When we were considering what plants to include on this list, we kept in mind several important factors. They included the plant’s native origin, a form that is suited to a wide range of residential landscapes, its ability to sequester carbon and soak up water, added beauty from multi-sensory experience, the multi-season interest of the species, use by wildlife for food and habitat, and edibility for human consumption.
Another important criterion was availability at local nurseries and home stores. The best plant is one that you can actually find and purchase!
Also called American Linden, the American Basswood thrives in part shade environments and medium soils. The tree also provides cover and food for wildlife such as birds, pollinators, mammals, and caterpillars.
↕️ 50-80 ft. ↔️ 30-50 ft.
When the tree is in full bloom, bees often visit in such abundant numbers that humming can be heard many feet from the tree. Honey made from the nectar of these flowers is a prized gourmet item. The tree’s flowers have also been used to make tea and delicious syrup can be made from the sweet tree sap.
Prefers moist, fertile, and well-drained soils.
Also called Black tupelo, the Blackgum prefers full sun or part shade environments and does well in medium to wet soils. This tree is able to tolerate clay soil and can even grow in standing water.
↕️ 30-50 ft. ↔️ 20-30 ft.
When in full bloom, the Blackgum’s fruits mature to a dark blue and are attractive to birds and wildlife. The leaves also boast a spectacular scarlet color in the fall and return in the spring with flowers.
The Blackgum contains a long taproot, so avoid moving established trees.
EASTERN WHITE CEDAR
The Eastern White Cedar is an evergreen that appreciates some light afternoon shade, keeps its foliage all year long, and withstands even air pollution. The tree also has interesting fall cones and fragrant yellow-green foliage.
↕️ 20-40 ft. ↔️ 10-15 ft.
Native Americans used the tree’s foliage to treat scurvy.
Avoid planting in full shade or exposed, windy sites.
The Hackberry prefers full sun and part shade environments. The tree can withstand droughts and most pollutants, while also providing fruit to the Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, and other bird species in the area.
↕️ 40-60 ft. ↔️ 40-60 ft.
The hackberry produces an edible fall/winter fruit that tastes like dates.
Avoid planting near sidewalks and driveways due to fruit drop.
The Eastern Hemlock enjoys part-full shade environments, appreciates a thick layer of mulch in the winter, and is intolerant to dry soils.
↕️ 40-70 ft. ↔️ 25-35 ft.
The Eastern Hemlock provides excellent shelter to local birds!
Consider using soaker hoses during times of drought.
This beautiful tree prefers full sun and part shade environments. The Maple tree does best in medium-wet soils and comes alive with color during the fall season.
↕️ 40-70 ft. ↔️ 30-50 ft.
The Maple hosts almost 300 species of butterflies and attracts a variety of birds due to the cover it provides for nesting.
Oak trees come in all shapes and sizes and host over 500 species of caterpillars and butterflies. Many oaks also provide food and shelter for various local birds. Read more about specific Oaks below!
Swamp White Oak – Prefers full sun, medium-wet soils, and has good drought tolerance. ↕️ 50-60 ft. ↔️ 50-60 ft.
Scarlet Oak – Prefers full sun, dry-medium soils, and boasts an exceptional fall color. Does not contain serious problems like other oaks. ↕️ 50-70 ft. ↔️ 40-50 ft.
Burr Oak – Prefers full sun, dry-medium soils, has good drought tolerance, and is one of the most majestic of the native oaks. Its acorns are an important food source for wildlife and were eaten by indigenous people. ↕️ 60-80 ft. ↔️ 60-80 ft.
Northern Red Oak – Prefers full sun, dry-medium soils, and prefers well-drained soils. The Northern Red Oak also grows much faster than white oaks. ↕️ 50-75 ft. ↔️ 50-75 ft.
Chinkapin Oak – Prefers full sun, dry-medium soils, and has good drought tolerance. The Chinkapin also provides sweet and edible acorns. ↕️ 40-60 ft. ↔️ 50-70 ft.
Pin Oak – Prefers full sun, medium-wet soils, and tolerates poorly drained soils. Its acorns are an important food source for Blue Jays and Wood Ducks. ↕️ 50-70 ft. ↔️ 40-60 ft.
The Riverbirch prefers full sun and part shade environments. The distinctive peeling bark offers interest to those living with medium-wet soils. Pine Siskin, fox, and American Tree Sparrows enjoy the tree’s unique seeds.
↕️ 40-70 ft. ↔️ 40-60 ft.
Normally seen along rivers, the Riverbirch is growing in popularity and even thrives in urban areas.
Though the Riverbirch can withstand some drought, consider using soaker hoses and heavy bark mulch to keep roots cool and moist. Avoid pruning in spring when the sap is running.
