Preserve it in the wild. Perpetuate it in your garden motto of the National Wildflower Research Center
There are a vast number of wildflowers suited to the varied climates of our continent more than 6,000 species are native to our fields and forests, meadows and prairies, deserts and wetlands. Your location has everything to do with which wildflowers will take root and thrive for you. It’s easy to choose plants that will fare well in your yard and garden?if you let nature inspire you.
To start, learn all that you can about wildflowers in your area. Visit a nature preserve to see what’s growing and get familiar with the climate and conditions of your own property. Do you have a wet spot in an otherwise dry yard for a moisture-seeking blue flag? A stone wall that could shelter a moss phlox? Heavy shade? (If so, don’t try to grow sun-lovers like black-eyed Susans there.)
Whether you want to grow a garden of wildflowers or just add a sprinkling of native beauty to your yard, consider some of the following cultivars, which are among the most outstanding and easiest-to-grow.
Nowhere is spring more welcomed than in the forested regions of the East and upper Midwest. Although their climates vary widely, these naturally shaded regions are home to plants that are at their peak in spring and early summer. Such moisture and acidic soil lovers will thrive in a shady backyard or a wet area.
Among the first to blossom are jack-in-the-pulpit, three-petal purple trillium, and native orchids, including the lady’s slipper. These are followed by red-and-yellow columbines, spreading carpets of foamflower, and aptly named spring beauty, which is native to parts of Canada and more than half of the United States.
As trees leaf out, graceful Solomon’s seal, brilliant cardinal flower, midsummer-blooming turtlehead, and many ferns make an appearance. As spring wildflowers die back, others bloom, like spectacular black cohosh, which produces feathery racemes 3 to 5 feet tall in moist, shaded areas.
North and South
Many wildflowers thrive up north, even in southern Canada. This cool region is also home to shade-tolerant Canada wild ginger, low-growing bunchberry, and widespread meadow anemone all hardy to Zone 2 or even 1. Later-blooming blue flag iris and wild bee balm need more sun to blossom but are great northern garden plants.
In the mountainous regions of southeastern states, wildflowers abound on the cool hillsides. Any gardener would welcome wild roses (for example, the pasture rose), scarlet gilia, or early Virginia bluebells. Vines of flamboyant, red-orange trumpet creeper and vigorous Virginia creeper, common throughout the South and all the way up to Canada, will easily adapt to different garden conditions.
America’s original prairies treeless western meadows where grass grew tall enough to hide a man on horseback have all but disappeared, but many of the dramatic, colorful plants that formed them remain to be welcomed into our gardens. Prairie plants tend to be hardy and deep-rooted and will withstand extremes of drought, wind, heat, and cold.
A prairie/meadow garden could be created with only perennial coneflowers, butterfly weed, and black-eyed Susans plus time. Perennials typically spend a year or so setting roots before they bloom. Immediate color would come with annuals such as bachelor’s buttons, baby blue eyes, or coreopsis, many of which will reseed naturally.
Once established, the perennials are easy to maintain. They need a minimum of 6 hours of full sun a day, no fertilizer (they have evolved in lean soil with good drainage), and no watering, even in periods of drought.
Water is a concern to gardeners everywhere, and growing natives that need little water makes good sense. Here are three: Tough western natives like yucca add spectacular sculptural foliage to any southern garden. Wild snapdragon will form dense spikes of brilliant red, pink, or purple tubular flowers from mid- to late summer in sandy or rocky soil in hot, sunny spots. Sprawling Ozark sundrops boast large, golden, cup-shape blossoms that open in the evening and close the next morning.
The “other” Daisie
Many brilliant meadow and prairie wildflowers have daisylike blossoms. These dazzlers bloom in gold, yellow, deep wine-red, and all of the colors in between and we’re not talking just about coneflowers and black-eyed Susans.
Gaillardia, also called blanket flower, produces showy discs in red, orange, and yellow and is adaptable to most sunny locations from Zones 3 to 9. Mexican hats (yes, they look like sombreros) grow easily from seed, make an excellent cut flower, and bloom from late spring to fall. They keep good company with lance-leaf coreopsis, another flower that naturalizes readily.
Don’t forget native asters and sunflowers, both in annual and perennial forms, dozens of which grow in full shade to full sun and in dry to wet soils, depending on the species.
Growing wildflowers is in no way a substitute for preserving them in their natural habitats, but it gives us gardeners a chance to help keep them alive while enjoying their vigor and beauty close to home. Never dig plants from the wild–it threatens their existence and isn’t usually successful. Instead, buy seeds or plants from a reputable nursery or seed company.
BEAUTY: Wildflowers have survived for centuries by luring pollinators with their showy sweetness. The gardener, too, appreciates their diverse colors, scents, and forms.
Wildflowers will thrive on their own if given the conditions that suit them. They’re adapted to survive bitterly cold winters and dry, hot summers and to resist drought and pests. They require minimal care while saving time, money, and critical resources.
Growing and admiring wildflowers keeps us informed of the seasonal rhythms of life around us. A native landscape is dynamic and varies from week to week and year to year.
Sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, and other sun lover: will grow at your fingertips, adding a joyful splash of color when you pot them in decorative containers.
(Turn the page to see selected plants for USDA Plant Hardiness Zones)
Plants for USDA Plant Hardiness Zones
Keep in mind that the Zones assigned to plants are not set in stone. Don’t be afraid to try growing a plant if you live just one Zone out of the range listed.
ZONES 1 TO 6
Low-growing bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
ZONES 2 TO 8
Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor)
Canada wild ginger (Asarum canadense)
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis)
Purple trillium (Trillium erectum)
Wild aster (Aster spp.)
ZONES 3 TO 8
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Lady’s slipper (Cypripedium spp.)
Moss phlox (Phlox subulata)
Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
Wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)
ZONES 3 TO 9
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Canada columbine (Aquilegea canadensis)
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
Lance-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
Perennial coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
Virginia bluebells (Mertensia pulmonarioides)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
ZONES 4 TO 9
Ozark sundrop (Oenothera macrocarpa)
Pasture rose (Rosa carolina)
Red-orange trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)
Wild snapdragon (Penstemon spp.)
ZONES 5 TO 9
Beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata)
Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera)
Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata)
ZONES 6 TO 9
Pale yucca (Yucca pallida)
Showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa)
See the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map on page 118.