I roamed the perennial aisles at Homestead the other day with Laurie Burr, a volunteer with the National Wildlife Federation, as she pointed out the native plants.  There were lots of them, so this is the first of several blog stories about Native Perennials that are Great in the Garden.

Pink Turtlehead/Chelone lyonii

The humble turtlehead is native to the moist woodlands and mountains of Eastern and Midwest North America. It’s one of the few native woodland plants that blooms after spring — in this case from July through September.

  • Doesn't mind wet soils, even if they're clayey.
  • Spreads to form large clumps.
  • Pink blooms appear in August and September.
  • Grows to 2-4 feet by 1-2 feet.
  • Hardy to Zones 4 to 7.
  • Prefers partial shade but can take full sun if planted in wet soil.

Care required? Just watering in periods of drought.  And if you prefer a bushier look and want to prevent flopping (which can happen in the shade), pinch the shoot tips in spring.

Threadleaf Coreopsis (photo left)

Of the many types of corepsis, verticillata is the most popular for the garden — with yellow or gold flowers and feathery leaves. The light-yellow cultivar ‘Moonbean’ in the photo was voted Perennial of the Year in 1992. In zones 6 and 7, cultivars perform better than the species. Other popular cultivars are ‘Rosea’ and ‘Zagreb’, both gold-flowered and even more drought-tolerant than ‘Moonbeam.’

  • Blooms June to October.
  • Long-lived, reblooms without deadheading (removing the dead flowers).
  • Spreads by rhizome and seed, but not aggressively.
  • Tolerates heat and humidity well.
  • 18-24 inches tall.
  • Hardy to Zones 5-8.
  • Performs best with full sun, but still flowers with a half-day of sun.

Care is easy because after its first season it's very drought-tolerant.   Though coreopsis will rebloom without deadheading, it blooms MORE if those old flowers are removed.  And don't fertilize this plant - that would only make it too tall and actually flower less.

Spiderwort/Tradescantia (photo above, right)

This beauty is native throughout the Eastern U.S. from Maine to Alabama, and was first introduced to Europe as a garden plant in 1629.

  • Has violet flowers from May into July.
  • Happy in any exposure, sun through heavy shade, though performs best in part shade.
  • Grows in 2-foot high spreading clumps.
  • Hardy in Zones 5 — 8.

Care?  Definitely whack off the old flowers and foliage after blooming, and you'll be rewarded with new leaves that look much prettier, and some reblooming.   Spiderwort is highly drought-tolerant, so supplemental watering is rarely needed.   It spreads vigorously, though much less so in dry soil.

Baptisia spaerocarpa (photo left) and Baptisia australis (photo right)

Though slow to establish, Baptisias develop into tough, drought-tolerant and low-maintenance plants. The flowers are followed by 2-inch swollen pods that turn black as they mature; the seeds inside rattle when after they’ve ripened. And some Baptisia-lovers recommend either cutting the spikes of the blue-black seedpods in midsummer for dried arrangements, or leaving them to add winter interest in the garden. All baptisias are native to the U.S.

  • Blue baptisia grows to as large as 5 feet tall and wide, though some cultivated varieties are smaller.  The yellow type grows to just 2-3 feet by 2-3 feet.
  • Lupine-like flowers appear in May or June; they last 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Deer-resistant.
  • Hardy in Zones 3-9.
  • Takes full or partial sun, and seems adaptable to various soils.

Care is easy, especially after their first season in the garden, when their deep taproots make them super-drought-tolerant. The taproot also makes it really hard to move them safely, so plant them where they can stay. Perennials expert Tracy DiSabato-Aust recommends cutting them back by 1/3 after flowering. That’s a tiny bit of maintenance for such a gorgeous plant.

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