Exuding an aromatic balsam, the fragrant Sweetgum prefers full sun and medium soils. Leaves offer fall color at its best with brilliant mixtures of yellows, oranges, purples, and reds. Branchlets may develop distinctive corky ridges and display showy seeds in fall.
↕️ 60-80 ft. ↔️ 40-60 ft.
Sweetgum wood has been widely used for flooring, furniture, and home interiors. The tree’s gum has even been used in chewing gum, incense, perfumes, folk medicines, and flavorings.
Roots will tolerate clay soil and Black Walnut but need ample space for healthy development.
Sycamore trees prefer full sun and medium-wet soils and can tolerate light shade. The tree’s distinctive brown bark peels away to display a white under bark.
↕️ 75-100 ft. ↔️ 75-100 ft.
As the largest native eastern US tree, the Sycamore was useful to Indigenous people who hollowed out the trunks for dugout canoes.
While Sycamore trees typically do well in urban areas, messy twigs and bark can clutter sidewalks and high-traffic areas. The London planetree is the recommended species to plant locally.
The Tulip tree blooms from May to June and offers yellow blossoms with an orange band at petal bases. This fast-growing tree prefers full sun and medium soils, though it can tolerate clay and wet soil. The tree presents a good yellow color in fall.
↕️ 60-90 ft. ↔️ 30-50 ft.
The Tulip tree is the state tree of Indiana and can grow up to 90 feet tall. Indigenous people made dugout canoes from Tulip tree trunks.
Generally best to prune in winter. Water at base during hot/dry periods.
White pine trees prefer full sun to part shade settings and medium soils. They are intolerant of clay, compacted soils, and pollutants. Fast-growing, White pines offer shade and provide windbreaks.
↕️ 50-80 ft. ↔️ 20-40 ft.
Commonly used in pesto, White pine seeds – or pine nuts – are edible and delicious. This pine is also a popular Christmas tree.
Control the tree’s shape and size by pruning. Under certain conditions, White pine trees are susceptible to white pine blister rust.
The Crab Apple comes in many varieties and sizes. This ornamental tree prefers full sun and medium soils. It offers magenta-pink blooms in April and good color in fall.
↕️ 15-20 ft. ↔️ 12-16 ft.
Birds and butterflies love to frequent the Crab Apple tree, which produces an edible, showy fruit.
The Crab Apple tolerates clay soil and air pollution. The fruit can be messy when dropped on sidewalks. It is best to prune this tree as needed in late winter.
The Dogwood tree offers white blooms from April to May and red/orange leaves in fall. The tree prefers full sun to part shade and medium soils. In some varieties, the showy red Dogwood fruit fully ripens in fall and may last until late in the year. Butterflies and over 30 species of birds enjoy the tree, including Downy Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, Wood Thrush, Eastern Bluebird, and Cedar Waxwing.
↕️ 15-30 ft. ↔️ 15-30 ft.
Dogwood’s name likely refers to an old-time practice of making skewers called “dags” or “dogs” from its hard, slender stems. The bright red fruits on the Florida dogwood are loved by birds.
While it can tolerate clay soil, the Dogwood prefers moist, organically rich, acidic soils in part shade. Keep roots cool and moist in summer with a 2-4” mulch around the base.
Cockspur Hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli), Downy Hawthorn (C. mollis), Dotted Hawthorn (C. punctata)
The Hawthorn prefers full sun and medium soils, though it tolerates a wide range of soils and urban pollutants. The Hawthorn’s desirable features include fragrant white flowers in spring, orange-red-purple fall leaf color, and orange-red fall fruit that remain into winter.
↕️ 20-30 ft. ↔️ 20-35 ft.
The edible winter fruit can attract more than 20 species of birds.
This “leggy” tree can colonize, offer shade, and shelter local birds. Wildlife like raccoons, squirrels, and opossums eagerly seek out the sweet, fleshy fall fruit. Preferring full sun to part shade and well-drained, medium-wet soils, the Paw Paw displays purple flowers in spring and yellow leaves in fall.
↕️ 15-30 ft. ↔️ 15-30 ft.
The showy, sweet-flavored fruit tastes similar to bananas and can be eaten raw or used in desserts like ice creams and pies. Early American settlers relied on this fruit for food and made a yellow dye from ripened pulp. Also called the “Indiana banana,” the Paw Paw is the largest native fruit in the U.S.
Be sure to beat local wildlife to the harvest!
The Redbud features light pinkish purple blooms in April, bean-like seed pods in summer, and good color in fall. The tree performs best in moderately fertile soils that maintain consistent moisture.
↕️ 20-30 ft. ↔️ 25-35 ft.
The Redbud’s early spring flowers are edible, and young seed pods can be eaten as a pea substitute before maturing to brown in summer.
Avoid wet or poorly drained soils. Redbuds do not transplant well and do best when planted young and left undisturbed. Water and fertilize the tree regularly to keep it vigorous. Pruning out dead branches as needed promotes tree health.
