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Pennsylvania Native Plants for the Perennial Garden

Herbaceous (nonwoody) perennial plants add year round interest to any landscape and are a popular choice of plants among gardeners.

Herbaceous (non-woody) perennial plants add year-round interest to any landscape and are a popular choice of plants among gardeners. Though thousands of perennials are available, native perennials have a special role in the garden.

Why Natives?

By definition, a native Pennsylvania plant is one that grew in Pennsylvania before the European settlers arrived, as opposed to exotic plants which came from other countries after that time period. Natives have many advantages. Because they evolved here, they are well-adapted to our climate and are generally easy to care for once they are established. Many native perennials like less fertile soil and require the addition of little or no fertilizer. Perhaps the most compelling reason to choose natives is to preserve Pennsylvania’s biodiversity. Development is rapidly reducing natural areas that shelter a wealth of our native plants; the landscapes that replace the natural areas consist mostly of lawns and exotic plants. Recent research from Dr. Doug Tallamy of the University of Delaware has determined that 90 percent of our native insects are specialists that feed on three or fewer families of plants. The insects rely on native plant hosts and cannot eat the exotic plants that have become common in our yards. A reduction of native insects means that birds have fewer insects to feed to their young, and that will lead to a reduction of bird species. In the next fifty years, what we plant in our yards will determine the kind of wildlife that can live in Pennsylvania. By planting natives, gardeners can help retain our natural history and the beauty and diversity of Penn’s Woods.

Choosing Native Perennials

Though native plants have the home advantage, matching their needs to the growing site is still very important. The soil around many of our home sites is is often removed prior to home construction and may not be replaced afterwards.

Determine your soil type—do you have heavy clay or silty loam? Is it high or low in organic matter? Does it tend to dry out quickly after a rainfall or does it hold moisture?

Other factors must also be considered. Is the site in sun or shade? How much room does the site allow for perennials to grow to their maximum size without crowding? Combining plants that grow well in the same natural habitats will help create healthy, vigorous plantings. If you do some homework and place plants in the proper environment, you will be rewarded with gardens that thrive with less care.

Note

Natives have many advantages. Because they evolved here, they are well-adapted to our climate and are generally easy to care for once they are established. Featured species: Chrysogonum virginianum.

Planting and Care

Spring, early summer, and fall are the best times to establish native perennials. Test your soil before planting and, if needed, amend the nutrients according to the soil test results. Remember that many natives do not require the addition of fertilizer and may do poorly in highly-fertilized soil. Plants that require moist soil high in organic matter will do well if compost is added. Cultivate the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches and incorporate any soil amendments.

When planting, placing the plant in a hole at the same depth as when it was in the container is important. If the plant is root-bound, make sure you free the root system by gently pulling it apart. Once the backfill soil is added, water the plant thoroughly. Additional water may be needed during the growing season until plants are well established. If planted in the proper environment, many natives need little or no additional water once established. In fact, many meadow species may become leggy if the soil is too moist. A two inch mulch layer of shredded leaves, shredded bark, or compost will help conserve water. However, be sure to keep the mulch away from the plant stems.

Buying Native Perennials

Do not collect from the wild! Collecting plants from the wild causes the depletion of native species and disruption of the ecosystem. Be sure to purchase plants from a reputable source and purchase only nursery propagated native plants. Visit your favorite nursery or seek out native plant nurseries and sales sponsored by conservation societies. Native plants are becoming increasingly popular and easier to find. Your local Penn State Extension office can help.

Iris Cristata

Source

  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Mid-Atlantic Recommended Native Plant Species List, 2001

Prepared by Shirley Wagner, Master Gardener Coordinator, Penn State Extension, Lancaster County and Connie Schmotzer, Consumer Horticulture, Penn State Extension, York County.

