A Few of Our Favorite Natives and Pollinators to Beautify Your Garden
Want to plant a natural garden filled with natives that are beautiful and sustainable? If you love to garden, chances are pretty good that you are hearing a lot about native plants and how critical they are in helping restore balance to our natural ecosystem. Plus, native plants cultivate a diverse and healthier environment for wildlife and for us all.
What exactly are native plants? Basically, we think of natives as any species that has been growing wild in our area since scientists first began observing and cataloging them. That’s a long time. And, because natives have been with us so long, they have formed the foundation for our local ecosystem and helped it thrive.
Creating a Wildlife Habitat
When you create a natural garden with native plants, you are providing all the essential elements of wildlife habitat: food, shelter and a place for wildlife to raise their young. Add a water source, such as a birdbath, and you’ve just established a flourishing wildlife habitat for your neighborhood.
Simply put, the chain of life in local ecosystems begins with native plants. For example, many species of insects rely exclusively on a single native plant species for food. The plants provide food for bugs, bugs are food for songbirds, and songbirds are food for hawks and snakes. Plus, native plants are even medicinal for our insect population. Did you know, the monarch butterfly feeds on milkweed toxins to suppress parasites?
Choosing the Right Plant for the Right Space
Just because it’s native, however, doesn’t mean it will thrive in your garden. The old mantra holds true for all plants, native and non-native: right plant, right place. This list of some of our favorite natives and pollinators includes what kind of light they prefer, when they bloom, and what pollinators they attract to help you select the right plant for your garden. In cultivating a diverse environment, you want to think about adding varied colors, textures, seasonal blooms, fruit, and plants of different sizes to your garden.
By choosing the right natives for your garden, you can eliminate the need for pesticides (which, as an organic company, we hope you don’t use anyway) and cut down on how much you need to water. Choosing the right natives helps to ensure you are creating a sustainable garden.
And, keep in mind, those who fly need a place to land, so be sure to provide plants with a perfect perch. Butterflies like to sit when they eat (just like we should), so they like flowers with a landing pad. Think of flowers like yarrow (Achillea), butterfly bush (Buddleia) or butterfly weed (Asclepias).
Want More Resources for Native Plants?
- The Morton Arboretum
- Natural Habitat of Evanston
- PlantNative has an extensive list of native plants by region
- The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a native plant database that allows you to search native plants based on your region, the plant’s leaf characteristics, soil moisture level, and various other specifics.
Our List of Natives and Pollinators
Without further ado, here’s a short (shortish) list of natives and pollinators that might be perfect for your garden.
Achillea millefolium L. (Common Yarrow)
Sun to part shade. June-Sept. Attracts butterflies. Easy to grow, drought loving and long blooming. Flat-topped clusters of small flowers available in a range of colors. The foliage is fragrant with a soft fern-like appearance. Deadhead for prolonged flowering.
Allium (Ornamental Onion)
Sun, part sun. July-August. Allium offer attractive spherical flowers in varying heights with fragrant, grass-like foliage. Drought tolerant once established. Not edible. Attracts bees and butterflies.
Amsonia (Blue Star)
Sun, part sun. June-July. Native. Drought tolerant once established and worth the wait! These long-lived perennials may be slow to establish but are outstanding garden plants. Multiple seasons of interest with star-shaped blue flowers in June, clean green foliage in summer, and handsome yellow fall color.
Sun. Part sun. Late Summer-Fall (except A. sylvestris, which is spring). Grown for their lush, maple-like foliage and beautiful, elegant flowers. Most bloom late in the season providing an unexpected show. Perform best if given morning sun and filtered afternoon light. Ironically, they do best out of windy locations.
Aquilegia canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’ (Columbine)
Sun to part sun. Spreading. Red. April-May.
This species is native to Illinois and attracts butterflies.
Sun. Part sun. Native. June-Aug.
Easily recognizable by their unique flower structure and large seedpods that release silky white cotton balls that float in the air. Milkweed plays a key role in all stages of the Monarch life cycle: eggs, caterpillars and adults. It’s vital to their survival because it’s the only food source for Monarch caterpillars.
Baptisia (False or Wild Indigo)
Sun. Part sun. Natives. May-June
Large, long-lived perennials with spikes of pea-like flowers for 2-4 weeks that are followed by interesting seed pods. Low maintenance and a host plant to many butterfly species. Their extensive root system allows them to survive in drought conditions and makes them hard to transplant. Can be cut back to half after blooming to control the height.
Cimicifuga (Bugbane, Snakeroot)
Part sun. Shade. Sept-Oct.
Tall, elegant woodland plants that add grace to any shade garden. Fragrant. They need consistent moisture throughout the growing season.
Full sun. Native. Early-Late Summer. Attracts hummingbirds.
