15 Best Plants for Flower Beds

single pale pink echinacea flower in field with other flowers

Treehugger / Autumn Wood

Flower beds make wonderful additions to an outdoor space, providing vibrant pops of color and floral arrangements that give the feeling of springtime year-round.

Your climate and willingness to maintain a flower bed should both be taken into account when planning out a design. Do you want annuals, for example, that will bloom during the peak of summer? Or perennials that have a shorter bloom time but return every year? Do you have long dry spells in the summer, or do you live in a wet zone?

Here are 15 of the best plants for flower beds, their required level of maintenance, and their preferred USDA Plant Hardiness Zones.

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

of 15

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Bunches of orange marigolds in bloom
Simon McGill / Getty Images

Also known as pot marigolds, calendula plants are about as bright and cheery as they come. Plant these sun-loving annuals in early spring along with bulb plants like tulips and daffodils, and pinch back the long stems of young plants to promote bushy growth with more blossoms.

Calendula marigolds are great for companion planting alongside tomatoes and have even historically been used for culinary purposes themselves.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Average, well-drained soil.
of 15

Geranium (Pelargonium)

Close-up of geranium flowers in red, pink, and white
Nenov / Getty Images

Classic and romantic, the soft petals of geranium flowers have been a flower bed staple for longer than a century. While the plants may look delicate, they are actually quite hardy and enjoy hot weather, even holding up in dry conditions.

Most varieties are grown as annuals that will bloom all season during the summer, though there are some perennial versions that can grow in either sun or shade. 

  • USDA Growing Zones: 10 and 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
of 15

Ornamental Sage (Salvia)

Blue salvia flowers framing a walking path
Thang Tat Nguyen / Getty Images

There are nearly 1,000 different varieties of ornamental sage, and while they come in both annual and perennial types, almost all of them share the same signature jewel-toned colors ranging from blue and purple to red and white.

These long-stemmed flowers are also extremely drought resistant and can spread rapidly if left unchecked. Be aware, however, that most of the ornamental versions are inedible, unlike classic culinary sage leaves. 

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Slightly acidic to neutral, well-drained soil.
of 15

Bee Balm (Monarda)

Purple bee balm blossoms growing in cluster
Cyndi Monaghan / Getty Images

When choosing the best plants for your flower bed, it helps to plant with a purpose. Attract pollinators by incorporating native flowers like bee balm (also known as Monarda), a favorite among bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Its unique, open-shaped flowers have tubular petals in shades of red, pink, purple, and white. Best of all, bee balm plants are perennial, so they will come back every year from July until the end of summer.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining soil.
of 15

Garden Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)

A cluster of pretty pink cosmos flowers amongst greenery

saka / 500px / Getty Images

Another pollinator favorite, cosmos have sweet saucer-shaped flowers that come in shades of red, orange, white, pink, and bicolor. They look similar to daisies. The bright flowers are contrasted by their thick deep-green foliage with feathery stalks that can reach up to six feet in height.

Usually grown from seed, varieties of cosmos come in both annual and perennial iterations. They are easy enough to maintain that they’re often used in children’s gardens to help teach them about plants.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, neutral to alkaline soils.
of 15

Garden Mums (Chrysanthemum)

Close-up of orange Chrysanthemum flowers clustered in bush
Kanchanalak Chanthaphun / EyeEm / Getty Images

Perfect for an autumn garden, chrysanthemums are herbaceous perennials that are a welcomed addition to flower beds after the summer flowers have gone. Depending on the variety, garden mums will bloom between September and October when planted in early spring. They can be pinched back to make them bushier and thicker.

These plants require a lot of water, however, and soil should remain moist but not soggy.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9. 
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, and well-draining.
of 15

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Red yarrow flowers growing on leggy stems
ChristopherBernard / Getty Images

One of the easiest flowers to care for, yarrow is a perennial that doesn’t need to be fertilized and only needs watering during periods of drought. The blossoms range from golden yellow to white, with groupings of tightly packed tiny flowers that tend to tower over its foliage.

Yarrow leaves and flowers can be eaten fresh in salads or as a garnish. They're also often dried and ground into a spice that tastes similar to tarragon.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Sandy and well-draining.
of 15

Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)

Field of densely packed black-eyed Susans
Nikki O'Keefe Images / Getty Images

Known for the dark stamens that stick out of petals colored with red, orange, and yellow, black-eyed Susans make a statement in a flower bed. The perennials require very little maintenance and are both deer resistant and drought tolerant, with the added perk of attracting birds to your garden.