Amelanchier canadensis, A. grandiflora, A. laevis (Juneberry)
The Serviceberry appreciates full sun to part shade and medium soils, though it can tolerate clay. The tree can grow up to 30 feet tall, attracts flies and bees, and produces white blooms from April to May and good orange foliage in the fall.
↕️ 25-30 ft. ↔️ 15-20 ft.
The showy red-purple berries are edible and attract nearly 20 species of birds.
Known as a deciduous shrub or small tree, Witch hazel is native to woodlands, forest margins, and stream banks in eastern North America. Usually the last native flowering plant to bloom, Witch hazel produces yellow fall leaves and fragrant yellow-orange blooms from October to December. The small tree performs best in full sun to part shade and prefers moist, acidic, organically rich soils, though it can tolerate erosion and heavy clay soils.
↕️ 15-20 ft. ↔️ 15-20 ft.
Fertilized flowers will form fruit, or seed capsules, over a long period that extends into the following growing season. Each seed capsule splits open in fall of that next year and explodes, ejecting its 1-2 black seeds up to 30 feet away.
Promptly remove suckers to prevent colonial spread. Prune in early spring if necessary, though little pruning is required.
The American Hazelnut produces spring flowers and prefers full sun to part shade and medium soils. Fall color varies, ranging from attractive combinations of orange, rose, purplish red, yellow, and green, to an undistinguished, dull yellowish green. The shrub is home to caterpillars and also offers cover for wildlife, nest sites for birds, and food to mammals and birds.
↕️ 10-16 ft. ↔️ 8-13 ft.
Female flowers give way to small, edible egg-shaped nuts that may be roasted and eaten or ground into flour.
Promptly remove root suckers to help maintain plant appearance and prevent thicket formation, if desired.
The Buttonbush prefers full sun to part shade and grows very well in wet soils, including floodland and standing shallow water. The bush offers fragrant white blooms in June as well as cover for wildlife, bird nesting sites, cooling shade, and food for mammals, caterpillars, and birds.
↕️ 5-12 ft. ↔️ 4-8 ft.
The pincushion-like flower heads attract bees and butterflies, which promotes pollen and nectar production.
If necessary, prune in early spring to shape. Unmanageable plants may be cut back near to the ground to promote revitalization.
The Chokeberry attracts birds and produces white blooms in May and good color in fall. Plants prefer full sun to part shade and can tolerate a wide range of soils, including boggy soils.
↕️ 3-6 ft. ↔️ 3-6 ft.
Though they resemble blueberries, the edible autumn berries taste bitter. The fruit can still be used in jams and jellies.
Place groupings of Chokeberry in full sun for best fruit production. Remove root suckers to prevent colonial spread.
Sweet pepperbush offers fragrant white blooms July to August and prefers part shade and consistently moist, acidic, sandy soils. The versatile bush produces a showy fruit, attracts birds and butterflies, and can also tolerate clay soils, full sun, heavy shade, and even erosion.
↕️ 3-8 ft. ↔️ 4-6 ft.
Mature stems have scaly, dark gray to brown-black bark. Leaves turn a good yellow, golden-brown color in fall.
Do not allow soil to dry out. Promptly remove root suckers unless a more natural look is desired. Propagate by cutting and prune in late winter if needed.
Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa)
The Dogwood produces white blooms from May to June and prefers full sun to part shade. The shrub tolerates city air pollution as well as a wide range of soil conditions, including both moist and somewhat dry soils. Distinctively red stems provide an appealing contrast to small white berry clusters that form after summer flowers drop. Leaves turn dusky purplish-red in fall.
↕️ 10-15 ft. ↔️ 10-15 ft.
Dogwood attracts 4 specialist bees, 118 Lepidoptera caterpillars, mammals, and butterflies. The shrub provides cover for wildlife, nest sites for birds, and pollen/nectar production. Nearly 20 species of birds consume the fall fruit of the Gray Dogwood, including Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, and Eastern Bluebird.
Will spread to form thickets if root suckers are not removed.
The Fragrant sumac attracts birds and butterflies. It also offers fragrant yellow blooms in April, good fall color, and showy fruit enjoyed by local wildlife.
↕️ 2-6 ft. ↔️ 6-10 ft.
Male catkins form in late summer and persist throughout the winter until eventually blooming in spring. Female flowers give way in late summer to small clusters of hairy, red berries which may persist into winter.
This is a low-maintenance plant that prefers full sun to part shade and dry to medium soil. It can tolerate rabbits, drought, erosion, clay soil, dry soil, shallow rocky soil, and Black Walnut.
This Hydrangea prefers full sun to part shade and displays white blooms from June to September and yellow leaves in fall. While intolerant to drought, it can adapt to a variety of soil conditions.
↕️ 3-5 ft. ↔️ 3-5 ft.
The shrub can grow up to 4 feet tall and wide.
Keep soil watered, since the foliage tends to decline considerably in dry conditions. Plants may die to the ground in harsh winters. Bloom occurs on new wood, so prune plants close to the ground in late winter. This will revitalize and encourage vigorous stem growth and best form. If not pruning, remove any weakened or damaged stems in early spring.
Established evergreen shrubs prefer full sun and medium soils and can tolerate deer, erosion, rocky soil, drought, and air pollution. The Juniper offers good shelter to birds. Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, and Purple Finch enjoy the berries.
↕️ .75-1.5 ft. ↔️ 4-6 ft.
The small seed cones are commonly referred to as juniper berries. Berries emerge green and gradually ripen by fall to a waxy dark blue or black. Used for a number of purposes, the berries are perhaps most notable as the dominant flavoring of gin.
Berries often ripen in the 2nd or 3rd year. Do not plant Juniper shrubs on the same site as apple trees.
NEW JERSEY TEA
The New Jersey Tea shrub produces showy clusters of tiny, fragrant white flowers and blooms from May to July. Young yellow twigs stand out in winter. The shrub prefers full sun to part shade and attracts hummingbirds and butterfies.
↕️ 3-4 ft. ↔️ 3-5 ft.
During the American Revolutionary War, dried leaves were used as a tea substitute, albeit without caffeine.
This low-maintenance plant tolerates drought, dry soil, shallow-rocky soil, and Black Walnut. It grows best in sandy loams or rocky soils with good drainage. Thick, woody, red roots grow deep and help the plant withstand drought conditions. However, this can make established shrubs difficult to transplant.
SHRUBBY ST. JOHN’S WORT
Shrubby St. John’s wort sports showy yellow blooms from June to August and prefers full sun to part shade. This compact, deciduous shrub works well as a hedge. Exfoliation of older stem bark reveals an attractive, pale orange inner bark.
↕️ 1-5 ft. ↔️ 1-4 ft.
Some species have been used since ancient times to treat wounds and inflammation. Plants were also apparently gathered and burned to ward off evil spirits on the eve of St. John’s Day, giving rise to the shrub’s common name.
A low-maintenance plant, Shrubby St. John’s wort tolerates some drought and a wide range of soils, including clay, dry, rocky, or sandy soils. Prune in eary spring to promote blooms on new growth.
Spicebush attracts birds, butterflies, and wildlife that enjoy it both for food and cover. Growing up to 12 feet tall, the shrub prefers full sun, which enhances its yellow fall leaf color. Fragrant greenish-yellow blooms appear throughout March. Flowers on male plants tend to be showier than flowers on female plants.
↕️ 6-12 ft. ↔️ 6-12 ft.
Leaves become aromatic when crushed and are enjoyed by caterpillars of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. Pollinated female plants produce bright red edible drupes that can be crushed and used as an allspice substitute.
To promote fruit production, pair male and female shrubs to allow for the necessary pollination.
Viburnum plants produce white blooms from May to June and attract birds, butterflies, wildlife, caterpillars, flies, and beetles for both food and shelter. Plants prefer full sun to part shade and produce either red or black fruit, depending on the species. Fall color ranges from drab yellow to attractive shades of orange and red. Read more about varying species below!
↕️ 6-12 ft. ↔️ 6-10 ft.
Nannyberry – Edible fruits may be eaten off the bush when ripe or used in jams and jellies. Gray Catbird, American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, and Cedar Waxwing enjoy feeding on its fall fruit.
Downy Arrowwood – Produces bluish-black drupe (fruit) clusters.
Arrowwood – Native Americans reportedly used the straight stems of this species for arrow shafts, hence the common name.
Blackhaw – Edible fruits may be eaten off the bush when ripe or used in jams and preserves.
American Cranberry – Edible fresh off the shrub and less bitter than other varieties, berries are sometimes used to make jams and jellies. Fruits tend to shrivel after frost. Foliage turns an attractive purplish red in fall.
Virginia sweetspire prefers full sun to part shade and blooms in late spring to early summer. Oval, dark green leaves turn varying shades of red, orange, and gold in autumn. Color often persists until early winter.
↕️ 3-5 ft. ↔️ 3-5 ft.
The shrub produces fragrant, tiny white flowers that gather into drooping, cylindrical racemes that cover the shrub and bloom from June to July.
This low-maintenance plant prefers moist, hummusy soils, but can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and naturalizes well in wild or informal areas. Mass for a shrubby ground cover effect. This plant is also a good selection for wet locations such as low spots or pond/stream margins. Deer tend to avoid this plant.
Winterberry Holly prefers full sun to part shade. Native to swampy areas of Eastern North America, the shrub adapts to both light and heavy soils but prefers moist, acidic, organic loams. The plant produces insignificant greenish-white blooms in June to July. The real interest is in the showy display of red berries in winter.
