Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Tennessee Native Wildflowers — My favorite grow-your-own species

Since I prefer to plant large areas of my yard in native flowers and grasses, money always seems to be the number one criteria in my plant selection. The dilemma in selecting anything out of the ordinary is that I have to buy either live plants or expensive seed that can run $50 to $100 an ounce.  So I have tried to teach myself to grow plants from seed in starter pots, using only $2 seed packets. Every year I try a new list of species.  Each time is an experiment, some seeds come up and some don’t, and each success is an exciting surprise.

I thought it would be fun to post my favorite 10 plants that I have found relatively easy to grow from seed in pots. As is typical with wildflowers, every species on this list requires 1- 2 months of cold, damp treatment before the seed will germinate. So in late December, I plant the seed in little peat pots (about 40-50 to a tray), water the pots and put them out in the garage for the winter. I cover the trays with a sheet of wax paper and top that with a few sheets of newspaper; I check them every few weeks to make sure they are not drying out.  On March 1, I bring them into the house and put them on the floor under grow lights that I have hung on the underside of a metal folding table.  Then the fun begins, and I get to see what works and what doesn’t.

Here are the plants I’ve had the most success with and consider desirable additions to my native plantings.

Prairie Phlox Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa).  This is a wonderful sun-loving phlox that gets about 1½-2 ft. tall, likes soil moisture from moderately wet to dry, and flowers in whites,pinks and lavenders.   My seed catalog labels it “difficult from seed,” but I have done it two years with no problem (although of course not every pot germinated).
Blue Salvia Blue Salvia (Salvia azurea).   This salvia likes full to part sun, grows 2-3 ft. tall (more like 4 ft. for me) and likes medium to dry moisture.  It does tend to lean when it gets tall so it needs the support of surrounding plants.  However, it has beautiful blue flowers which the bees can’t stay away from.
Ohio Horsemint Ohio Horsemint (Blephia ciliata).  This mint likes part to full shade but will accept full sun.  It grows 16-24” high and likes medium to dry moisture.  It accepts a wide range of soils including clay and has pretty, pale blue flowers with purple spots which the bees love.  (It doesn’t have the pungency needed for use as a culinary herb.)
 Missouri Primrose Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa).  This primrose likes full to part sun, medium to dry moisture level, and grows 6-12” tall.  It prefers lean soil; in fertile soil, it can be overwhelmed by its larger neighbors.  You may already know this plant for its eye-stopping, huge, bright yellow flowers.   Its only drawback is that it does tend to form a somewhat messy tangle of leaves and stems, but with flowers like that, who cares!
 Penstemon calycosusPhoto courtesy of Prairie Moon Nursery Calico Beardtongue (Penstemon calycosus).  This plant likes full to part sun, moderately wet to medium moisture, and grows 2-4 feet tall. It prefers humus-rich soil but will adapt to average or sandy soil.  It has attractive rose-pink flowers and deserves to be grown more often. (If you are a penstemon fan, also check out Hairy Beardtongue (P.hirsutus). It is another easy-to-grow, adaptable penstemon that has elegant lavender and white blooms that attract hummingbirds.)
 Rattlesnake Master Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium).  This plant likes full to part sun, moderately wet to moderately dry moisture and will grow in just about any soil.  It is an unusual and striking architectural plant that gets 2-4 feet tall.  It reminds me of a yucca.
 Solidago ulmifoliaPhoto courtesy of Illinois Wildflowers Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia).   This plant likes part to full shade, medium to moderately dry moisture, and grows about 3 feet tall.  I had tried some of the better known goldenrod species with poor results so I decided to try some of the lesser known goldenrods instead.  I was not disappointed; this flower has beautiful sprays of golden yellow flowers that brighten any shady spot.
 Polemonium reptansPhoto courtesy of Illinois Wildflowers Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans).  This is a lovely woodland plant that I had always incorrectly assumed would be hard to grow from seed, as many woodland plants seem to be. It grows in part to full shade, likes moderately wet to moderately dry soil, and gets 12 inches tall.
 Small-flowered Leafcup Small-flowered Leafcup (Polymnia canadensis).  This is a woodland plant that needs light to medium shade, medium to moderately dry moisture, and loamy to rocky soil.  It gets 2-4 ft. tall, has small white flowers with scalloped edges and is most striking for its large deeply-notched foliage.  It is an uncommon flower and not known to the public.  I had never seen it or heard of it;  I just wanted to try something unusual.
 Anise Hyssop Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).   If you research this plant, you will find that I am cheating on this one because it is technically not a Tennessee native.  The nearest state where this plant occurs is Virginia.  So maybe it does creep over the state line now and then?  However, this plant has so much going for it that I add it to my native garden anyway, and I enjoy looking at it every time I walk by.  It grows in sun or shade, likes medium to dry moisture, and gets 2-3 ft. tall.  It is so easy to grow from seed, re-seeds very nicely, is attractive, blooms for a long period, and loved by bees.

With hundreds of species out there to try, this list barely scratches the surface. Be sure to post any species you have tried that worked well for you.  We would love some suggestions.

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