Growing Information and Illustrated Garden Designs with Plant Lists


A rock garden is a perfect way to try native plants on a small scale. A single native plant does not get lost in a rock garden as it might in a garden landscape. Choose plants that are low growing and thrive in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Since prairie plants have seasonal bloom, select at least one variety for each season. For starters, mix some of these in with your existing rock garden perennials:


Tradescantia tharpii, Shortstem spiderwort
Oenothera macrocarpa, Missouri evening primrose
Geum triflorum, Prairie smoke
Clematis fremontii, Fremont’s clematis

Callirhoe involucrata, Purple poppy mallow
Dalea villosa, Silky prairie clover
Verbena canadensis, Rose verbena

Chasmanthium latifolium, Northern sea oats
Aster fendleri ‘My Antonia’, Aster


Native plants are a wonderful and underused means to create a natural setting around a water feature in your landscape. Many wildflowers and grasses thrive along the moist edge of a pond. Pictured are gray-headed coneflowers which can be grown from transplants or seeds. Masses of their earthy colored seed heads in fall and winter are attractive and provide feed for birds.

Some other great wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs for water features are:


Asclepias incarnata, Swamp milkweed
Penstemon digitalis, Smooth penstemon
Monarda fistulosa, Wild bergamot
Liatris pycnostachya, Kansas gayfeather
Helenium autumnale, Helen’s flower
Panicum virgatum, Switchgrass
Chasmanthium latifolium, Northern sea oats
Viburnum prunifolium, Blackhaw viburnum
Viburnum rufidulum, Rusty blackhaw viburnum
Cephalanthus occidentalis, Buttonbush


The sensitive gardener will observe that there are many more stages in the life of a perennial that are deserving of study and appreciation than simply the flowers – buds, unfurling leaves, seedheads, autumn foliage, winter’s skeletal remains…

—Piet Oudolf with Noel Kingsbury
Designing With Plants

A prairie garden can be the entry garden, surround a favorite piece of art in the garden, or share a spot with favorite traditional shrubs and flowers. Choosing plants which have the same cultural requirements of soil and water is essential.

To achieve a design that melds with your neighbor’s cultivated look, try designing around structure rather than color. A perennial plant has a unique form, from its emergence in spring to its seed heads in winter. The flower heads can be separated into categories of spires, globes, plumes, umbels, daisies and screens and the seed heads often have the same architecture.

In this spring picture, you see the pleasing mix with the daisy forms of spiderwort and Missouri evening primrose punctuated by the spires of penstemon. Early summer bloom is just beginning to show with the umbels of the butterfly milkweed. As the penstemon fades, gayfeather, visible now only as foliage, will provide new spikes of bloom. A prairie garden is not static; new forms and colors surprise and enchant every few weeks.

Piet Oudolf in his book Designing With Plants advises that a good planting should have enough variety of shape to look good viewed in black and white. Use color as the secondary dimension to add mood to your garden.

In bloom:


Tradescantia ohioensis, Shortstem spiderwort (lavender)
Oenothera macrocarpa, Missouri evening primrose (yellow)
Penstemon digitalis, Smooth penstemon
Aesclepias tuberosa, Butterfly milkweed


A large landscape can be your backyard or a meadow you can see from your kitchen window.

Photo courtesy of Emily Weaver.

If you elect to plant a seed mixture, choose one with hardy native varieties or have one custom mixed for you. Avoid mixtures that have plants that are not native to this area. Check our Resources section for seed sources.

Preparing the bed properly is essential. Completely eliminate weeds using commercial herbicides such as Round-up or by repeated tilling until all competing plant material has been removed. When hand broadcasting the seed, it is good to mix the seed with sand to insure even distribution. Rake the seed lightly, being careful not to bury it more than 1/8- to 1/4-inch deep.

Plantings should be kept moist during the early stages of development. Lightly watering three or four times each week to ensure germination. Supplemental watering during the establishment period will help the wildflowers thrive.

Be careful when eradicating weeds by hand rouging. You may uproot the delicate wildflower seedlings in the process. Mowing over the top of small wildflower seedlings will help keep most annual weeds under control.

Once your site is established, you can collect seed on wildflower excursions in your area (being careful to collect only a small portion of what you see) and add new species. You can also add to your meadow by planting small colonies of vigorous specimens purchased at our native plant sale. These will reseed and reward you with an array of wonderful color and diversity.


This buffalograss lawn is naturally low growing so seldom needs mowing.

Buffalograss is increasingly popular as a low-maintenance landscape turf. It turns green several weeks after Kentucky blue grass in spring and stays green all summer with little or no care. At the first killing frost, it goes dormant and turns a lovely shade of buff until it breaks dormancy in the spring.

It has thrived on the Great Plains for centuries because it is adapted to the soils and rainfall of the region. The new turf-type varieties retain the low-maintenance character of this grass but have a denser mat and a darker, green color.

The key to good buffalograss turf is thorough eradication of weeds before planting. Seeding should be done in late spring when the soil is warm, at least 60 degrees. The seedbed should be free of weeds and firm with enough loose soil to cover the seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inches deep. Pack well after planting. Keep seed moist during the germination stage and water as needed until plants mature. Plantings may be done throughout the summer but not in the fall as the plants need time to establish a good root system before frost.

Little water is needed to maintain buffalograss. During prolonged dry spells, watering will help maintain the desired color. Fertilizer is optional and also helps the turf stay green longer. Its short growth habit requires little mowing, perhaps two or three cutting a season.

The arboretum has several types of buffalograss demonstration areas.