↕️ 3-12 ft. ↔️ 3-12 ft.
An excellent hedge plant, consider grouping in shrub borders, foundations, native plant areas, or bird gardens. It is an excellent shrub for moist soils in low spots or along streams and ponds.
Avoid planting in neutral to alkaline soils, since plants are susceptible to chlorosis (yellowing of leaves) and often die. In order to achieve the signature red berries, pair one male plant with up to 6-10 female plants to allow for fertilization. Prune to shape in early spring just before new growth appears. Winterberry Holly is otherwise low-maintenance.
Asters support all kinds of life! These plants produce summer and fall flowers, pollen, and nectar. They also provide food for caterpillars, 112 species of butterflies, and moth caterpillars. Cardinals, Goldfinches, Sparrows, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Towhees, and Indigo Bunting enjoy their seeds.
New England Aster – Attractive to butterflies and people alike, these Asters produce profuse, daisy-like blooms with purple rays and yellow centers from August to September and prefer full sun and moist, rich soils. Pinch stems back several times before mid-July to help control plant height, promote bushiness, and delay flowering. Cut plants to the ground after flowering to prevent any unwanted self-seeding or if foliage has become unsightly. ↕️ 3-6 ft. ↔️ 2-3 ft.
Aromatic Aster – This variety produces small, daisy-like flowers with violet blue rays and yellow center disks that bloom from August to September. Attractive to birds and butterflies, this native plant prefers dry to medium soils and typically grows on limestone glades, slopes, prairies, and dry open ground. Bushy, stiff, and compact, this plant grows low to the ground and has hairy stems. Blue-green leaves are fragrant when crushed. ↕️ 1-3 ft. ↔️ 1-3 ft.
Asters typically have hairy leaves and stems and make a good cut flower.
As with many perennials, leave foliage and flower seed heads through winter for interest, feeding birds, and to support the egg and larvae stages of many insects. Cut back in early spring before new leaves emerge.
Blazing stars provide food for winter birds and caterpillars, produce pollen and nectar, and attract bees and butterflies.
Prairie blazing star – Sometimes treated as a biennial, this upright, clump-forming, native perennial commonly occurs in prairies, open woods, meadows and along railroad tracks and roads. It prefers full sun and dry to medium soils and will not tolerate wet soils in winter. Prairie blazing star is perhaps the tallest in cultivation, growing 2-4 feet tall. It blooms July to August and produces fluffy lilac/purple disc flowers that generally open top to bottom on spikes. They make good cut flowers. ↕️ 2-5 ft. ↔️ 1-2 ft.
Dense blazing star
These plants are one of the best for attracting birds – even hummingbirds!
Black eyed susans attract all kinds of life! Producing pollen, food for birds, and summer flowers, these plants attract 17 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars, butterflies, bees, beetles, and wasps. They are a Finch favorite and are also liked by Chickadees, Cardinals, Sparrows, Nuthatches, and Towhees.
Showy black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciose) – This variety produces prolific, daisy-like orange/yellow flowers with yellow rays and brownish-purple center disks from June to October. It prefers full sun and dry to medium soils. Plants prefer consistent moisture throughout the growing season, with some tolerance for drought once established. Allow for good air circulation and deadhead spent flowers to encourage additional blooms. Makes a great cut or dried flower! ↕️ 2-3 ft. ↔️ 2-2.5 ft.
Black-eyed Susan (R. hirta)
Sweet black-eyed Susan (R. subtomentosa)
Brown-eyed Susan (R. triloba)
This perennial produces pollen, nectar, and clusters of distinctive violet-blue flowers that bloom from May to June and look pretty in a vase. It prefers full sun and consistently moist soils that drain well. Blue-eyed grass naturally grows in damp open woods, slopes, and along stream banks.
↕️ 1.5-2 ft. ↔️ .5-1 ft.
Though its foliage is grass-like, blue-eyed grasses belong to the iris family not the grass family.
Plantings may be sheared back after bloom to avoid any unwanted self-seeding and/or to tidy foliage for the remaining growing season. Divide plants every 2-3 years to keep plantings vigorous.
Bluestar Willow produces dark lavender blooms in May, and its dark green foliage turns an attractive bright yellow in fall. This compact plant prefers full sun to part shade and moist, loamy soils.
↕️ 1-1.5 ft. ↔️ 1-1.5 ft.
Expert Tip: The best fall foliage color usually occurs in full sun, but flowers generally last longer if given some afternoon shade in hot sun areas.
Bluestar Willow is low-maintenance when planted in the right spot. Too much shade may cause stems to open up and flop. There is no need to cut stems back after flowering. Taller plants may appreciate some staking or support, though when grown in full sun to part shade, the plant generally does not require staking.