Loaded with blooms for 3 months of the summer. Need full sun and well-drained soil. Drought tolerant once established. Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ is native to our area.
Full sun. Native. July-Sept.
Wow, the diversity in this genus is continuing to grow! Echinacea is now available in an array of colors, shapes and sizes. Attracts butterflies and birds. Will tolerate light shade. The secret to success is excellent drainage. Echinacea Pallida is native to our area. Orange coneflowers or black eyed susan’s are also great choices.
Sun. Part sun. Late spring-summer. Groundcover. Hardy perennials. Peak flowering time is late spring with sporadic blooms during the summer. Prefer to be on the dry side.
Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’
Sun. part sun. Mound habit. Attracts butterflies. Light lavender-ink flowers and attractive red-brown foliage.
Sun. Part sun. Native. May-July
Brightly colored flowers top this plant from late spring to mid-summer. Well-drained soil, especially in winter. Fast growing, low maintenance. Relatively disease and pest free.
Hypericum prolificum (Shrubby St. John’s Wort)
Full sun. Partial Shade. Native. Attracts birds, butterflies and bees.
Shrubby St. John’s wort is a low to medium-sized native shrub reaching 3 to 4 feet high. The bright yellow flowers with a profusion of yellow stamens look like fireworks. The exfoliating bark and attractive seed capsules add winter interest to the landscape.
Liatris (Blazing Star, Gayfeather)
Sun. Part Shade. Native. July-Aug.
Long spikes of flowers open from the top down and are great for cutting. They are tolerant of poor, dry soils and are great for naturalizing. A butterfly and hummingbird magnet!
Monarda didyma (Scarlet Bee Balm)
Sun to part shade. Blooms from May through October.
The leaves have a minty aroma and hummingbirds are especially attracted to the red flowers. Butterflies are attracted to this flower, too. The alternate common name Oswego Tea refers to the use of the leaves for a tea by the Oswegos of New York.
It is susceptible to powdery mildew, but some cultivars, such as Jacob Cline, are mildew resistant.
Full sun. Groundcover. June-Sept.
Easy to grow, long blooming. Spikes of lavender flowers cover the fragrant, gray-green foliage from early summer through fall. Tolerant of dry areas and must have well-drained soil. Can be sheared back to promote reblooming. Bees love them.
Sun. Part shade. Native. Early summer-Late summer.
Diverse group of perennials with large, showy, tubular flowers loved by bees and hummingbirds. Prefer well drained soils and will tolerate drought once established. Pictured is Husker Red (P. digitalis)
Perovskia (Russian Sage)
Full sun. July-Sept. Bees Love them.
A tough group of plants. Only requirements are full sun and well-drained soil. Heat and drought tolerant. Cut back the aromatic gray foliage in late fall or early spring to 6”.
Physocarpus opulifolius (Nine Bark)
Full sun to part shade. Native. May to June.
This deciduous shrub blooms in white or pink, and it’s suggested as a hedge. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions. Prune as needed immediately after bloom and no later than mid-August. Plants may be cut close to the ground in winter to rejuvenate. In the winter, it’s known for its ornamental attractive exfoliating bark.
Part sun. Full shade. April-Mid June. Attracts hummingbirds. This interesting genus deserves much wider use in the shade garden. The low growing mounds of hairy leaves are very hardy and low maintenance. Prefer moist, but well-drained soil in partial shade.
Phlox divaricate ‘Blue Moon’
Light shade to part sun. Violet-blue flower; fine foliage turns burgundy in winter.
Full sun. May-July.
Members of the mint family, Salvia are grown for their long season and prolific flowers and dark green, aromatic foliage. They love sun and are heat tolerant. Prefer light, well-drained sites and withstand drought once established. Cut back after flowering to promote a second flush of blooms in late summer-early fall.
Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Blue Stem)
Full sun. Seasonal interest all year. Prairie grass native to Illinois.
Little bluestem grows in a wide range of soil types, as long as they are not wet. In other words, good drought tolerance. It is shorter than many prairie grasses, growing only 2 to 4 feet tall. It is prized for its small fluffy seed heads and good fall color.
This is a warm season grass, so its most active growth occurs in summer. It will remain standing in winter and can act as winter interest. Therefore, it should not be cut back until early spring, before new growth begins. At that time, you can cut it down to the ground.
Stachys (Lambs Ears, Betony)
Full sun. Groundcover. June-Aug. Hummingbirds love them. Need excellent drainage. Good edging, groundcover or rock garden plant. Plus, super soft to the touch.
Need Help Choosing?
Our team of landscape designers is happy to help you choose and install the best plants for your garden, helping to ensure they’ll thrive and provide you with years of enjoyment. Please call us for a free consult at 847.866.1930.