Summer Dreams Pre-Planned Garden Featuring native plants: Coneflower Rudbeckia Astache Obedient- PlantSummer Dreams Pre-Planned Garden Featuring native plants: Coneflower Rudbeckia Astache Obedient- Plant

Understanding The Growing Requirements of Native Plants

 

By Chief Horticulturist David Salman

Incorporating native plants into your landscape and landscape designs can be a very gratifying experience.The key to success with native plants is learning where the plants are from to understand the climate and growing conditions of their native habitats.

 

Many of the non-native perennials that dominate our landscapes have been widely cultivated for many years in Europe and the United States, and have very wide tolerances as to the type of climates they enjoy and their cultural needs in the garden. This is in large part because over the years, plants that were difficult to grow and propagate using traditional methods disappeared from the trade.

Many native plant introductions are very new to the gardening public, and their cultural needs less understood. However, we are already finding that many natives are also easy to grow and propagate, and have become common in gardens across the country. Our general knowledge about a native plant's soil preferences, sun exposure, moisture needs, and tolerances must be understood. Once you know your native plant's needs, you can easily grow resilient, beautiful plants in your garden.

A meadow-style garden with Aster, Black Eyed Susan, and Native Ornamental Grasses. Photo By Saxon Holt.A meadow-style garden with Aster, Black Eyed Susan, and Native Ornamental Grasses. Photo By Saxon Holt.
A meadow-style garden with Aster, Black Eyed Susan, and Native Ornamental Grasses. Photo By Saxon Holt.

Gardening With Native Plants: Moisture Compatibility

The compatibility of a given native plant to your local area is highly dependent on that plant's need for moisture. The amount of precipitation that plants receive in their habitats is a very important piece of cultural information. Looking at a precipitation map of the United States the pattern shows us that, in general, as we move west from the eastern seaboard toward California the terrain becomes drier and drier. Thus plants native to the various desert regions of the western United States will not be well suited to average garden conditions in moist midwestern or eastern states. Ohio. However, in my experience, a native plant from Ohio, for example, may do fine in Santa Fe's high desert climate if given enriched soil, sufficient irrigation, and afternoon shade to avoid heat stroke.

Gardening With Native Plants: The Right Soil

Soil chemistry and soil drainage are two other critical factors in plant growth. My experience has been that native plants from the East and Midwest make the transition to western growing conditions more easily than western natives transition the other direction. It would seem that many western plants are more specialized and closely matched to the harsh, dry conditions of their habitats and are less adaptable to richer soils and more moisture. But like all generalizations there are notable (and often surprising) exceptions.

Soil Chemistry

  • Western soils tend to be very mineral (low in organic materials) and alkaline.
  • Many Midwestern soils are humus rich and their pH ranges from neutral to acidic.
  • Eastern soils can be much more variable, but in general are acidic.

Moving western natives to eastern gardens: Gardeners with acidic soil conditions must raise the soil pH using additives, such as lime and wood ashes, to provide the alkaline conditions required by many western natives. Many western natives also need higher trace mineral levels and benefit greatly by using trace mineral fertilizers like Planters II (rock dust in organic gardening circles).

Moving eastern natives to western gardens: moving eastern plants to the west can be accomplished using lots of greensand and soil sulfur to bring down the soil alkalinity. However, acid-loving plants are very difficult to grow long-term without constant acidification efforts and use of rainwater to irrigate. (Many western regions have very hard, alkaline well water.)

Soil Drainage

Soil drainage is a critical but often overlooked factor in growing native plants.

Moving western natives to eastern gardens: Many western natives require dry, fast draining soil. When moving western plants to wetter climates, sandy and sandy/loam soils provide drier, faster-draining conditions than clay. It is more challenging when we move dry clay lovers from west to east than vice versa. Eastern clay soils that stay wet from plentiful rain and snow will be deadly for dry clay lovers from the west. A sand/gravel/clay soil mixture used in a raised bed or berm is often the best solution to this dilemma. Learn More: How To Create Well-Drained Soil

Moving eastern natives to western gardens: Natives that like moister, high humus soils can be accommodated out west by incorporating generous amounts of compost and Broadleaf P4 water retaining crystals into the soil, and irrigating more frequently. Clay loving plants are common in all areas of the United States.

Swallowtail Butterfly and Bees visiting nectar-rich Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)Swallowtail Butterfly and Bees visiting nectar-rich Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Swallowtail Butterfly and Bees visiting nectar-rich Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Native Plants of the Midwest and Northeast

I'm not as familiar with native plants from the Midwest and eastern United States, as I don't often have the opportunity to see and study these plants in their native habitats; so I look to the many native plant experts in these regions and trial their introductions in Santa Fe. Interestingly, these regions offer many summer- and fall-blooming species that are invaluable for coloring the garden when the many late spring and early summer blooming natives have past. (Remember, the compatibility of a given native plant to your local area is highly dependent on that plant's need for moisture.)

Almost all of the above natives are highly valued nectar sources for adult butterflies.

Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe)Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe)
Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe)

Native Plants of The Great Plains

The Great Plains provide a treasure trove of tough but beautiful native plants. These plants are adapted to surviving extremes of temperatures and moisture as well as grazing animals. They favor well-drained, not-too-rich soils with a neutral to alkaline pH. Their natural climatic precipitation arrives during the winter, spring and sporadically during the heat of the summer months.

