10 Native Plants You Need to Be Growing

Try easy-growing native plants to add perennial color to your yard. Once established, natives give much in return for minimal care.

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: MtCubaCenter.org

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Butterfly Weed

Welcome butterflies and a host of other pollinators (including bees) by planting butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Despite the name, this native plant doesn’t behave like a weed, taking over a garden. Plants are slow to emerge in spring, appearing long after other plants. It’s a good idea to mark its spot to avoid disturbing it. Removing spent blooms keeps the flower show going, but stop in early fall to let seeds form. Seed pods make a nice addition to fall wreaths or arrangements. This is a host plant for monarch butterflies, feeding both caterpillars and adult butterflies. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall by 1 to 2 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

Variegated Solomon’s Seal

An ideal native for moist or dry shade, variegated solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum 'Variegatum’) offers season-long interest. White, sweetly fragrant blooms open along stems in spring, luring pollinators and hummingbirds. Variegated leaves look terrific from spring to fall, when they shift to gold tones. Flowers fade to form dark berries. Plants spread slowly by rhizomes (underground stems) to form a drift of leafy beauty. Pick individual stems for the vase. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall and up to 1 foot wide. Hardy in Zones 3-9.

Lupine

For cool-region gardens, it’s tough to beat the stunning spring beauty of lupine. This native sends up flower spikes in a host of hues, including purple, white and pink. Lupines unfurl strongly textural leaves with finger-like edges. Dew and raindrops pool in leaf centers, adding sparkle to plants. This native readily self-sows, delivering different colors in future generations. Sow this beauty in drifts so you can cut flower spikes for the vase, where they linger up to two weeks. Look for varieties that grow to different sizes. This pretty pink bloomer is Lupinus polyphyllus 'Minarette’. It grows 18 inches tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 3-7.

Wild Blue Indigo

Known as blue wild indigo or blue false indigo (Baptisia australis), this native perennial achieves shrub size each growing season. Plants sink a deep tap root that searches out water to fuel top growth. Blue flower spikes appear in late spring, blending beautifully with the blue-green leaves. More stems appear each year, creating a full, lush plant. Snip blooms or branches for the vase. Grows 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9. Look for new and smaller varieties with flowers in shades of pink, purple, yellow and brown.

Bee Balm

Bee balm (Monarda didyma) is a buffet of color and activity in the garden, beckoning all kinds of pollinators, including hummingbirds, butterflies and bumblebees. This bloomer kicks off the flower show in midsummer, ultimately sending up multiple flowers from a single stem. It makes a great addition to a bouquet, lasting a week or more in a vase. Bee balm comes in a host of colors, including pink, lavender, purple and red shades. Choose varieties that have good powdery mildew resistance. Look for varieties from short to this average size 'Raspberry Wine’ bee balm, which grows 36 to 48 inches tall by 18 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8.

Black-Eyed Susan

Tough as nails and a strong bloomer, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) belongs in every garden. This native beauty adds sunny shades to the summer garden, with flowers that lure butterflies and all manner of bees. Blossoms make a great addition to the vase and continue to open until fall frost if you faithfully remove spent blooms. Seedheads attract goldfinches and other seed-eating birds. Grows 24 to 36 inches tall by 12 to 24 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 3-7.

Purple Coneflower

If you only grow one native plant, it should be purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). This classic beauty is well-known for its immune-boosting effects, but in gardening circles, it’s famous for its wildlife appeal. Pollinators of all sorts visit the flowers, and goldfinches flock to feast on hedgehog-like seedheads. The blooms make long-lasting additions to summer bouquets. Grows 24 to 60 inches tall by 18 to 24 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 3-8. Look for new varieties that grow to shorter sizes and open flowers in a rainbow of colors.

Ironweed

For late season color, it’s tough to beat New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis). This native plant hails from the Eastern part of the country; choose Western ironweed for gardens in the Great Plains and West. Purple flowers start opening in late summer and linger into fall, providing a late season nectar source for butterflies and other pollinating insects. Watch for migrating hummingbirds to visit this bloomer. Goldfinches and sparrows feast on the seed. Use ironweed in the back of the border or wildlife garden. Grows 4 to 7 feet tall by 2 to 4 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 5-8.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is a beautiful late-season native that adds color to gardens in late summer and fall. 'Fireworks’ goldenrod is a relative newcomer, opening flowers on long, arching stems. It’s a favorite among pollinators and also seed-eating birds. Many goldenrods spread aggressively in the garden, but 'Fireworks’ has a tamer habit, slowly spreading to form clumps. Don’t worry that goldenrod will stoke seasonal allergies—it won’t. The real culprit behind fall pollen allergies is ragweed. 'Fireworks’ grows to 3 feet tall and up to 2 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

Aster

Aster is a favorite among bees and butterflies, serving late-season nectar that’s vital to insect survival during cool autumn nights. It’s a perfect companion for goldenrod and black-eyed Susan. Choose varieties in a range of hues, including blue, lavender, pink and white. Early research shows that lavender-tinted blooms seem to attract more pollinators than other colors. Look for short aster varieties that don’t need staking. Otherwise, give tall asters an early summer pruning to reduce final height (and avoid staking). This is Kickin’ 'Lavender’ aster, which grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

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