There is a large movement in the southern half of the United States to move back towards native plants that at one time covered all this area. They bloom in the years we have a lot of rain and, due to deep tap roots, they bloom in the years we have little rain, too. With their deep tap roots many of these plants live year in and year out with little care after the first few years.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 7, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
One of the most rewarding and giving of native plant gardens is the meadow garden. These gardens give year round color, wild life refuges, and a wonderful garden design that is the best of the native world, with the freedom to enjoy a cottage-like feel. Historically speaking, the native prairie at one tip ran from near the gulf coast to the northern sectors of Canada. The native prairie stretched from Illinois to the foothills of the Rockies.
To start our prairie garden we need to start with bigger plants that that will set up our background - the small trees and shrubs. These will be the backbone. They may form thickets in the garden or build an edge around the prairie garden. In the southern prairie there are few, if any, large trees . Most of the trees that could be found in the wild southern prairie garden will be of small stature - not much help against our summer heat - but these plants will not mind. Here is a small list of some trees and shrubs that are a must in the prairie garden. The bigger the area you have to give them, the more of these wonderful plants you can use to highlight the area.
Bumelia - Bumelia lanuginosa in particular is a wonderful native tree that can reach up to 40 feet. Often in the harsh conditions of the prairie these trees tend to stay small. These are prized for their fragrant flowers.
Redbud - Cercis canadensis or C. candensis var. texensis is a small tree with twisted branches. In the early spring these trees are covered in rows upon rows of wonderful blooms. The blooms are followed in time with heart-shaped leaves and wonderful seed pods.
Dalea - Dalea frutescensor D. formosa are some stunning small shrubs. They are fast growing with small leaves and wonderful purple colored flowers. These plants tend to like life on the dry side so be careful where you plant.
Amorpha - Amorpha fruticosa or A. canescens are a pair of wonderful feathery airy shrubs that can live in wet or dry soils after becoming established in the garden. They are known for their wonderfully unique look and their blooms of deep purple with bright yellow trim.
Yucca recurviolia is just one of the many members of this family that is stunning in the prairie garden. The stiff plants grow in small clumps crowned with tall pillars of snow white flowers. This is one of the must have plants that will add more character to the prairie garden than it will take in space.
Quercus - Quercus virginiana and Quercus macrocarpa are two of the most stunning trees to crown the large prairie gardens. There are so many choices in the oak family that would be wonderful for any space, any need, and they are stunning spread wide with wildflowers blooming all around.
Hesperaloe parviflora is a wonderful native plant with tall red spikes of flowers every spring. They have feathery yucca- like leaves that can be sharp if not careful but they are very rewarding in the prairie garden. An added benefit of this plant is its ability to bring in the hummingbirds with its wonderful blooms.
Sophora - Sophora secundiflora and S. affinis are two of the crown jewels in the prairie garden. They are grown for their bright leaves, their stunning flowers, their seed pods, and their slow growing nature. These are perfect for the prairie garden, and well worth the cost to find and purchase them in 15-gallon or bigger containers due to their slow-growing nature.
Ungnadia speciosa is one of the slowest growers in the prairie garden, and not a plant you want in the back of the garden! Plant this wonderful deep green plant right near the outer edge of the prairie garden to see the flowers each year after maturity. The pink to mauve-colored flowers are stunning and not to be missed.
About Mitch Fitzgerald
I am a pentecostal preacher, gardener,husband, and a father. I love natives, daylilies, iris, and roses. I love teaching others, be they children or adults, about the garden and plants.