Phemerosa calycinum: A Native Garden Favorite

Another outstanding succulent from the plains is the everblooming, magenta-flowered Phemerosa calycinum (Talinum), also known as Fame Flower. This quirky little native's odd behavior is an excellent example of why some folks avoid native plants, thinking they are too hard to grow—but it's actually a showy, easy-to-grow plant once you understand its needs. I recommend it to everybody.

Talinum likes dry, sandy or sandy/loam soils. It is very slow to wake from its winter slumber, waiting until the late spring frosts have past. It also withers (goes dormant) before frost, using short days as its dormancy trigger. If you didn't know better you would think the plant either died suddenly in the fall or didn't make it through the winter. However it easily survives the cold winters as a shallow rooted succulent crown (stem at the junction of the roots and above ground stem) that looks like a fat twig. Be patient in the spring because it returns to get bigger and showier every year.

Other Native Garden Favorites From the Great Plains

Other indispensable flowering perennials from the Great Plains include:

The Great Plants for the Great Plains program, sponsored by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, and supported by Nebraska Extension nurseries that grow and propagate new finds, is an excellent program devoted to bringing natives for the plains into cultivation.

Learn More About High Country Gardens Native Plants

Explore High Country Gardens Native Plants

  1. Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'

    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild popula...

    Learn More
    Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild population in its Indiana habitat. Grow this special native cultivar to add unexpected color and an interesting conversation starter to your pollinator garden. A 2021 High Country Gardens Introduction.
    Learn More
  2. Superstar Aster Collection

    Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. F...

    Learn More
    Superstar Aster Collection Superstar Aster Collection
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $47.95 Sale $43.15
    Per Collection of 5
    Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. Featuring five varieties of Asters for an array of colors and varying heights, this collection will refresh the garden with late season flowers, just as summer’s blooms begin to fade. Collection of 5 plants. (Symphyotrichum)
    Learn More
  3. Honeysong Pink New England Aster, Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae Honeysong Pink

    Honeysong Pink New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglie) announces fall with an abundance of lovely pink, golden-centered flowers. Standing tall, it is a perfect solution for a...

    Learn More
    Honeysong Pink New England Aster Honeysong Pink New England Aster Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae 'Honeysong Pink'
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Honeysong Pink New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglie) announces fall with an abundance of lovely pink, golden-centered flowers. Standing tall, it is a perfect solution for adding height to the back of the perennial border. A pollinator favorite, this easy to grow native cultivar will bloom from late summer well into fall, filling the garden with late season color and visiting pollinators.
    Learn More
  4. Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster, Aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolius 'Dream of Beauty'

    Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many A...

    Learn More
    Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster Aster (Symphyotrichum) oblongifolius 'Dream of Beauty'
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many Asters, it will brighten the garden with dense foliage and sweet pink flowers. A favorite of butterflies, this native cultivar is essential for late-season blooms in the pollinator garden.
    Learn More
  5. Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm, Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm

    Rudbeckia Goldsturm blooms in mid-to-late summer with an eye-catching display of golden flowers. Black Eyed Susan is very attractive to butterflies and the seed heads provide winter ...

    Learn More
    Goldsturm Black Eyed Susan Black Eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm
    As low as $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Rudbeckia Goldsturm blooms in mid-to-late summer with an eye-catching display of golden flowers. Black Eyed Susan is very attractive to butterflies and the seed heads provide winter food for seed-eating songbirds as well. Reliable and tough, Rudbeckia tolerates both drought and clay plus easy to maintain.
    Learn More
  6. Pink and Orange and Silver Agastache rupestris, Agastache rupestris, Licorice Mint or Sunset Hyssop

    Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) is one of the best, most durable species in the Agastache family. With smoky orange flowers held by lavender calyxes, the entire plant is s...

    Learn More
    Agastache rupestris Licorice Hummingbird Mint (Sunset Hyssop) Agastache rupestris
    As low as $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) is one of the best, most durable species in the Agastache family. With smoky orange flowers held by lavender calyxes, the entire plant is scented like licorice and mint. A 1996 High Country Gardens introduction. Drought resistant/drought tolerant perennial plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  7. Rose Swamp Milkweed

    Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for adult butterflies. Also...

    Learn More
    Rose Swamp Milkweed Rose Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for adult butterflies. Also known as Swamp Milkweed, it grows best in moist or wet soils.
    Learn More
  8. Red and Yellow Gaillardia grandiflora Arizona Sun, Gaillardia grandiflora Arizona Sun, Arizona Sun Blanket Flower

    Gaillardia Arizona Sun is a 2005 All America Selections winner because of its outstanding hardiness, everblooming flowers, and drought tolerance. With modest deadheading Arizona Sun ...

    Learn More
    Arizona Sun Gaillardia Arizona Sun Blanket Flower Gaillardia grandiflora Arizona Sun
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Gaillardia Arizona Sun is a 2005 All America Selections winner because of its outstanding hardiness, everblooming flowers, and drought tolerance. With modest deadheading Arizona Sun Blanket Flower is covered with red-orange and yellow bi-colored flowers all season long. Drought resistant perennial plant (xeric).
    Learn More

Text by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman. © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.