (Kieft Seed), The Gardens at Ball

Very attractive color and a great landing pad for butterflies and bees. The soft scent and lacy florets were appealing in the garden all season. Reliably overwintered in Zone 5 and retained its dynamite red color.

Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit (Kieft Seed), Mast Young Plants

This colorful assortment of coneflowers isn’t new, but still continues to wow us in our trial gardens every summer. Hardy to Zone 4 and first-year flowering, too.

Monarda 'MO 017' (Dümmen Orange), North Carolina State University

Monardas are known for being pollinator-friendly and this one did not disappoint. ‘MO 017’ is a compact, well-behaved clumper that blooms prolifically. It is still in the experimental phase but one to keep a watch on.

Panicum Prairie Winds ‘Apache Rose’ (Proven Winners), Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Penstemon barbatus ‘Twizzle Purple’ (Van Hemert Seeds), Iowa State University

This plant is a first-year blooming perennial from seed. The color is an eye-catching purple that draws pollinators in with tube-shaped flowers. ‘Twizzle Purple’ overwinters well through bitter Iowa winters and blooms even earlier the second year.

Salvia ‘Bumbleberry’, Walters Gardens

If you’ve ever been around salvias in peak during the spring, you know that honeybees adore these flowers. ‘Bumbleberry’ has performed excellently in our finished plant trials, along with ‘Bumblesky’ and ‘Bumbleblue’. They’re easy to maintain as they are naturally compact, but vigorous enough to finish a container. We love the perfect fuchsia pink flowers on the dark purple calyxes.

Salvia Fashionista Midnight Model (Walters Gardens), Smith Gardens

Such a great plant. Large flowers attract all kinds of pollinators from bees to butterflies to hummingbirds.

Salvia ‘Rose Marvel’ (Darwin Perennials), The Gardens at Ball

The large flower size of this salvia attracted many pollinating bees. The color was vibrant. The rich, deep rose color stood out in the trial beds. The ultra-large flowers provided more color and impact in the garden. ‘Rose Marvel’ also has a long flowering window for extended enjoyment.

Best overall performance

Coreopsis SunSwirl (Dümmen Orange), Smith Gardens

Great habit with large yellow pom pom flowers. The plants did not split like coreopsis have the tendency to do, and it was a definite showstopper in the gardens.

Dianthus Rockin’ Red (PanAmerican Seed), Mast Young Plants

Dianthus Rockin’ Red is a dynamite velvety red dianthus from PanAmerican Seed that is hardy to Zone 5 and very heat tolerant, flowering throughout the summer. It grows to about 2 feet tall and can be used in combos or as a back of the border garden plant.

Dianthus Rockin’ Red (Kieft Seed), The Gardens at Ball

Vivid red color on knee-high plants. Had a soft fragrance as well. This barbatus interspecific variety works great as a perennial border plant with durable performance and it reliably overwinters to Zone 5. The blooms are lacy on top of full and long-lasting plants.

Echinacea Kismet Raspberry (Terra Nova Nurseries), North Carolina State University

These compact coneflowers were covered in clear raspberry-colored flowers. They started blooming in June and there was still some sporadic flowering occurring in mid-September. The plants are very uniform in size.

Echinacea Sombrero Sangrita (Darwin Perennials), The Gardens at Ball

Excellent presentation – the burgundy flower stems really stood out. The Sombrero series is well-known for its compact and floriferous habit, with rich, bright colors. It attracts birds and other pollinators, too. A great native choice for full-sun gardens.

Heuchera PRIMO ‘Black Pearl’ (Proven Winners), Walters Gardens

We were wowed right away by the visuals of this plant, and once we got it into production, we continued to be impressed. In our trials, when we found we could finish this plant from a plug to a gallon container in 6 weeks in summer, we were floored. It truly lives up to the PRIMO name of larger, vigorous plants. Additionally, its glossy black foliage makes it easy to get ‘Black Pearl’ to look showy in a container.

Portulaca ‘Colorblast Double Magenta’ (Westhoff), Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden