Early July Blooms in the Native Garden


In early to Mid-July some of the more showy flowers come into bloom.  In early spring, the shorter plants, including the violets, Yellow Star Grass, Sand Phlox, and the woodland wildflowers, such as Great White Trillium, and Sharp Lobed Hepatica are blooming.  As the season progresses, it seems the plants that are in bloom are just a bit taller, on average, than the ones blooming just a few weeks before. 

In a walk around my yard, I snapped some photos of the garden worthy native plants showing off a rainbow of colors, and one of the brightest is always Orange Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).  The intense orange flowers, are a magnet to butterflies, including the endangered Monarch butterfly, which rely on milkweeds to lay their eggs; Monarch caterpillars (larvae) will only eat the leaves of milkweed plants, without milkweed, there can be no Monarch butterflies.


Orange Milkweed reaches a height and spread of approximately 18 inches, and blooms from the end of June until Mid-July.  The bright orange flowers can also appear in shades of yellow or reddish orange – uncommon.  In the photo above, the milkweed in planted in combination with Blue Mist Flower, which will be covered in blue fuzzy blooms come September (you read more about that plant <here>). Behind the milkweed is Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), which provides nectar to butterflies and seed for Goldfinches and other seed eating birds.


Here, Orange Milkweed is show in combination with Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)

In the meadow, the Orange Milkweed is also quit showy, but will go dormant, as the asters and goldenrods begin to grow taller, as their later bloom time approaches.


Also in the meadow, is a purple tinged Big Bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardii).  This one has a bit more color than is typical, ‘Red October’ is a cultivar grown in the nursery trade specifically for this purple accent and its red fall color – I planted a specimen of ‘Red October’ in another part of the garden and will compare the two specimens for ornamental qualities. The specimen below is approximately three feet across in width.


A great looking Big Bluestem grass in the backyard meadow

Another milkweed, just about to bloom, is the Red, or Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata):


A closeup of the Red Milkweed blooms, just about to open

It’s another butterfly favorite, and as its common name indicates, can take wet soils, but will grow fine in typical well-drained garden soils, attaining heights of three to four feet on average.  Neither the Red or Orange Milkweeds spread aggressively, but may come up from seed if bare soil is near the parent plant.


The Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), however, while a great attractor of butterflies, will spread by randomly by wandering underground roots, so while the flowers are sweet smelling, it would be best to plant a less aggressive milkweed in a small garden – the milkweed shown below is in the meadow, and is quite happy – as are the Monarch Butterflies that laid their eggs on this plant this spring!


One of the prairie shrubs blooming around the 4th of July is the purple flowered Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens), with accents of bright orange anthers.  This 18 inch, to three foot tall, sprawling shrub is attractive even when not in flower – the grey finely divided leaves are a nice contrast to nearby flowers.



Leadplant shown in combination with Black-Eyed-Susan, Rudbeckia hirta.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), is another shrub bloom at this time of year, and in this case the flowers look like exploding fireworks – one inch around.  This plant is typically found in wet soils, but seems to do fine in the garden with morning sun – hot sun and dry soil is not what this plant wants.  attaining heights of six to eight feet plus, it can be pruned if necessary, but it would be best to plant it where is can grow to its full size.



Buttonbush growing with the vining Wild Yam (Ipomoea pandurata) – soon to have three white morning glory like blooms.

Native shrubs such as the naturally occurring cultivar ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea and the multi-stemmed Serviceberry shrub, shown below, mix well with other garden plants such as (from left to right) ‘Biokovo’ Geranium, variegated Pulmonaria, ‘Palace Purple’ Coral Bells, and Pink flowered Japanese Anemone.  At the base of the Serviceberry tree/shrub is growing Jack-in-the-Pulpit – which will have showy red fruit at the end to summer.


The Illinois Rose (Rosa setigera) is a rambler and needs a trellis to grow on if planted in a small garden.  It can be cut back to the ground in spring, as the one below is, to keep it managable.  It’s quite nice when in bloom, has nice red/orange/yellow fall color, and its fruit (hips) are a valuable food source for over wintering birds.


New Jersey Tea (Ceanonthus americanus), is a low shrub, growing to a maximum height of about three feet high and wide.  In July it is covered in fuzzy, two inch long blooms.  Hummingbirds come by to pick off the pollinated insects, rather than for its nectar.  New Jersey Tea does not have great fall color, so its snow white blooms in July are what give this plant its ornamental interest.  This woody plant can also be cut back to the ground during its winter dormancy to keep its growth more compact, as the plant shown is, every March.



New Jersey Tea growing in a meadow setting

On the other hand, Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) has great fall color – mostly bright red, and its pinnately divided leaves inspired many a Frank Lloyd Wright window panel.  Sprouts coming up from the roots will need to be kept cut back in June, but it is otherwise carefree, attaining heights of eight to twelve feet tall and equally wide.


Smooth Sumac growing with Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), another great butterfly plant, in the foreground.

Mountain Mint (Pynanthemum) is also in flower, not a true mint (mentha) it does not spread wildly by its roots, it does however have a pleasant wintergreen scent to its leaves – very strong when crushed.  In the herb garden, I cut it back by half at the end of June to keep it shorter (16 inches), it can get two to three feet tall.


The flowers of Mountain Mint attract many pollinators to the garden.



Mountain Mint just coming into bloom

The Wood Sage (Teucrium canadense), also planted in the meadow is looking great.  Growing in somewhat drier ground than it might prefer in the wild, the plants are only about four feet tall – topped by masses of spire shaped lavender flowers.  A good plant for larger gardens that can take its tendency to slowly spread.


Wood Sage, or Germander, is commonly found in moist/wet meadows, but can be grown in average garden soil.

