Wisconsin Gardener’s Best Picks for Full Sun Perennials


Wisconsin's sunny gardens can flourish with the right selection of perennials.

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Ever spent hours online searching for the best full-sun perennials that can thrive in Wisconsin’s unique weather extremes? Are you stumped by the sheer number of plants to choose from and wishing someone could just provide a tried-and-tested list? I hear you.

Good news! As a seasoned Wisconsin gardener, I’ve got the skinny on some truly fabulous perennial powerhouses that bask in the sun and stay sturdy through our tough winters.

In this blog post, you’ll learn about beautiful full sun Wisconsin perennials such as:

Ready to give your garden the makeover it deserves? Well, let’s get started!

purple cone flowers

Coneflowers (Echinacea Purpurea)

Next on our list of must-have perennials is the glorious Coneflower. Coneflowers are a quintessential garden favorite noted for their sturdy composition and striking display of large, daisy-like blooms. They’re the perfect candidates for full sun exposure in Wisconsin. Here’s why:

  • Durable and Resilient: Like most native plants, Coneflowers are incredibly tough and adaptable. They thrive in the full sun but can also withstand bouts of cold weather, making them a prime choice for Wisconsin’s varying climate. Coneflowers are also known to be deer resistant which makes them a great choice for gardens with an abundance of wildlife.
  • Flower Power: When it comes to show-stopping bloom power, Coneflowers can’t be beaten. Each flower head is composed of dozens of petals arranged in a daisy-like pattern, making them the ideal choice for creating striking displays in your garden.
  • Prolific Blooms: From mid-summer till early fall, your garden will be filled with an abundance of vibrant pink to purple blooms. Their cheerful bright color livening up any landscape.
  • Attracts Pollinators: Coneflowers are a magical charm for beneficial pollinators. Be it bees, butterflies, or even birds; you’ll find these creatures frolicking about in your garden, thanks to these flowers!
  • Less Maintenance, More Bounty: Coneflowers aren’t too picky about soil conditions and require minimal care once established – a bonus for busy gardeners because they are low-maintenance perennials and love direct sunlight!
  • Excellent as Cut Flowers: Not only do these flowers enhance your garden, but they also make fantastic fresh-cut bouquets for your home!
Pro Tip: 

Coneflowers pair wonderfully with other sun-loving perennials such as Black-eyed Susans and Phlox. Implementing these combinations can create a stunning, dynamic visual spectacle that enhances your garden’s appeal.

So, if you’re looking to bring an immersive display of color to your garden, Coneflowers are indeed a top contender. They’re hardy and beautiful, and provide a sense of life and vibrancy that’s hard to beat!


big yellow flowers on Evening Primrose
Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Next, let’s talk about the splendid, Oenothera, common name; Evening Primrose. This perennial plant is a fantastic addition to Wisconsin gardens, especially for those areas bathed in full sun. Its stunning features make it a unique enhancer of your garden’s aesthetic appeal. Here’s why it stands out:

  • Vibrant Blooming: Evening Primrose live up to their name, presenting arrays of vivid yellow flowers that look like miniature suns. They typically bloom from late spring to early summer (sometimes mid-summer), turning your garden into a sunny spectacle during the growing season.
  • Low Maintenance: Extremely hardy, these perennial plants thrive in full sun and can tolerate dry, rocky soil. This tolerant nature combined with their resistance against pests makes them extremely low maintenance.
  • Attract Pollinators: Evening Primrose is a magnet for butterflies and other pollinators, encouraging biodiversity in your garden.
  • Adaptable: Besides thriving in full sun, Evening Primrose is also tolerant of partial shade. To a certain extent, this provides flexibility in terms of where you can plant them in your garden.
  • Night Blooming: An exciting characteristic of Evening Primrose is their habit of opening their blooms late in the afternoon and remaining so until the following morning. This feature creates a delightful visual experience during summer evenings.

Tip: Evening Primrose pairs beautifully with other perennials like Daylilies and Shasta Daisies. The combination of yellow and white blooms creates a refreshing and lively ambiance in your garden.

In conclusion, the bright, sunny personality of Evening Primrose can cheer up any garden space. They are delightfully simple to grow and maintain, making them a good choice for your Wisconsin full sun perennial garden.

Peonies (Paeonia)

Last but certainly not least, we have Peonies— an adored gem in the world of perennials. Famed for their colossal, mesmerizing blooms, these plants are often the star of any garden! They come in a variety of colors and are easy to grow. Here’s why Peonies earn their spot in my list of the best Wisconsin full-sun perennials:

  • Impressive Blooms: With their large, beautiful flowers that range from pure white to intense reds and vibrant pinks, Peonies are truly a feast for the eyes. Their ruffled petals create a sense of luxury and romance in the garden.
  • Hardy and Long-Lived: Peonies are incredibly resilient; once planted, they can prosper for several decades, making them a long-term investment for your garden.
  • Diversity of Varieties: Numerous varieties of Peonies exist, each offering unique colors and shapes. From single to double forms and from Tree Peonies to Herbaceous and Itoh, your options are plenty. This makes them versatile and adaptable to different garden themes.
  • Fragrant: Besides their visual appeal, Peonies are also loved for their enchanting fragrance, filling your garden with delightful scents throughout their blooming period. They also make great cut flowers!
  • Low Maintenance: Once established, Peonies are relatively carefree hardy plants. They appreciate full sun and well-drained soil but can handle less-than-ideal conditions.

In essence, the charm and allure of Peonies are difficult to resist. With their gorgeous blooms and captivating scent, they provide a level of elegance unmatched in the garden. For Wisconsin gardeners aiming for a beautiful and low-maintenance explosion of color, Peonies are a choice that will not disappoint in our hardiness zones.

pink peonies in a vase

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy,’ scientifically known as Sedum telephium, is a popular perennial plant known for its striking appearance and low-maintenance qualities. Here’s some information about this particular Sedum variety:

  • Foliage: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ features succulent, fleshy green leaves that are thick and slightly rounded. The leaves are typically arranged in whorls or clusters along the stems.
  • Flowers: One of the standout features of this plant is its unique flower heads. In late summer to early fall, the flat, broccoli-like flower clusters emerge. These clusters start off as pink buds and gradually change to a dusty rose or coppery-pink color as they mature. The flower heads persist well into the winter, providing interest even in colder months.
  • Pollinators Love Them: Sedum plants are known for their ability to attract pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies. Sedums produce clusters of small, nectar-rich flowers that are highly appealing to these beneficial insects.
  • Hardiness & Sunshine: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is known for its resilience and ability to thrive in various climates. It’s considered a hardy perennial and can withstand frost and cold temperatures. This Sedum variety prefers full sun to partial shade. It tends to perform best when exposed to ample sunlight, which encourages strong growth and vibrant flower colors.
  • Maintenance: Well-draining soil is crucial for the health of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’ It can tolerate somewhat poor or rocky soil conditions, making it a suitable choice for gardens with less-than-ideal soil quality. This Sedum variety is appreciated for its low-maintenance nature. Pruning is typically not necessary, but you can cut back the dead flower heads in late winter or early spring to promote new growth.

In summary, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a popular and reliable perennial plant valued for its unique appearance, hardiness, and low-maintenance requirements. Its late-season blooms and attractive foliage make it a great addition to gardens, particularly in regions with variable weather conditions, such as Wisconsin.

blooming Sedum 'Autumn Joy' plant
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

Ornamental Grasses

Finally, for those looking for something to add texture and interest to the garden, Ornamental Grasses are a great choice. With their graceful swaying in the breeze, they bring a unique beauty to the landscape. And because they are low maintenance and drought tolerant, Ornamental Grasses do not require a lot of effort or water to keep them looking their best. Whether it’s an Ornamental Grass for screening or one planted as an accent, these realtively fast-growing perennials will have you enjoying your garden all year long!

Choosing the best ornamental grass for Wisconsin depends on several factors, including the specific location within the state, soil type, and personal preferences. However, there are several ornamental grasses that tend to perform well in Wisconsin’s climate and can add beauty and interest to your garden. Here are a few popular options:

  1. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): Switchgrass is a native grass that’s well-suited to Wisconsin’s climate. It’s known for its tall, upright growth and feathery seed heads. Varieties like ‘Shenandoah’ offer reddish-purple foliage in the fall, adding extra visual appeal.
  2. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium): Another native grass, Little Bluestem, is well-adapted to Wisconsin’s conditions. It has striking blue-green foliage that turns to shades of orange and red in the fall. It’s a relatively low-maintenance grass. This grass will not do well in full shade – it loves its sunshine!
  3. Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis): This native grass is appreciated for its fine, arching foliage and delicate seed heads. It’s drought-tolerant and provides a natural, prairie-like aesthetic to your garden.
  4. Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora): Feather Reed Grass is a non-native grass that does well in Wisconsin. It forms dense, upright clumps and produces elegant, feathery flower spikes in late summer. Varieties like ‘Karl Foerster’ are popular for their vertical growth and attractive seed heads.
  5. Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens): This grass stands out with its striking blue-gray foliage. It prefers full sun and good drainage, making it an ideal choice for sunny spots in your garden. Its airy seed heads add texture to the landscape during the summer months, and its low-maintenance nature makes it a great addition to any Wisconsin garden.

When selecting an ornamental grass for your Wisconsin garden, consider factors such as sun exposure, soil type, water availability, and the overall design of your landscape. Native grasses are often well-adapted to local conditions and provide habitat and food for local wildlife. Additionally, incorporating a mix of grasses with varying heights, textures, and colors can create a visually appealing and dynamic landscape. Consulting with a local nursery or gardening expert can also help you choose the best ornamental grass for your specific location in Wisconsin.

Feather Reed Grass
Feather Reed Grass


With a rich variety of hardy perennials that thrive in full sun, Wisconsin gardens can be a sight to behold in colorful bloom. In this article, we walked through some of the best perennials for your Wisconsin garden:

  • Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’: This perennial adds color during the late summer and fall, brightening your outdoor space with minimal care.
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea Purpurea): A sturdy species that can withstand the changing Wisconsin climate while adding a lovely aesthetic.
  • Evening Primrose (Oenothera fruticosa): These sunny additions are perfect for bringing bright pops of color from spring through summer.
  • Peonies (Paeonia): These much-loved plants, with their huge, striking blooms, can transform your garden into a vibrant and fragrant treat in full sun.

Remember, plant with love and patience, and Mother Nature will reward you kindly. Happy gardening!


When’s the best time to plant these perennials?

The ideal time to plant most perennials is during the spring or fall when the weather in Wisconsin is mild enough to let the plants establish their roots without extreme temperature stress. However, it is essential to follow specific planting instructions for each plant to ensure success.

What type of soil do these perennials need?

Most perennials prefer well-drained soil enriched with organic matter, such as compost or peat moss. However, some plants like the Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ can also tolerate poor soil conditions.

How to care for these perennials during winter?

Perennials are winter-hardy, but to give them an extra layer of protection, consider adding a layer of mulch around the base of your plants after the ground freezes. Depending on the specific plant, you might also need to cut back dead foliage in the late fall or early spring.

Will the perennials bloom in the first year?

Most perennials spend their first year establishing a root system and may not flower extensively until their second year. But don’t get disheartened — the beauty these plants offer in their full bloom will be worth the wait!

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