Suggested Native Plants for Pennsylvania Perennial Gardens
Botanical Name Common Name Height Color Bloom time Comments
Aquilegia canadensis Columbine 1-2’ Red & yellow April- June Moist to dry. Partial shadeto sun. Self Seeds
Asarum canadense Wild ginger 4-8” Maroon April-May Moist shade. Ground cover. Inconspicuous flowers
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed 1-2’ Orange June-July Dry. Sun. Attracts butterflies.
Aster divaricatus White wood aster 2’ White August-October Moist to dry. Shade to partial shade.
Aster novae-angliae New England aster
Up to 6’
Lavender-pink
August to frost Wet to dry. Sun to partial sun.
Aster oblongifolius Aromatic aster
12-20”
Pink-lavender
September-October
Dry. Sun. Attracts butterflies.
Baptisia australis Blue wild indigo
2-4’
Blue/purple
April -June
Moist to dry. Sun. Shrubby.
Chelone glabra Turtlehead
1-4’ White
July-August
Moist to wet. Partial shade.
Chrysogonum virginianum
Green-and-gold
6-12”
Yellow
April-October
Moist to dry. Sun to partial
shade. Ground cover
Cimicifuga racemosa Bugbane, Black cohosh 3-8’ White July-August
Moist to dry. Partial sun
Coreopsis tripteris
Tall coreopsis
3-9’ Yellow July-Sept. Moist to dry. Sun to partial sun. Use for back of the border
Dicentra eximia
Wild bleeding heart
1-2’ Pink
April-September Moist to dry. Partial shade
Eupatorium fistulosum
Joe-pye weed
2-7’
Pinkish-lavender
July-Sept.
Wet to moist. Sun to partial shade. Attracts butterflies
Geranium maculatum
Wild geranium, Cranesbill
1-3’
Pink
April to July
Moist to dry. Shade to partial shade.
Helenium autumnale
Common sneezeweed
2-5’
Yellow
August-September
Wet to moist. Sun.to partial sun
Helianthus simulans
Narrow-leaved sunflower, Swamp sunflower
3-8’
Yellow
August-September
Wet to moist. Sun to partial shade
Heliopsis helianthoides
Ox-eye sunflower, False sunflower
3-4’
Yellow
June-August
Wet to dry. Sun
Heuchera americana
Alumroot
1.5-3’
Cream
May-June
Moist to dry. Shade to sun.
Ground cover
Iris cristata
Dwarf crested iris
4-12”
Blue/violet
April-May
Moist to dry. Partial shade to part sun. Ground cover
Liatris spicata
Marsh blazing star, Gayfeather 3-4’
Purple
July-September
Moist to wet. Sun. Attracts
Gayfeather butterflies.
Lilium michiganense
Turk’s cap lily,Michigan lily
2-5’
Orange
July-August
Wet to moist. Sun to shade
Lobelia siphilitica
Great blue lobelia
2-3’
Blue/lavender
July-October
Wet to moist. Partial sun
Mertensia virginica
Virginia bluebells
1-2’
Blue
April-June
Wet to moist. Shade to partial
sun
Monarda didyma
Beebalm, Oswego tea
2-3’
Red
July-August
Wet to moist. Sun to partial
shade.
Monarda fistulosa
Wild bergamot, Horsemint, Beebalm
2-5’
Lavender
July-August
Moist to dry. Sun to partial shade
Penstemon digitalis
Beardtongue
2-5’
White
June-July
Moist to dry. Sun to partial sun
Phlox paniculata
Summer phlox,Perennial phlox
3-4’
Pink to lavender
June-August
Moist, Sun to partial sun.
Polemonium reptans
Jacob’s ladder,Greek valerian
10-15”
Pink April-May
Moist. Shade
Polygonatum biflorum
Solomon’s seal
1-5’
White
May-June
Moist to dry. Shade
Pycanthemum tenuifolium
Slender mountain mint
2-3’
White
August-September
Moist to dry. Sun to partial sun. Attracts beneficials
Rudbeckia fulgida Black-eye Susan, Orange coneflower 1-3’ Yellow July-October Moist to dry. Sun
Senecio aureus Golden ragwort 1’ Yellow June-August Wet to moist. Sun to partial shade. Ground cover
Sisyrinchium angustifolium Narrow-leaved blue-eyed grass
1-1.5’
Blue
May-July
Wet to moist. Sun to partial sun. Ground cover
Smilacina racemosa False solomon’s seal, False spikenard 1-3’
White May
Moist to dry. Shade to sun
Solidago speciosa Showy goldenrod 1-5’
Yellow August-September Moist to dry. Sun to partial sun
Tiarella cordifolia
Foam flower 8-12”
White April-July Moist. Shade
Vernonia noveboracensis New York ironweed
5-8’
Reddish purple
August-September Wet to moist. Sun
Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s root 2-6’ White
July-September
Moist. Sun to partial shade
Grasses
Botanical Name Common Name Height Comments
Panicum virgatum Switchgrass 3-6’ Wet to dry. Sun
Schizachyrium scoparium Little Bluestem 3-6’ Moist to dry. Sun. Good fall color
Sorghastrum nutans Indiangrass 3-8’ Wet to dry. Sun. Good fall color
Sporobolus heterolepis Prairie Dropseed 1-2’ “Weeping” form Moist to dry. Sun. Attractive form year round.

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Title

Pennsylvania Native Plants for the Perennial Garden

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XJ0021

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