Natives Worthy of Your Attention
True prairies in untamed western landscapes are largely populated by native, drought-tolerant grasses. Meadows, more common in the East, look similar but include a greater number of flowering perennials. Some native plants cross over between the two landscapes; these tend to be sun-loving, rugged, and low-maintenance. Here, a group of plants that stand out from the pack.
(Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition')
This plant's common name comes from the fluffy flowers that grow nearly horizontal on the end of the grass stalks. The tan "eyebrows" float above powdery green foliage in this compact variety. Grows up to 30 inches high and 18 inches wide in Zones 3 to 10.
(Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Blue Ice')
Springtime is no time to get the blues—unless it's the clear blue flowers of this pollinator favorite. Easy to grow in sun to part shade, the foliage on 'Blue Ice' turns a brilliant gold in fall. Grows up to 18 inches high and wide in Zones 4 to 9.
(Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks')
Goldenrod is indispensable in the prairie-style garden, and 'Fireworks' is the best cultivar of them all. Graceful constellations of gold flowers dress up this easy perennial from late summer to fall in full sun. Grows up to 3 feet high and wide in Zones 4 to 8.
(Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivanatii 'Goldsturm')
A cheerful summer classic, 'Goldsturm' black-eyed Susan brightens any corner in sun to part shade. This bulletproof beauty is deer-resistant and attracts butterflies. Grows up to 3 feet high and 2 feet wide in Zones 3 to 9.
(Veronicastrum virginicum 'Lavender Towers')
Culver's root is a vision, and 'Lavender Towers' is the plant at its best. Light-purple flower spikes hover above tall stems of symmetrical leaves in summer. While this tough plant is happy in average soil, it thrives in wet meadows, too. Grows up to 5 feet high and 3 feet wide in Zones 3 to 10.
Joe Pye Weed
(Eutrochium dubium 'Little Joe')
A compact cultivar of popular Joe Pye weed, 'Little Joe' blooms with pink billows of fragrant flowers that attract butterflies in summer. The perennial does best in full sun to part shade. Grows up to 4 feet high and 3 feet wide in Zones 3 to 9.
(Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus')
This king of purple coneflowers dons bright-pink daisies at knee height in summer. Pollinators adore the flowers, and birds enjoy spent seed heads later in the season. Plant purple coneflower in a sunny spot in spring to give it time to settle in, and give it well-drained soil, as winter wet can be deadly. Grows up to 3 feet high and 18 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
(Panicum virgatum 'Northwind')
This cultivar is one of the best switch grasses to have in a prairie-style garden. Steel-blue columns make fabulous vertical accents, especially when topped by wispy flowers in late summer to fall. Switch grasses need sun to avoid flopping, but 'Northwind' is the most upright. Numerous pollinators and wildlife rely on this grass for food and shelter. Grows up to 6 feet high and 18 inches wide in Zones 5 to 9.
Little prairie dropseed charms as a textural accent, but don't let that fool you—this grass is tough as nails. Planted in full sun, the tall, translucent flowers bloom from summer until fall, smelling faintly of cilantro, before turning bronze in winter. Grows up to 3 feet high and wide in Zones 3 to 9.
(Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'Raydon's Favorite')
This aster blooms with clouds of lavender daisy-like flowers on long, arcing stems in fall. An easy plant to maintain in sun to part shade, 'Raydon's Favorite' divides with no fuss, making it a great choice to fill space quickly. Grows up to 3 feet high and 1 foot wide in Zones 3 to 8.