Nystrom's Nursery
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Resilient Midwestern Perennials

By Neil Peterson

Last Updated Jul 24, 2010 11:53:44 AM


Gardening is a supremely rewarding activity when everything is going as planned; unfortunately, most of the variables are out of our hands. The rainfall in June and July has been largely a feast or famine situation-the spigot has been on or off, with no happy medium. This is where choosing the correct plant makes your gardening life easier. Before we get into the stuff above ground, it's important to understand what’s happening beneath.

     The saying is "Without life there can be no soil, and without soil there can be no life" which sums it up nicely. Your most valuable garden asset is the ground. The richer and more developed your soil, the better plants cope with stress. For a long time, we've been under the notion that two things build a great garden: Miracle Gro and tilling. These are examples of phenomenal marketing and very bad science- I'll uproot Miracle Gro first. Synthetic fertilizers, although interpreted and used by the plant in the same manner as organic fertilizers (not meaning pesticide free, but derived from an organic base [leaves, peat, etc.]) do not help anything in your soil. Soil is an incredibly complex network of bacteria, fungi, insects, and other microorganisms; without rich organic matter, they cannot live. These critters help protect your plants from disease and insect attack, and in the case of fungi, allow a major development of root system. This is also why tilling is generally a no-no. All those organisms live at a specific soil depth, and when they're pushed down or up, they perish. Soil is also filled with capillaries that allow water and air down, tilling destroys that. No one fertilized or tilled the prairies. Whenever you plan to establish a bed, leave the ground alone and add two inches of mushroom compost. Mulch very lightly and plant through. For existing beds, top with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of compost in November-every single one of your neighbors will stop and ask how you achieved plants that big.

Now onto the perennials. The first two to mention are sort of no-brainers: Hosta and Daylily. With normal treatment and minimal care, these plants are borderline invincible. Here are some others that are tough as nails:

Russian Sage-Pervoskia atriplicifolia

 large, drought tolerant member of the mint family from Nepal. Does fine in dry soil, absolutely no pest problems.

False Indigo- Baptisia australis and cultivars

Native prairie plant that gets to be fairly large. Large clusters of blue flowers in spring, drought tolerance like no other.

Sedum- Sedum

All of the Sedums are tough, dependable plants. Many different growing styles and foliage color. Truly a "plant and forget" perennial.

Ajuga reptans-Carpet Bugle

Need a fast growing ground cover for sun, shade, wet or dry? This is it. Semi evergreen leaves which come in shades of purple and pink.


Once again a plant that originated from our very own Illinois prairies. Many stalks of white or pruple flowers are produced in late spring. 'Husker's Red' and burgundy red leaves. Does well in drought and clay soil.

That's a short list, but some good choices to start with. If you have questions about perennials or anything in general, drop me a line at Neil@nystromsnursery.com