Because they tend to bloom just as summer flowers fade, black-eyed Susans are good indicators of fall.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to light shade.
  • Soil Needs: Neutral soil pH.
of 15

Peony (Paeonia)

Pink peony in a flower bed
Phil Carpenter / 500px / Getty Images

The fluffy flowers of the peony plant bloom from late spring through early summer, coming back year after year for up to a century when properly cared for.

These plants are great for flower beds because they are so resilient and fragrant, adding substantial pops of white, pink, red, purple, and yellow.

Give peonies plenty of room to grow as they can reach up to five feet across within their first 10 years of life, and rest assured they're bound to be in your garden for a while.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
of 15

Zinnias (Zinnia)

Cluster of pink zinnia flowers
bgwalker / Getty Images

Because zinnias are native to grasslands, they are extremely tough and can tolerate drought and poor soil very well. They also prefer full sun for the same reason.

With the exception of blue, zinnias come in virtually all colors, shapes, and sizes, reaching widths from 12 to 18 inches and blooming in either summer or fall. Be sure to provide well-draining soil when first planting zinnias, as they are prone to rotting if the ground gets too cool or wet.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-drained soil.
of 15

Daylilies (Hemerocallis)

Reddish-orange garland daylillies in thick foliage
Joesboy / Getty Images

While daylilies are relatively easy to maintain, most types have flowers that last only one day (as the name suggests) so many gardeners choose to grow a variety of different ones to provide a longer display of color. Other varieties rebloom continuously for months or twice a year.

Also known for their pleasant scent, daylilies have long delicate petals that come in shades of yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, white, and peach.

Note that some daylilies are considered invasive in some parts of North America. Before planting this flower, check with your regional extension office or local gardening center.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Slightly moist, well-drained.
of 15

Pansies (Viola tricolor)

Pansies blooming in a flower bed
Leonid Shkurikhin / EyeEm / Getty Images

Pansies have a short growing season, but that doesn’t mean they should be counted out when it comes to your flower bed.

These small soft flowers with heart-shaped petals come in multicolored combinations of white, yellow, purple, and blue. Most bloom from spring to early summer.

Pansies are compact plants, growing close to the ground, which makes them perfect for edging into smaller areas or between pathways.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Slightly acidic, well-draining, and loose.
of 15

Coneflowers (Echinacea)

Pink and purple coneflowers growing in a meadow
Clive Nichols / Getty Images

You’ve probably heard of perennial coneflowers, otherwise known as echinacea. Native to North America, coneflower foliage has a lovely blue-green hue and the flowers boast a pinkish-purple color (though there are more recently bred variations ranging from red and orange to white and yellow).

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained, neutral soil.
of 15

Bearded Iris (Iris germanica)

Close-up of purple and white bearded iris
Philippe Gerber / Getty Images

Probably the most popular plant in the iris family, the bearded iris is easy to grow in flower beds as long as it's given well-drained soil and plenty of sun (at least six to eight hours per day).

Bearded irises have overlapping, crinkly petals that look similar to tissue-paper flowers and should be planted in the late summer. There is a wide variety of colors and sizes and some are even rebloomers, meaning they will come back twice in one season. 

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Neutral, well-draining soil.
of 15

Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)

Bushy pink moss phlox flowers
Kris Gaethofs / Getty Images

Native to the East and Central U.S., phlox plants will make a low-maintenance, fragrant, bountiful addition to your perennial flower bed.

Although they are native to the U.S., certain varieties have been hybridized to withstand drought and resist mildew. These plants grow low to the ground but typically spread slowly (up to two feet across), so they won’t get too out of control if you’re using them as ground cover.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, rich soil.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Which is better for a flower bed, annuals or perennials?

    Annuals and perennials serve different purposes. Annuals offer eye-catching color whereas perennials offer the ease and value of not having to replant year after year. Interplant annuals with perennials for all-season brilliance and flexibility of maintenance.

  • When should you plant a flower bed?

    Most flowers should be planted in the spring, after the last frost and as soon as the soil warms to a workable temperature. Perennials can be planted in early fall in northern USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and in late fall in southern zones.

  • How do you arrange flowers in a flower bed?

    If you're working with both perennials and annuals, intersperse them for a balance of color. Plant taller varieties in the back, and mix colors, textures, and shapes to create dimension. When designing your flower bed, take sun and rain into account. Start by making a sun map of your garden so you know exactly which areas the sun will hit and when.

  • How much space do you give plants in a flower bed?

    Every plant has its own spacing requirements, but generally perennials need six to 12 inches for small varieties, 12 to 18 inches for medium-sized varieties, and 18 to 36 inches for tall varieties. The general rule for annuals is to take half their mature height and plant that distance apart.

  • What kind of soil should you put in a flower bed?

    Avoid using potting soil for flowers planted in the ground. Instead, mix topsoil in with the soil already in your flower bed.