University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
NATIVE PERENNIALS FOR SUNNY LANDSCAPES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Perennials that are native to our region—that were growing here when the
first settlers arrived—are increasingly becoming favored by gardeners.
This is because they are often better adapted to our region than
introduced plants, making them more resistant to pests and diseases.
They often require less care and maintenance. And, they often are quite
attractive to native bees and other pollinators.
The following baker’s dozen native plants can be combined in a beautiful
perennial garden, or meadow planting, for a full-sun location in
northern gardens. In addition to providing flower interest through the
summer and into fall, several of the taller plants add textural interest
to the winter landscape if not cut back until early spring.
• Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a 3-foot plant whose mauve
flowers are attractive to butterflies, particularly the orange
Monarch. Once established it is quite drought resistant. It develops a
long deep taproot, so doesn’t like to be moved.
• New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae), often seen now by a new name (Symphyotrichum),
grows 36 inches tall or more, produces deep pink or purple daisy-like
flowers in fall. ‘Alma Potschke’ is a good selection of the native
species with bright, magenta-pink flowers. ‘Purple Dome’ is only 18
inches tall, covered with purple flowers.
• New York Aster (Aster novi-belgii) can reach 2 to 4-feet tall, the species having blue to purple flowers in early fall. It grows best in moist soils.
• Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) is a magnificent 4 to
7-foot plant for the background of the perennial border. Its large
lavender flowers in late summer attract butterflies. Cut back by 6
inches in early June for a shorter, more bushy plant.
• Blue flag (Iris versicolor) produces blue-purple flowers on
2-foot stems. Often overlooked in favor of other irises, this plant is
good in moist to wet soils.
• Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) can’t be missed with
its fire engine red flower spikes in late summer. It may reseed in some
areas. Tolerating part shade, it likes moist soil.
• Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is unusual with its
blue flower spikes in late summer. It is short-lived, but reseeds.
The best show is in masses, and moist soils.
• Beebalm (Monarda didyma) is often called Oswego Tea, from
its use in New York state by native peoples for this purpose. There are
many selections, from 2 to 4-feet tall, with their spidery flowers on
ends of branches. Choose ones resistant to mildew disease, such as the
bright red ‘Jacob Cline’ which attracts pollinators and hummingbirds.
• Switch grass (Panicum virgatum) is an upright clumping
grass, 4 to 5-feet tall. There are several good selections such as the
reddish ‘Prairie Fire’ and the metallic blue ‘Heavy Metal’.
• Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) can reach 3 to 5 feet,
depending on selection. Choices with large, dense flower clusters atop
stems come in pinks, purples, and whites. Choose ones such as the pink
‘Shortwood’ or the white ‘David’ which are resistant to the white
powdery mildew disease. Best in full sun, garden phlox will tolerate
• Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) is a rambunctious
mint. Its 2-foot stems hold white or pink flowers in mid- to late
summer, and are good cut flowers. It is obedient in that its flowers
remain in place when manually moved sideways, not obedient in its
growth. Look for the white-flowered cultivar ‘Miss Manners’ if you
don’t want it to spread vigorously.
• Fireworks goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) is a selection of a
native species that makes a nice clump, only 2-feet tall, with arching
stems of yellow flowers in late summer and early fall. It doesn’t
reseed everywhere like many goldenrods, and like the others doesn’t
cause hay fever (blame that on the ragweed which blooms at the same
• Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
produces elegant white flower spires in mid-summer, 4 to 6 feet
tall. This plant is a favorite of bees and other pollinators.