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Native Perennials: The Top Three for Kids!

Kids of all ages of course.

These perennials are just what is needed to get the kids in your life curious about native plants, pollinators and if you are lucky, birds! These selected perennials make viewing pollinators easy. Coincidentally, they also thrive during the heat of the summer and are very easy to grow.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

This 3 to 4 foot tall perennial grows and blooms in full sun and part shade. Each plant grows multiple wands of flowers. This is such a great plant for kids because it is visited by pollinators large and small. There are many individual flowers on each wand tempting pollinators to hover as opposed to zooming in and out, ideal for all of us who want to see pollinators up close. If you can stare at a flower wand for 30 seconds during daylight, it's highly likely a pollinator will appear!

It's also a forgiving plant. It takes dry to average soil and full sun to part shade. It starts to bloom in the middle of the watershed in early July and keeps blooming through September. Even after blossoms fade, the architecture of the stems and seed heads provide height and texture for your garden. It's also great for large flower arrangements.

Black eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta)

These flowers not only attract pollinators, gold finches love the seed heads. While waiting for the bright yellow birds to swoop in and out takes more patience than waiting for pollinators, the good news is once gold finches find your flowers, they are likely to return for at least a couple of turns at the flowers. Leaving seed heads through fall and winter can also show kids how birds feed in colder months, not to mention the winter interest in the garden it creates

As you probably know, these grow 2 to 4 feet tall, spread nicely, have no specific moisture requirements and bloom in full sun and part shade. There are a number of varieties available that are smaller or have different growth habits. This list from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lets you search by your state to find the various types native for you.

Joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

This native plant is a strong substitute for the ubiquitous non-native butterfly bush. Joe pye weed attracts even more butterflies than butterfly bush and, importantly, provides a food source for caterpillars too. Swallowtails, fritillary and other butterflies are strongly attracted to this plant.

The straight species of joe pye weed is quite tall, growing up to 8'. These are suited for larger gardens perhaps at the back of garden beds or on a slope as above.. For smaller gardens, there are cultivars such as coastal joe pye weed (Eutrochium dubium "Little Joe,") growing to 3 to 4' tall. Joe pye weed grows best in moister soils but seems to do fine in average soils too. This smaller Joe pye weed makes an excellent native substitute for autumn joy sedum.

If you can add these three perennials to your garden, you should be able to show kids some pretty cool stuff. Of course, if you can slip in your elevator speech on native plants - all the better. Here's one I use: "Lots of flowers give pollinators nectar and pollen. Only native plants, though, feed young pollinators in their larva stage -- caterpillars. Caterpillars eat leaves of native plants. Many young birds need hundreds, that's right hundreds, of caterpillars a day to grow and fledge, So if you plant a native plant, you give pollinators pollen and nectar, you give caterpillars leaves to eat, and, with all of those caterpillars, you are feeding the birds too." You can probably improve on this!

Take butterfly bush as an example. According to noted author and entomologist Doug Tallamy, it supports one type of caterpillar in southern California and provides pollen and nectar to a few generalist bees. Native joe pye weed provides nectar for swallowtails and many other butterflies, food for more than 36 caterpillars and supports far more of the 4000 native species of bees.

As for adding these plants to your garden, experts advise, wisely, it is best to plant perennials in spring and fall when cooler temperatures make it much easier for newly planted plants to establish. These three are so tough though, that if you plant in the cool of the evening and water regularly (daily), I think you can plant these now. If you can't provide regular watering though, best to wait. They are widely available from these nurseries.

Happy pollinator perusing!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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