Wonderful for wildlife, Coneflowers produce pollen, nectar, summer flowers, and winter food for birds.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – This variety attracts birds and butterflies, and its purple/pink summer blooms make it a great fresh cut or dried flower for people. This adaptable plant prefers full sun and is tolerant of drought, heat, humidity and poor soil. Stems remain strong well into winter. If left intact, flower heads may attract Goldfinches or other birds that feed on the seeds of the blackened center cones. ↕️ 2-5 ft. ↔️ 1.5-2 ft.
Pale-purple coneflower (E. pallida)
The genus name Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning “hedgehog” or “sea-urchin” and refers to the spiny center cone found on most flowers in the genus. Indigenous people learned of its immune system-boosting properties by observing sick or weakened elk and deer eating it.
Divide clumps when they become overcrowded (about every 4 years). Plants usually rebloom without deadheading. However, promptly remove spent flowers to improve the plant’s general appearance. Leave some seed heads in place to encourage self-seeding, if desired.
Coreopsis is one of the best summer flowers for attracting birds! It’s also a great pollen and nectar producer and provides food for birds and caterpillars.
Tall coreopsis (C. tripteris) – This variety attracts butterflies and produces blooms with brown center disks and yellow rays from July to September. It prefers full sun and dry to medium soils. Tall coreopsis tolerates heat, humidity, and drought, and thrives in poor, sandy, or rocky soils with good drainage. ↕️ 2-8 ft. ↔️ 2-8 ft.
Lanced-leafed coreopsis (C. lanceolate) – This plant blooms yellow from May to July and makes a great cut flower. It also prefers full sun and dry to medium soils and can tolerate heat, humidity, and drought. This native wildflower typically grows to 2 feet tall and occurs in prairies, glades, fields and roadsides. ↕️ 1-2 ft. ↔️ 1-1.5 ft.
Stem leaves smell like anise. The genus name comes from the Greek words koris, meaning “bug,” and opsis, which refers to the bug or tick-like shape of the seed.
Promptly deadhead spent flowers to encourage additional bloom and to prevent any unwated self-seeding.
False indigo produces pollen, food for caterpillars, and summer flowers.
False blue indigo (Baptisia australis) – This species produces indigo blue blooms from May to June and appreciates full sun to part shade and dry to medium soils. It can tolerate drought, erosion, clay, and shallow, rocky, or poor soils. Flowers give way to inflated seed pods that turn charcoal black when ripe and create a considerable ornamental display. They also look great in dried flower arrangements. ↕️ 3-4 ft. ↔️ 3-4 ft.
White false indigo (B. alba)
Seeds roll around inside the blackened pods, and children once used them as rattles. The plant’s genus name comes from the Greek word bapto meaning “to dye.”
Plants develop slowly-expanding clumps with deep and extensive root systems over time, so leave established growth undisturbed. Additionally, plants tend to open up after bloom and take on a more shrubby appearance. Trimming or shearing foliage after bloom helps maintain a more rounded plant shape. However, while trimming eliminates the need for staking plants, it also removes the attractive developing seed pods.
Showy white blooms appear from April to June and attract birds and butterflies.
↕️ 3-5 ft. ↔️ 1.5-2 ft.
Commonly called beardtongue, this plant features a sterile stamen with a tuft of small hairs.
While preferring full sun and dry to medium soil, this variety can also tolerate drought and clay soil.
The Geranium attracts butterflies and can tolerate both rabbit and deer. While it prefers moist, hummus soils, it can withstand poor, dry soils. The plant offers pale pink-lilac blooms from April to May and appreciates full sun to part shade. This native woodland perennial typically occurs in woods, thickets, and shaded roadside areas throughout Indiana.
↕️ 1.5-2 ft. ↔️ 1-1.5 ft.
Geraniums will naturalize in optimal growing conditions.
Shape and lightly shear back foliage after flowering to revitalize the plant during the hot summer. Keep soil moist in summer to prevent yellowing foliage.
Enjoy the long-lasting summer blooms of the gray-headed coneflower. Showing from June to August, the unique yellow flowers slightly resemble a sombrero and attract butterflies. Native to Indiana, this plant typically occurs in dry woods, prairies, and along railroad tracks and roads.
↕️ 3-5 ft. ↔️ 1.5-2 ft.
Crushed winter seed heads smell of anise.
Also called New York Ironweed, this perennial is a tall, coarse, upright plant that features numerous tiny, fluffy, deep purple composite flowers that give way to rusty seed clusters. Blooming in late summer to fall, the plant appreciates rich, moist, slightly acidic soils and full sun.
↕️ 4-6 ft. ↔️ 3-4 ft.
The name may refer to the plant’s tough, “iron-like” stems and the rusty color of its fading flowers and seeds. Ironweed is one of the best for attracting birds and hosts 19 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars!
