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Jessica Walliser

5 tall, must-have perennials to add this season

Jessica Walliser
| Saturday, June 2, 2018, 10:45 a.m.
Tatarian asters are favorite of butterflies and it’s incredibly easy to grow in average garden conditions, as long as the site receives full sun.
Jessica Walliser
Tatarian asters are favorite of butterflies and it’s incredibly easy to grow in average garden conditions, as long as the site receives full sun.

The merits of perennials are many. Though they are more expensive than annual plants, perennials return to the garden year after year, often increasing in size, making them a long-term investment that pays big dividends.

In most cases, perennials are often more drought tolerant than annuals, and they can be divided from time to time, giving you lots of free plants to spread around the garden or share with friends.

There are tens of thousands of different perennials to choose from, with flowers and foliage in just about every color of the rainbow and bloom times from early spring through fall's first frosts. But color and bloom-time aren't the only factors to consider when it comes to perennials.

Another trait I always take into consideration when selecting perennials for my garden is the plant's mature height. From a design stand-point, height is a huge factor. Good perennial garden design does not create a flat plane, with all of the blooms on the same level. Instead, a beautiful perennial garden has layers of flowers, with varying heights, blended together.

Newbie gardeners are often told to keep the tall plants toward the back of the border and the shorter plants toward the front, and while that's solid advice, especially when it comes to retaining your view, the rules don't have to be that rigid. Try putting a tall plant at mid-border and see the depth it adds to the garden. Don't be afraid to pull taller plants forward in your garden beds, just be sure to keep them away from paths, street-sides or other areas where an open line of sight is essential.

If you'd like to add some taller perennials to your garden, here are a few of my favorites.

1. Tatarian asters (Aster tataricus): This incredible perennial is one of the latest blooming plants in the garden. Reaching about 6 feet in height, it doesn't come into flower until September. But, when it does, the tall, stocky stems are covered in small lavender blooms with yellow centers. The butterflies adore this plant and it's incredibly easy to grow in average garden conditions, as long as the site receives full sun.

2. Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani): A towering, full-sun perennial that's smothered in 3-inch-wide, sunny yellow flowers late in the season, Maximilian sunflowers stand tall at 6 to 8 feet in height. Beneficial insects and pollinators adore this tall plant and the blooms look great in a vase, too.

3. Herbstonne black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia “Herbstonne”): Unlike the common black-eyed Susans found in many gardens, this variety is far less ubiquitous. Reaching up to 7 feet in height, “Herbstonne” blooms from June through August in sunny beds. The flowers are bright yellow with green centers, and the petals curve downward.

4. False Aster (Boltonia asteroides): Smothered in small white blooms with yellow centers, this tall perennial is often mistaken for an aster. The star-like flowers occur in late summer and last through autumn, creating great nectar forage for late-season pollinators. The 4-to-5-foot tall foliage is gray-green and very sturdy, too. Full sun is best.

5. Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus): If you're looking to add height to a shady border, goatsbeard may be the best choice. Topping out between 4 and 6 feet in height, the plant produces massive plumes of airy white flowers in early summer. The finely cut foliage looks much like that of a super-tall astilbe, but goatsbeard is a perennial all its own.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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