Forecast: Sunny Plants

Last year, creating the hardscaped areas outside was our largest, most time-consuming task.  We created a waterfall with hidden pond, built a reclaimed beam deck, added a bocce court, and spread tons (and tons!) of limestone rock.


With the major components in place, we are free to start adding plants.  At least in most areas.  We still can’t plant against the house because they’d get trampled while working on the new siding.  Womp, womp.



Can I get a “Finally!” though?  While we think the rock is better to look at than the very patchy dirt and grass of yore, it feels rather desolate and… unfinished.



I’ve been shopping around town for perennial plants that fit these criteria: 1.  Must tolerate full (6+ hours) sun.  2.  Drought tolerant and/or deer resistant because those four-legged friends show up often around our house.  3.  Can handle the cold weather we get come winter (we’re in zone 4).  4.  I also want a variety of sizes, texture, color, and bloom times.

My stops included several local greenhouses, Home Depot, and Lowe’s.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the variety both home improvement stores had this year.  In fact, most, if not all, of my top twelve picks are available at the big retailers.  No need to track them down at a special store.


1.  Spirea is a shrub, growing 1 to 4 feet tall with colorful flowers.  Hearty in zones 4-9.  The green leaves are pretty spring through fall with pink flowers showing up in the summer.  Also somewhat drought tolerant needing weekly waterings once established.

2.  Lupine is a perennial with colorful, showy flowers.  Grows 18 to 24 inches tall in zones 4-9.  Adding colorful flowers to brighten up areas will break up the green.

3.  Nest Spruce, an evergreen can grow 3 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide.  It’s bright color contrasts with darker evergreens.  Good in zones 2-8.  We’ve already added five to the front of the bocce court.  Once mature, these will spread out and hopefully look like a green carpet year round.


4.  Blue Fescue is a low growing (6 inches tall) ornamental grass.  Both drought tolerant and deer resistant it adds color along borders in zones 4-8.  I’d love to plant a row of ornamental grasses, including Blue Fescue along the edge of the bocce court.

5.  Yarrow, a flowering groundcover can reach heights of 2 to 3 feet and spreads up to 5 feet wide.  Bright flowers are ideal for cutting.  Grows in zones 3-9.  To add some color along the front walk, I picked up two yarrow.  While small now, they should cover the rock well in a few years.

6.  Lavender  is known for fragrant flowers, but did you know it is also an evergreen?  Growing 3 to 3 1/2 feet tall and wide this low water mounding perennial is hearty in zones 4-9.  After we finish the siding, I think a few lavender plants along the house would look and smell amazing.


7.  Purpleleaf Sand Cherry  A tall shrub, 5 feet wide by 8 feet tall, with deep purple leaves in summer and fall, grown in zones 4-7.  We’re nursing a scraggly Sand Cherry back to life.  The color is just stunning.

8.  Salvia  Pretty and vibrant violet flowers grow on this mounding perennial.  At 18 inches tall to 24 inches wide this plant packs a punch in zones 4-9.  All over our neighborhood, I see Salvia in yards and along borders.  I’m certain it will do well here.

9.  Sedum ‘Angelina’ Stonecrop  This wonderfully bright chartreuse groundcover stays 6-10 inches tall spreading up to 16 inches.  Surprisingly cold hearty, growing in zones 3-11.  The bright color and texture of this plant had me at hello.  The one by the waterfall has already grown about 50% bigger.


10.  Dwarf Daylily  With bright green leaves and trumpet-shaped flowers, these fast growing plants are ideal for borders.  Only 15 to 24 inches and grow in zones 3-9.  Several lilies would work very well along the back walkway.

11.  Lamb’s Ears  Silvery green fuzzy leaves are an interesting low growing (8 to 10 inches tall) groundcover in zones 4-8.  While the flowers aren’t anything special, the texture of these make me want several.  Perhaps planted on the slope along the driveway?

12.  Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’  Commonly used as a border plant, this fleshy leaf plant grows 18 to 24 inches tall and wide.  Easy care and low water usage when established in zones 4-11.  I’ve deemed the area along the back rock steps my succulent garden and planted several varieties, including this sedum variety.


Of course there are many (many!) more plants that could work.  These are just the twelve currently on my radar and in my mental shopping cart.

Plants don’t have to cost an arm or a leg either; the most I’ve paid for one plant so far is $20.  Sure, the smaller the plant, the less it’ll cost.  But Home Depot had large Nest Spruce evergreens for about 25 bucks each.  Costco also has good deals on plants in the spring.  For the 45 or so plants I’ve already purchased, I think I’ve spent around $350 total.  Most are in the 5 to 9 dollar range, so they’re affordable.  In a few years, they should fill out more.

Keep your receipts, too as most stores have a one year warranty policy for perennials.  Also, check Craigslist for people looking to get rid of plants they already have.  Friends may also have plants to split and share.  A friend recently gave me 4 hostas, 4 hydrangea plants, several peonies, and a large boxwood.  My mom said she can divide her large hostas to share with us, too.  We have one smaller shade area (along the back of the house), that I’d like to turn into a hosta/fern/lily of the valley garden.

What are your favorite sun plants?  If you like this round-up, I’m working on part sun and shade plants, too.

9 thoughts on “Forecast: Sunny Plants

  1. I read your blog everyday but I don’t think I’ve commented before. I live in the same growing zone as you do but in Canada. Here, lupines run rampant so you have to be careful of spreading if you don’t want that. Also, sand cherry is very hard to keep here, I think it should be zone 6. Good luck with your plantings!

    1. Hi Debra!

      Thanks for the warning! Lupine can go crazy here, too; I think I’ll plant it in a space I want to fill in. Sand cherry seems to grow really well here. Many houses around town have them and they are big and mature. Hopefully we’ll be able to get one or two to grow. 🙂


    1. Hello Adrienne!

      It seems hard if you have several requiremets to work around. Look around your town and neighborhood to see what grows well in your area. That’s a great starting point. Once you know what it is and the info, you can find similar plants.


  2. THANK YOU for pulling all this info together. We’re in Zone 4 and just bought a foreclosure that needs serious outside work. I’m originally from Michigan and know what grows well there, but was struggling to gather great options for our Wyoming climate. Bonus – thanks to the pic above, I’m pretty sure one of our mystery plants is Lamb’s Ear!

  3. Hi! I found your blog on HB, Congratulations! That’s the first page I turn to when I get my HB in the mail. I am very interested to read these plant choices since I moved to Seattle recently, we’re 8a. The problem I have is full sun against a white house, it creates a different microclimate that I don’t understand.
    We have lots of lavender, you won’t actually smell it walking by but you can always grab some and squeeze it and smell it, lovely. It blooms at least 8 months out the year here I think. What we find delightful is the honey bees love it! When it starts to die back, some people wack it very nearly to the ground, I prune the tops off and try to make little green mounds. It spreads around also, but not obnoxiously.

  4. We just finished building our house south of Billings, and we have no well or city water, so I’m struggling to find ways to landscape without breaking our water budget. Currently our land has one, sad little juniper that we tried to build around, and tall grasses interspersed with a few, tiny cacti. This list of yours is definitely helpful, and I’m looking forward to working on the garden this spring. My husband just wants to throw gravel everywhere because it’s currently a mud pit outside our home, but I’m trying to convince him we need to take a step back and creat some curb appeal (despite being way off the main road). I’d love to see how your garden has changed over the past four years, and what you’ve learned from it!

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