Best Prairie Plants for Winter Gardens

The photos (of your gardens through the year)  make me yearn for the garden- yet, remind me that this is the season to rest, recuperate, dream and enjoy the beauty of what I see covered in snow.

Jean Muntz

Best Prairie Plants for Winter Gardens

My Front Yard

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)

Purple Coneflower  (Echinacea purpurea)

 These are my two favorite winter photographs of  prairie forbs.  I’ve featured them both in my  Christmas cards through the years.

Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)

Compass Plant is not a good plant for a small residential property.  If it receives shade from any direction during the day, it will lean precipitously in the other direction.  If,  however, it receives sun all day, it will stand, more or less, upright.  It makes a stunning addition to a winter garden.  This is at River Park in Geneva.

Prairie Dock  (Silphium terebinthinaceum)

The huge, dark brown, crispy leaves of Prairie Dock add texture and interest to the winter garden.

Culver’s Root  (Veronicastrum virginicum)

The elegant tobacco-brown candelabras of Culver’s Root stand out in the fall and winter prairie garden..

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

The pale almond, canoe-shaped open pods of Butterfly Weed bunch at the top of rigid stalks, interesting all fall and winter.

 Little Bluestem  (Schizachyrium scoparium)

The stiff copper blades of Little Bluestem hold up well in the snow and stand out in prairie and savanna gardens.  Long blue shadows from the low- hanging sun create even more pattern and interest.

Made objects add interest to the winter scene.  A  tutuer, shown here, is combined with Showy Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia speciosa var. sullivantii) with spiky button seed heads.

Prairie Dropseed  (Sporobolis heterolepis) at River Park in Geneva

Prairie Dropseed can be crushed by heavy wet snow, as it has been this year–it doesn’t always look this good in mid-to-late winter.

Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum) 

retains its spherical umbel shape through the winter, contrasting nicely with the spires of aster and the buttons of the Showy Black-eyed Susan.

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) again.

Treillage adds interest to the winter picture.

Purple Giant Hyssop  (Agastache scrophulariaefolia) 

 is found in nature at woodland edges and openings.  Combine it with White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) in a partially shady garden for a delightful composition of spire and dome.  This photo was taken at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.

Indian Grass  (Sorghastrum  nutans)

The bronze seed plumes of Indian Grass capture the snow and hold it aloft.


What are your favorite native plants for winter?








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9 Responses to Best Prairie Plants for Winter Gardens

  1. Katie Meyer January 20, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Pat, I also enjoy the native plants in Winter’s pure splendor that you mentioned. In addition, I fondly gaze at the soft yet sturdy Penstemon digitalis, the contrast of dark color and bold texture of Baptisia australis, the slender and curving skeleton of a young Cercis canadensis, and the malachite sways of Carex pensylvanica.

    • PatHill January 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

      Thanks, Katie. That;s beautiful!

  2. PATTY January 20, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    As I scanned your photos this week, each time I saw another photo, I had a new favorite! They are all beautiful.

  3. Suzanne Massion January 20, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Pat, the camera is a paint brush in your hands. You have the eyes of an artist. The Emerson poem is hauntingly lovely. Thanks for easing the onslaught of another polar vortex.

  4. Pat Glen January 21, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Thank you Pat,
    This has been a beautiful winter. Your words and photos add so much. The wolf moon painted blue shadows on fresh snow last week …. unfortunately no photos possible at midnight.

  5. Pat Hill January 21, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    I’ve never heard the term Wolf Moon before–how do you define it?

  6. Suzanne Massion January 23, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Pat, years ago, one of my clients gave me a list of native American words for the months of the year. January is the Wolf Moon (Yule Moon was also used, although it doesn’t sound very native). I’ve used the list over the years to come up with titles for my paintings. I have one on my website now under landscapes; “Twilight of the Wolf Moon”. February is the Hunger or Snow Moon, March is the Sap or Worm Moon and so on. I don’t have any verification, but I love the terms anyway.

    • Pat Hill January 23, 2014 at 9:18 am #

      Thank you, Suzanne–I love it.

  7. Jason January 26, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    I think Joe Pye Weed, Cup Plant, and Switchgrass are my favorites.

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