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.
Pennsylvania Native Plants for the Perennial Garden - Articles


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 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.


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.


  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Mid-Atlantic Recommended Native Plant Species List, 2001
Suggested Native Plants for Pennsylvania Perennial Gardens
Botanical NameCommon NameHeightColorBloom timeComments
Aquilegia canadensisColumbine1-2'Red & yellowApril- JuneMoist to dry. Partial shadeto sun. Self Seeds
Asarum canadenseWild ginger4-8"MaroonApril-MayMoist shade. Ground cover. Inconspicuous flowers
Asclepias tuberosaButterfly weed1-2'OrangeJune-JulyDry. Sun. Attracts butterflies.
Aster divaricatusWhite wood aster2'WhiteAugust-OctoberMoist to dry. Shade to partial shade.
Aster novae-angliaeNew England asterUp to 6'Lavender-pinkAugust to frostWet to dry. Sun to partial sun.
Aster oblongifoliusAromatic aster12-20"Pink-lavenderSeptember-OctoberDry. Sun. Attracts butterflies.
Baptisia australisBlue wild indigo2-4'Blue/purpleApril -JuneMoist to dry. Sun. Shrubby.
Chelone glabraTurtlehead1-4'WhiteJuly-AugustMoist to wet. Partial shade.
Chrysogonum virginianumGreen-and-gold6-12"YellowApril-OctoberMoist to dry. Sun to partial
shade. Ground cover
Cimicifuga racemosaBugbane, Black cohosh3-8'WhiteJuly-AugustMoist to dry. Partial sun
Coreopsis tripterisTall coreopsis3-9'YellowJuly-Sept.Moist to dry. Sun to partial sun. Use for back of the border
Dicentra eximiaWild bleeding heart1-2'PinkApril-SeptemberMoist to dry. Partial shade
Eupatorium fistulosumJoe-pye weed2-7'Pinkish-lavenderJuly-Sept.Wet to moist. Sun to partial shade. Attracts butterflies
Geranium maculatumWild geranium, Cranesbill1-3'PinkApril to JulyMoist to dry. Shade to partial shade.
Helenium autumnaleCommon sneezeweed2-5'YellowAugust-SeptemberWet to moist. partial sun
Helianthus simulansNarrow-leaved sunflower, Swamp sunflower3-8'YellowAugust-SeptemberWet to moist. Sun to partial shade
Heliopsis helianthoidesOx-eye sunflower, False sunflower3-4'YellowJune-AugustWet to dry. Sun
Heuchera americanaAlumroot1.5-3'CreamMay-JuneMoist to dry. Shade to sun.
Ground cover
Iris cristataDwarf crested iris4-12"Blue/violetApril-MayMoist to dry. Partial shade to part sun. Ground cover
Liatris spicataMarsh blazing star, Gayfeather3-4'PurpleJuly-SeptemberMoist to wet. Sun. Attracts
Gayfeather butterflies.
Lilium michiganenseTurk's cap lily,Michigan lily2-5'OrangeJuly-AugustWet to moist. Sun to shade
Lobelia siphiliticaGreat blue lobelia2-3'Blue/lavenderJuly-OctoberWet to moist. Partial sun
Mertensia virginicaVirginia bluebells1-2'BlueApril-JuneWet to moist. Shade to partial
Monarda didymaBeebalm, Oswego tea2-3'RedJuly-AugustWet to moist. Sun to partial
Monarda fistulosaWild bergamot, Horsemint, Beebalm2-5'LavenderJuly-AugustMoist to dry. Sun to partial shade
Penstemon digitalisBeardtongue2-5'WhiteJune-JulyMoist to dry. Sun to partial sun
Phlox paniculataSummer phlox,Perennial phlox3-4'Pink to lavenderJune-AugustMoist, Sun to partial sun.
Polemonium reptansJacob's ladder,Greek valerian10-15"PinkApril-MayMoist. Shade
Polygonatum biflorumSolomon's seal1-5'WhiteMay-JuneMoist to dry. Shade
Pycanthemum tenuifoliumSlender mountain mint2-3'WhiteAugust-SeptemberMoist to dry. Sun to partial sun. Attracts beneficials
Rudbeckia fulgidaBlack-eye Susan, Orange coneflower1-3'YellowJuly-OctoberMoist to dry. Sun
Senecio aureusGolden ragwort1'YellowJune-AugustWet to moist. Sun to partial shade. Ground cover
Sisyrinchium angustifoliumNarrow-leaved blue-eyed grass1-1.5'BlueMay-JulyWet to moist. Sun to partial sun. Ground cover
Smilacina racemosaFalse solomon's seal, False spikenard1-3'WhiteMayMoist to dry. Shade to sun
Solidago speciosaShowy goldenrod1-5'YellowAugust-SeptemberMoist to dry. Sun to partial sun
Tiarella cordifoliaFoam flower8-12"WhiteApril-JulyMoist. Shade
Vernonia noveboracensisNew York ironweed5-8'Reddish purpleAugust-SeptemberWet to moist. Sun
Veronicastrum virginicumCulver's root2-6'WhiteJuly-SeptemberMoist. Sun to partial shade
Botanical NameCommon NameHeightComments
Panicum virgatumSwitchgrass3-6'Wet to dry. Sun
Schizachyrium scopariumLittle Bluestem3-6'Moist to dry. Sun. Good fall color
Sorghastrum nutansIndiangrass3-8'Wet to dry. Sun. Good fall color
Sporobolus heterolepisPrairie Dropseed1-2'"Weeping" form Moist to dry. Sun. Attractive form year round.

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