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Natives are resilient and pest resistant, take less watering and care, and will reward you with an April through October blooming season. With some 250 native prairie plants (translate prairie as “sun-loving”) to choose from, which plants are the must-haves for the average garden?
It depends upon your preferences, of course. Do you like a fiery red-orange theme, as do many butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators? Or, are you happier with a restful pastel, purple-blue color scheme? Perhaps a fragrant garden or an all-white spirit-soothing display? Mix all three for a patriotic garden. Tall or short. Full season blooms or a big burst of color for a few weeks in mid-summer.
It’s hard to choose. But the following picks include early spring to late fall blooms, a monarch necessity (the milkweed), and a complementary yellow-purple color scheme. Keep in mind the benefits to wildlife, including pollinators, as well as to holding soil and improving water quality.
1. Golden Alexander, Zizia aurea, is a great choice for an early bloomer. Growing 1 to 3 feet tall, its yellow blooms resemble a small Queen Anne’s lace. Blooms April to June.
2. Three deep purple petals top spiderwort, Tradescantia ohioensis. Don’t be fooled by the name, spiderwort’s delicate flowers are attractive at the front of the garden. Blooms April to July, growing 1 to 2 feet tall.
3. Add a milkweed. Choose yellow-orange butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, for most garden moisture conditions. Pink to rose-colored swamp milkweed, A. incarnate, is the best choice for wet or poorly drained soils. Blooms attract many butterfly species, but hide potentially ragged foliage at the back of the garden—hoping monarchs will find them allowing caterpillars to chow down on this essential food. Bloom June to August. A. tuberosa grows 2 to 3 feet tall, A. incarnata reaches 3 to 5 feet.
4. Celebrate the Fourth of July with a bouquet of wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. Each lavender bloom resembles a cascade of fireworks. Also called horsemint, Monarda, like other mints, is square-stemmed and has a pleasing fragrance. Blooms July to August, standing 1 to 3 feet tall.
5. Pick gray-headed or yellow coneflower, Ratibida pinnata, or black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, for splashes of brilliant summer and fall color. The coneflower head has an anise or licorice fragrance when mature. Both are easy to establish. Coneflowers are taller, 3 to 4 feet, and bloom from June through September. Black-eyed Susan stands 1 to 2 feet tall and blooms longer, from June through October.
6. Pair bottle gentian, Gentiana andrewsii, or great blue lobelia, Lobelia syphilitica, with black-eyed Susans or yellow coneflowers. The brilliant deep purple gentian and blue lobelias contrast nicely with the yellows for stunning fall bouquets and garden displays. Lobelia thrives in wetter soils, stands 2 to 3 feet tall and blooms August to September. Place gentian at the front as it stands only 1 to 2 feet tall, blooming August to October.
7. Finally, choose between New England aster, Aster novae-angliae, a purply-pink 2- to 4-foot tall aster, and stiff goldenrod,Solidago rigida, for long-lasting fall color. Asters attract moths and butterflies. Both make great cut flowers. Stiff goldenrod stands 2 to 4 feet tall, blooming August to October. The asters have a shorter season, blooming September to October.
Learn more about planting native species to benefit pollinators through the Plant.Grow.Fly program.