Remove flower heads before seed develops to avoid unwanted self-seeding. Cut back stems nearly to the ground in late spring to reduce overall plant height.
The only plant on which the Monarch butterfly lays its eggs, Milkweed is also known for producing pollen, abundant nectar for butterflies, leaf food for Monarch caterpillars, and showy summer flowers.
Marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – Producing small, fragrant mauve/pink flowers from July to August, this species prefers full sun and medium to wet soils. Though native to swamps and wet meadows, Marsh milkweed is surprisingly tolerant of average, well-drained soils. Attractive seed pods appear after flowering and split open to release silky-haired seeds easily carried by the wind. ↕️ 4-5 ft. ↔️ 2-3 ft.
Butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) – This tuberous rooted perennial is one of our showiest native wildflowers. It produces orange/yellow flowers over a long blooming season, from June to August, and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Naturally drought tolerant, this species does well in full sun and dry soils and naturally occurs in dry/rocky open woods, glades, prairies, fields, and roadsides. Unlike many of the other milkweeds, this species does not have milky-sapped stems. Flowers give way to prominent, spindle-shaped seed pods that look great in dried flower arrangements. ↕️ 1-2.5 ft. ↔️ 1-1.5 ft.
Butterfly weed is also commonly called “pleurisy root” in reference to earlier medicinal use of the plant roots to treat lung inflammations.
Easily grown from seed, plants are somewhat slow to become established and may take 2-3 years to produce flowers. Remove seed pods before they split open to prevent self-seeding, if desired. Do not move established plants due to the deep taproot.
Nodding onion grows best in sandy loams and full sun but appreciates some light afternoon shade in hot summer climates. Unique, showy pink flowers appear to nod downward and bloom all summer.
↕️ 1-1.5 ft. ↔️ .25-.5 ft.
All parts of this plant have an oniony smell when cut or bruised. Although bulbs and leaves were once used in cooking stews or eaten raw, nodding onion is not generally considered to be of culinary value today.
Plants will proliferate by self-seeding and bulb offsets in optimum growing conditions. Control any unwanted spread by deadheading flowers before seeds set. For easy growth, plant seeds in spring or bulbs in fall.
Prairie smoke likes full sun and dry soil and produces nodding, reddish-pink/purple blooms from May to July. These flowers give way to gray, elongated fruiting heads that resemble plumes or feather dusters.
↕️ .5-1.5 ft. ↔️ .5-1.5 ft.
- The feathery seed heads have inspired descriptive common names, such as torch flower, long-plumed purple avens, prairie smoke, lion’s beard, and old man’s whiskers. Which name is your favorite?
- Native Americans once boiled the roots to produce a root tea that was used medicinally for a variety of purposes such as wound applications and sore throat treatments.
Allow plants some afternoon shade in hot summers. Plants can tolerate medium moisture in well-drained soils. However, they often die out if subjected to wet winter soil conditions. Naturalized plants make a good ground cover.
PURPLE PRAIRIE CLOVER
In full sun and well-drained soils, Purple Prairie Clover easily grows from 1-3 feet tall. It features tiny purple flowers on dense, cone-like heads (up to 2” long) atop erect, wiry stems all summer. The Clover tolerates drought well thanks to its thick, deep taproot.
↕️ 1-3 ft. ↔️ 1-1.5 ft.
This nitrogen-fixing plant is an important component of Midwestern prairie restorations.
Clover may self-seed in optimum growing conditions.
Spiderwort stems contain numerous buds. However, the violet-blue flowers only bloom a few at a time, each for only one day, from late May into early July. Arching dark green leaves resemble iris leaves. These native plants commonly grow on open wooded slopes and moist shaded bluff ledges.
↕️ 1.5-3 ft. ↔️ 1-1.5 ft.
Cut a Spiderwort stem and check out the viscous secretion it releases. It becomes threadlike and silky upon hardening, like a spider’s web!
WILD BERGAMOT/BEE BALM
Wild bergamot is a common native perennial which occurs statewide in dry soils on prairies, dry rocky woods and glade margins, unplanted fields, and along roads and railroads. It provides wonderful cover for wildlife and birds and attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to its nectar-rich summer flowers. Fragrant lavender-pink blooms emerge from July to September and look great dried or fresh in a vase. ↕️ 2-4 ft. ↔️ 2-3 ft.
Monarda fistulosa – Purple flower
Monarda didyma – Red flower
Wild bergamot is a member of the mint family.
Ensure plants have good air circulation. Deadhead flowers to prolong summer bloom. Note that plants tend to self-seed.
Grasses & Sedges
Little bluestem blooms purplish bronze from August to February and enjoys full sun. While it prefers dry to medium soils, it performs well in various settings, including in clay and poor soil. Once established, it can tolerate drought, air pollution, high heat, and humidity.
↕️ 2-4 ft. ↔️ 1.5-2 ft.
