Best Plants For A Meadow Garden

The right mix of plants brings a meadow to beautiful, colorful life. Design your meadow garden with year-round interest by choosing plants like these.

Photo By: Chicago Botanic Garden at ChicagoBotanic.org

Photo By: Walters Gardens, Inc. at PerennialResource.com

Photo By: Ernst Benary at Benary.com

Photo By: All-America Selections at All-AmericaSelections.org

Photo By: BlondeAmbitionGrass.com

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Ernst Benary at Benary.com

Photo By: Walters Gardens, Inc. at PerennialResource.com

Photo By: Proven Winners at ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Chicago Botanic Garden at ChicagoBotanic.org

Bee Balm

A meadow garden literally buzzes with life, thanks to a host of insects that visit classic meadow bloomers like bee balm (Monarda). Plant native bee balm or cultivated varieties—both work well in a meadow and deliver strong season-long color. As the name suggests, bee balm beckons bees (and hummingbirds) by the dozens. Bee balm is a perennial hardy in Zones 3-9, depending on type.

Threadleaf Coreopsis

When planting perennials in your meadow, arrange them in drifts (clusters of three or more plants) to mimic Mother Nature’s planting schemes. This native perennial is ‘Crazy Cayenne’ Coreopsis verticillata, which opens sizzling orange flowers from spring to fall frost. Look for coreopsis varieties with blossoms in shades including red, gold, maroon, white and bicolor blends. A tough-as-nails performer, coreopsis is hardy in Zones 5-9.

Larkspur

Larkspur, a type of delphinium, brings beautiful blue hues to a meadow garden. Traditional larkspur flowers from spring into early summer, but this variety, ‘Summer Blues’ Delphinium grandiflorum, flowers through summer, withstanding heat and humidity. It’s a short-lived perennial, meaning it will last two to three years in the meadow, then disappear. To keep the blue show going strong, plan to tuck new plants into soil or let plants self-sow (most effective in regions with cool summers). Hardy in Zones 3-7.

Cosmos

For easy-growing color in a meadow, include some self-seeding annuals, like Cosmos bipinnatus. This pretty blend of pink-hued cosmos is known as ‘Sensation Mix.' A 1936 All-America Selections Winner, ‘Sensation Mix’ cosmos grows 3 to 4 feet tall, adding good height to a meadow. With cosmos, removing spent blooms will spur plants to flower more, but as the growing season winds down, it’s a good idea to let plants set seed, which will eventually drop and self-sow, ensuring a crop of color next year. Annual.

‘Blonde Ambition’ Grass And Artemisia

In a young meadow, open soil between perennials and native grasses provides places where weeds can take hold. That’s why it’s important to patrol new meadows and dig or pull weeds. This meadow features ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis; hardy in Zones 4-9) and silky wormwood (Artemisia frigida; hardy in Zones 3-10). Both of these perennials grow well in dry, sunny conditions. Placing silvery Artemisia in several spots throughout the meadow helps unify the planting, while using a drift of grass mimics a native meadow.

Black-Eyed Susan

Include black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia) in a meadow to provide sunny blooms all summer long. You’ll find several Rudbeckia species for sale, including popular ‘Goldsturm’ (R. fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’). It forms spreading clumps up to 2 feet wide and is hardy in Zones 4-9. When flowers fade, goldfinches and other seed-eating birds perch on seedheads and feast on seed. Faded seedheads look pretty in snow, adding winter interest to your meadow.

Zinnia

Many plants in a meadow are perfect for plucking and plunking into vases. Include annual zinnias for pops of color in your meadow, and you’ll have plenty of flowers for picking. Zinnias come in all shapes and sizes. For a variety with the size to stand out in a meadow, look to ‘Benary’s Giant’ zinnias (Zinnia elegans). This variety is ‘Benary’s Giant Scarlet.’ You’ll need to plant meadow annuals every year. For best results, sow seed at the proper time by following packet instructions.

Penstemon

Native penstemon is a go-to perennial for hot and dry spots in full sun, which makes it an ideal choice for meadow plantings. ‘Midnight Masquerade’ penstemon offers deep burgundy-purple leaves that sound a strong color note all season long. In early to midsummer, lavender flower spikes top the dark hued leaves. Penstemon is a hummingbird and bee favorite. Hardy in Zones 3-8. Mulch lightly in winter after the ground freezes to help plants survive.

Switch Grass

Every meadow needs a mix of native ornamental grasses, which provide food and shelter for insects, birds and other wildlife. An undemanding native grass is switch grass (Panicum virgatum). This variety is ‘Cheyenne Sky.’ It’s a clumping grass, which means it won’t overtake your meadow. Instead it grows just 18 inches wide and 36 inches tall. Blue-green leaves shift to wine-red in early summer. Seed plumes appear in late summer. Like most ornamental grasses, switch grass adds movement and winter interest to a meadow. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

New England Aster

Choose plants for your meadow so that you’ll have interest in every season. For fall, native New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) bursts into floral fireworks in shades from deep-violet to lavender-pink. Stems can grow up to 6 feet high, adding towering height to a meadow. Flowers appear in autumn, providing a nectar source for migrating monarch butterflies. Hardy in Zones 3-8.

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