Prairie Coreopsis (C. palmata), is an attractive plant for the garden.  Growing to about three feet in height, it would make a good flower for the rear of a planting, with shorter plants in front.  As with all the coreopsis, the Goldfinches love the seeds that the plants provide.  The shorter Sand Coreopsis (C. lanceolata) bloomed earlier, and the Tall Coreopsis (C. tripteris) will bloom in a few weeks time.


Finally, Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea, Petalostemum purpureum)) is a real show stopper.  The bright purple/pink blooms flower in rings, starting at the base of the flower structure, opposite that of liatris, which blooms from the top down.  Forming nice bushy eighteen inch to two foot tall plants, Purple Prairie Clover is a great addition to any garden.




While this photo of Purple Prairie Clover was taken in a backyard meadow setting, it looks great in a more formal planting as well.

Finally on my backyard walk, I noticed the aptly named Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum) was just starting to set out its flower buds.   Its 1.25 inch round puffs of pink bloom will be taking center stage soon.  As the buds begin to open, the stems will have straightened out, and the flowers will rise at the top of eighteen inch tall wiry stems.


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The Backyard Meadow – Mid-Summer Blooms and Bugs


The meadow in my backyard is getting better every year.  In 2006, just after I moved in, this area was mowed on a weekly basis.  I could see, though, that this area was never planted to turf, like the areas closer to the house.  There were Pussy Toes blooming in spring, asters, Poverty Oats Grass, Wild Strawberries, and other things just waiting it out – for about 50 years, until I came along.  I stopped mowing, herbicided the weeds, and seeded in and planted native tallgrass prairie species.

This past week, the Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya) started blooming.  In the photo above, it is blooming with the white flowered Wild Quinine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and on the right edge of the photo, Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) with its strappy, yucca-like leaves.  In a few weeks, another blazing star in the meadow will be blooming, Rough Blazing Star (L. aspera).


Almost all of the white in this photo below, is Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) mixed into a matrix of Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium).  The tall yellow flowers in the distance are Gray-Headed Coneflowers (Ritibida pinata).  Walking through the Mountain Mint is a sensory experience – on a warm summer day, the clean mint smell will rise around you.


Little Bluestem Grass really puts on a show in fall, when the blue-green foliage turns a coppery orange, and stays nice throughout the winter.  Even in summer, however, it is an attractive grass, growing to 18 inches high and wide, and a bit taller when it is in flower.


Walking through the meadow, some pretty interesting pollinators were seen, including this Buckeye Butterfly.


Another visitor to the meadow was this Dragonfly, busy sunning itself on a dry twig. 


Gray-Headed Coneflower, Wild Quinine, and Prairie Dropseed Grass make for an eye pleasing combination.


Purple Prairie Clover is just about to finish it’s bloom cycle, starting from the bottom up, just the opposite of the blazing star.



The Wild Sweet Potato (Ipomoea pandurata) was rambling over the Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  Wild Sweet Potato grows from a large, underground tuber, as you may have guessed from its name.  Its vines grow quite a long length in a short time, dying back to the ground each winter.  The plant does not spread by roots or seeds, making it a good garden plant, as well.


The large white 3 to 4 inch blooms last only a day each.


Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)- shown below- can get 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, sometimes that’s a bit too big for the home garden.  Purple Milkweed (A. purpuranscens) is more upright with a less open habit, but similar purple-pink flowers – a better garden plant than Marsh Milkweed.


Gray-Headed Coneflower at the rear of the meadow enjoys its sunny location.  Its bright yellow flowers, on 4 foot tall (or more) stalks, can be seen from a long distance away.


On the much shorter side of things (at approximately a foot tall), Partridge Pea (Cassia fasciculata) and the purple flowered Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris) seem to be getting along together, just fine.  Partridge Pea generally can be found in colonies while Heal-All is often found singly, and seemingly randomly, throughout an area.


Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) has just begun to show some color – with all the yellow flowers in the meadow, this bright royal purple is a welcome addition to the color palette.   At 5 feet tall, or more, the flowers can not hardly be missed.


The delicate looking, but quite tough, Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata) makes a great accent plant, and is wonderfully adaptable in the garden, as well as being quite nice here in the meadow.  It can take part sun and damp soil, to full sun and dry ground.  It has a coarse root system that helps in this durability.


It would look great in any garden – with similar flowering heights, it works well planted with Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida).  As the coneflowers wane and only the dark seed heads remain, the euphorbia comes on strong, and complements the coarseness of the coneflower.


The Orange Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) likes full sun and good drainage. It can be slow to get established, but puts on a great show.  A terrific garden plant as well.   Its coarse root system can make it a little more difficult to dig and move in the garden, but it can be done, if necessary.  Of course butterflies are attracted to milkweeds and Monarchs rely on them to reproduce.


Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) has a great coarse leaves – big and bold, among more modest foliage.  The 3 inch bright yellow blooms provide nectar to a host of pollinators.


Cup Plant is true to its name, by holding water at the base if its leaves.  Insects and birds will come to drink.  And later the birds will fight for the oil rich seeds.


All the flowers and grasses find and make space so that they can put on their best show.  The variety of colors and shapes boggles the mind in their diversity.  Who could possibly want a lawn of monotony?


The meadow is a colorful place at all times of the year, even in winter with shades of orange, rust, and gold, but summer is simply amazing, not only for the flowers, but all the forms of life that take advantage of the flowers and leaves, seeds and nectar, shelter and perch. Magic … seemingly anyhow.


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Native Plant Highlights for the End of June

With all the rain and warm weather this week, the plants in the home landscape are doing well!  Lots of flowers on the native plants throughout my yard, from the backyard meadow, to the front yard prairie garden. View the slideshow below to see some of the garden worthy wildflowers in bloom this week:


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