An outstanding ornamental feature of this grass is its bronze-orange fall foliage color.
Cut to the ground in late winter to early spring before new leaves emerge.
The pink and brown-tinted blooms of the Prairie dropseed give fragrant hints of coriander and attract birds. Foliage turns golden with orange hues in fall and fades to a light bronze in winter. The grasses bloom from August to November and prefer full sun and dry, rocky soils. They can tolerate drought, erosion, and clay.
↕️ 2-3 ft. ↔️ 2-3 ft.
The tiny rounded mature seeds drop to the ground from their hulls in autumn, inspiring the descriptive common name.
Grasses may be grown from seed, but are slow-growing and slow to establish. The plant does not freely self-seed in the garden.
Switch grasses show pink-tinged blooms from July to February and attract birds. Grasses generally perform best in full sun and prefer moist, sandy, or clay soils. They tolerate a wide range of soils, occasional flooding, drought, and air pollution. Attractive medium-green leaves turn yellow (sometimes with orange tints) in autumn and fade to tan-beige in winter. Seeds mature in fall, and seed plumes persist well into winter.
↕️ 3-6 ft. ↔️ 2-3 ft.
Birds enjoy eating the seeds in winter.
Grasses may flop in overly rich soils. While they will grow in part shade, grasses can begin to lose their form and possibly open up and fall over.
A low, shade-loving perennial, this sedge is native to thickets and dry woodland areas, often near oak trees. Its soft, delicately arching, semi-evergreen leaves provide cover for wildlife, nest sites for birds, and food for birds and mammals.
↕️ .5-1 ft. ↔️ .5-1 ft.
While most sedges prefer wetter soils, this one prefers loose loam in dry soils.
Plants spread by rhizomes.
This attractive grass can tolerate air pollution and a wide range of soil conditions. It typically grows in glades, prairies, open rocky woodlands and along railroad tracks. Narrow, bluish-gray leaf blades typically form a dense clump growing 1-1.5 feet tall. Purplish blooms emerge from July to August. Foliage turns a nice golden brown in autumn, sometimes also developing interesting hues of orange and red.
↕️ 1.5-2.5 ft. ↔️ 1.5-2 ft.
This native grass is noted for the distinctive arrangement of oat-like seed spikes which hang from only one side of its flowering stems.
May be grown from seed and may self-seed in the garden in optimum growing conditions. Cut clumps to the ground in late winter.
These plants are best grown in organically rich, slightly acidic, moist, yet well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. If grown for ornamental reasons, raspberries are best located in areas where they can naturalize. Desirable to birds, butterflies, caterpillars, mammals, and people, the showy, mid-summer fruit attracts at least 63 species.
↕️ 3-9 ft. ↔️ 3-9 ft.
Raspberry roots are perennial. The leaf and fruit-bearing canes are, however, biennial. Each cane lives only two growing seasons before dying.
- In areas with heavy clay soils, consider planting stems in raised beds to encourage a healthy berry harvest and to prevent root rot in wet conditions.
- Pruning is essential in order to keep plants well-maintained. It is generally best to prune out old, summer-bearing canes as soon as fruiting is over in order to encourage the production of new canes. Prune out fruiting canes of both summer and everbearing cultivars immediately after summer fruiting. Also prune out any non-fruiting canes that exhibit weakness or disease. Everbearing cultivars will produce fruit on the tips of newly developing shoots after pruning. In late winter, remove any damaged canes. Thin, as needed, remaining canes. Cut back the tips of ever-bearers that fruited last fall but leave remaining cane for summer fruiting. Promptly remove excess new plants and suckers to control spread. Stems may root where they touch the ground.
This cool-season perennial grows best in spring and fall and may go dormant in hot summer months after setting fruit. Wild strawberries spread indefinitely by runners that root and form new plants as they sprawl along the ground, often forming large colonies over time. They provide nesting sites for wildlife, pollen and nectar, food for breeding birds and mammals, spring/summer flowers, and edible fruit. Plants often grow in woodland openings, meadows, prairies, limestone glades, and cleared areas, including roadsides.
↕️ .25-.75 ft. ↔️ 1-2 ft.
Wild strawberries have a sweet, tart flavor. The fruits attract 53 species of birds, including Northern Flicker, Wood Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Towhee, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Plants host 81 species of caterpillars and moths.
Plants flower reliably in spring.
Yarrow produces bright yellow blooms over an ample season from June to September. It prefers full sun and dry to medium soils.
↕️ 1-2.5 ft. ↔️ 1-1.5 ft.
Yarrow’s bright blooms and fragrant leaves make it a great cut flower and dried flower, too!
Yarrow is low-maintenance and spreads readily. Deadhead fading flowers mid-summer to encourage more growth. Consider dividing plants over time to promote health. Plantings make a nice gift!