Wildflowers have to be tough plants to make it on their own on Arkansas roadways, so think how well they will do in your garden with just a minimal amount of care. If you are new to gardening, here are six tough performers, many of which are in full bloom right now.
1. Asclepias tuberosa, or the butterfly weed, is a member of the milkweed family and a host plant for the
monarch butterfly. It is a showstopper in bloom. This plant is tough as nails and blooms for a long period of time. Plant it where you want it to stay, since it forms a taproot and is not easy to transplant once it gets growing. The plant has bright orange flowers and blooms from May through September, provided you deadhead it. Allow it to set seeds in late summer to early fall and then save the seeds to plant in October to get more plants. While orange is the most common color, there are yellows, pinks and even bi-colors. It blooms best in full sun in well-drained soils.
2. Coreopsis is another great group of perennial wildflowers. The original yellows are still the top performers, but the bi-colored “Salsa” is a good variety, too. All coreopsis plants thrive statewide in full sun. These drought-tolerant plants also will benefit from deadheading to keep them blooming freely. Some of the newer varieties are self-cleaning, meaning they don’t set seeds. But if you see seed heads forming, remove them during the growing season and allow them to set seeds at the end of summer. Bloom period is from April through September.
3. Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is one of the longest-blooming wildflowers for full sun to partial shade. The common pink variety is still our best performer, but new varieties now make it available in red, orange, white, yellow and all shades in between. There are also double- and single-flowered forms. Deadheading it will keep the plant setting flowers instead of seed pods from June through October.
4. Gaillardia, or blanket flower, is a long-blooming wildflower. It likes it hot and dry, and can bloom from early summer until frost. The daisy-like blooms come in a combination of orange, yellow and red. They are a butterfly favorite. Each flower forms a seed pod, so deadheading weekly will keep them blooming nicely. New varieties now offer solid yellow, red and orange blooms, along with doubles. Some blooms are frilled on the edges while others have tubular blooms. These plants thrive in poor sites with well-drained soil in full sun.
5. Liatris, commonly called gayfeather or blazing star, is a great mid-summer to early fall perennial with blooms in purple and occasionally white. This member of the aster family has spiked flower stalks that open from the top down. There are standard tall varieties that can grow up to 4 feet or more in height and dwarf forms that get no taller than 18 – 24 inches. They can be planted from seed, bulb or potted plants. They are extremely drought-tolerant and bloom best in full sun. They are a favorite plant for butterflies, and birds feed on their seeds in the winter. They pretty much take care of themselves, provided the soil is well-drained, particularly in the winter months.
6. Solidago, or goldenrod, is a proven performer for the late summer/fall garden. The showy yellow spikes of flowers do not make you sneeze — their pollen is too large to fly — but they often get blamed for hay fever since they are much showier than the true culprit, ragweed. This long-lived perennial thrives in dry sites with full sun. The common variety may get too aggressive in a well- tended home garden, but look for some improved, more tame varieties like “Fireworks” and “Golden Fleece.”
Janet B. Carson is an extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension