Here are some native plants that require minimal work for a low-maintenance garden. (See our personalized plant key to design your own native garden.)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Black-eyed Susans are one of our most beloved wildflowers. They’ll show their sunny faces reliably throughout the summer and reach 2 1/2 to 3 feet. There are both annual and perennial forms of this flower.
Dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
Compact fountain grasses include ‘Hameln’ and ‘Little Bunny’ and the taller ‘Moudry’ (about 3 feet), with brown-black flowers. Cut these back to about 8 inches in late winter or early spring.
Missouri evening primrose (Oenothera missouriensis)
Be sure to choose this low-growing evening primrose, also called ‘Ozark Sundrops’, as some others in the genus get tall and rangy and are very aggressive. This perennial with cheerful yellow flowers usually grows less than a foot tall.
Flax (Linum usitatissimum)
This carefree herb, which grows to about 20 inches and comes in both annual and perennial forms, adds its pretty blue flowers to the summer garden.
Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium)
This grass has attractive blue-green leaves and fluffy white seed heads in the fall; it grows to about 3 feet.
Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima)
Also called wire grass, this perennial has a soft, elegant look and is hardy to about Zone 7. It grows 1 to 1 1/2 feet and seems to dance in the wind. Remove unwanted seedlings in spring; the seeds tend to spread around.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
These daisy-like flowers on 2-foot perennial plants are now available in hybrids and varieties that intensify the colors.
Ruby grass (Melinis nerviglumis)
Annual ruby grass, including the lovely ‘Pink Crystals’, is named for the tint of its fluffy seed heads. It stays under 2 feet or so.
Sage (Salvia spp.)
Beyond the common garden sage (S. officinalis), and its multicolored varieties, there are many other garden-worthy salvia species and hybrids. These include tropical salvia (S. coccinea, an annual or short-lived perennial, including the dwarf ‘Lady in Red’), the perennial S. greggii in its many forms, and hybrids such as ‘Indigo Spires’ and ‘Mystic Spires’, with intense blue-purple spikes of flowers through the summer. Shear the plants back in midsummer and late winter to keep them tidy. All are about knee-high.
Missouri violet (Viola missouriensis)
For shady areas under trees, try this carefree perennial, a ready reseeder. It grows to about 6 inches.
Yarrow (Achillea spp.)
Yarrow is a perennial with ferny foliage and white, yellow, red or pink flowers throughout the growing season. Prune hard in spring and fall to keep this plant growing low, about 12 to 18 inches.
Kathleen Halloran is a contributing editor and freelance writer living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas.
Click here for the main article, Garden Spaces: Grow a Native Plant Garden.