Self-Seeding Plants for Prairie-Style Gardens
A prairie-style garden should be stuffed with plants. But it's hard to avoid the polka-dot groupings at first, and that's where the plants on this list come in. These meadow and prairie plants sprinkle their offspring here and there for you to either edit or let grow and help build a full garden. Getting an assist from self-sowers means keeping a watchful eye for seedlings among the weeds, but any keen gardener will notice similarities between the leaves of seedlings and parent plants. Here, a group of self-seeding plants that thrive in prairies and meadows.
A big perennial that's tough as nails, false indigo kicks off summer with spires of pure blue (cultivars come in a variety of other colors). Its rounded form makes a great contrast to the verticality of prairie grasses. False indigo develops deep taproots, so site it in a spot for the long term. It self-seeds modestly, and it's safe to move seedlings when small. Grows up to 4 feet high and wide in Zones 3 to 9.
A small, graceful native with clusters of golden-yellow flowers in early summer, this plant promises clean, dark-green foliage all through the growing season. Golden Alexanders is also a food plant of the swallowtail butterfly. Grows up to 3 feet high and 2 feet wide in Zones 3 to 8.
A simple grass ideal for dry sites, Indian grass is a major component of the Midwest grass prairie. Its showy, tannish-yellow plumes appear to float above foliage in fall. Aside from self-seeding, its seeds are sought out by birds. Grows up to 5 feet high and 2 feet wide in Zones 4 to 9.
Purple Love Grass
In mid- to late summer, the plumes atop native love grass hover just above the ground, forming a carpet of magenta, the perfect complement to short, green blades. The grass's color turns brown by fall, and as the seed head matures it drops from the plant, forming tumbleweed that spreads new plants around the garden. Grows up to 2 feet high and wide in Zones 5 to 9.
A tall, airy plant, meadow rue blooms with stalks of pink flowers in summer, and makes for great garden drama en masse. Grows up to 6 feet high and 3 feet wide in Zones 4 to 7.
New York Ironweed
Towering spires topped with the clearest purple characterize this giant wildflower. Blooming in August and September, ironweed provides much-needed nectar to bees late in the growing season. Grows up to 6 feet high and 4 feet wide in Zones 5 to 9.
With clear-blue flowers in early summer, this easygoing perennial has fleshy, almost succulent foliage that makes it an excellent partner to fine-textured grasses. This species in particular thrives in dry soil. Grows up to 3 feet high and 30 inches wide in Zones 4 to 9.
Northern Sea Oats
If you're looking to plant a prairie- or meadow-style garden in shade, Northern sea oats is an ideal choice. While most grasses prefer sun, this plant does well even in part shade. True to its name, it prefers damp soil, but will take dry in shade. In fall, its flat, fishtail-like seed heads are especially ornamental. Grows up to 5 feet high and 30 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
A gorgeous milkweed with fragrant pink flowers, this plant ups the ante with white foliage, too. Milkweeds are the host plant for monarch butterflies, and their flowers provide nectar for many pollinators. Grows up to 3 feet high and 18 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Stunning magenta flower cups appear on this small, easy-to-grow plant all through summer. Wine cups works especially well in sunny sites with less-than-ideal soil, complementing small grasses in polite clumps. Grows up to 1 foot high and 3 feet wide in Zones 4 to 8.