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Using Iowa Natives in the Landscape

butterfly on Purple Prairie Clover Ted Lare

Native Plants are a vital part of the ecosystem; they provide food, shelter, and the perfect habitat for pollinators. And that’s only one of the many reasons to use native plants in your landscaping. 

Native plants are adapted to our climate, and so they still look beautiful during the hottest parts of the summer, when more delicate flowers are struggling to bloom. This also means they don’t require extra care and can survive on our normal rainfall levels, so they’ll help you save water. These plants are a perfect choice if you want an easy way to support a natural ecosystem. 

The perennials listed below are an excellent choice for beginners or advanced gardeners who want to add some low-maintenance beauty to their landscape in Iowa!    

 

Grey Headed Coneflower, Showy Goldenrod, and New England Aster Ted lare

Grey Headed Coneflower
While Coneflower is in the name, this is actually a different plant entirely! These have smaller, yellow star-like flowers. They bloom in abundance in mid-summer and grow to about 4-5′ tall and 3′ wide. They need a minimum of 6 hours of sun, the more the better. Bees love these and, and they’re a host plant for Checkerspot butterflies!

 

Showy Goldenrod
Beautiful cones of tiny yellow flowers bloom on tall stalks in the later months of summer. These are extremely drought-tolerant, and an important food source for butterflies heading south in late summer. Some Goldenrod spread, but not these, they are clump-forming and well behaved. The plant grows to about 4′ tall and 2′ wide. Plant in full sun for best performance.

 

New England Aster
These asters have wonderful purple-pink flowers in early to mid-fall. These are a beautiful shock of color in the garden when other flowers are starting to fade. They are also an important food source for migrating monarchs and other butterflies. The flowers resemble small daisies. The Purple Dome variety grows to about 3′ by 3′, but wild varieties grow to around 4′ tall and wide. Asters need a minimum half-day of sun, but a full day is what they enjoy the most. 

Virginia Blue Bells, Baptisia, and Penstemon Ted Lare

Virginia Bluebells
These little blue flowers grow in clusters and look like bells. These shade lovers will do best in a full shade location, and they’re a favorite with bees. They grow to around 1′ tall and 6″ wide, though sometimes bigger. These bloom in the spring and early summer, then go dormant during the heat of the later summer months. 

 

Baptisia
Resembling lupines with their tall flower spikes, these plants get quite large. They can get up to 4′ tall and 5′ wide. Baptisia is exceptionally hardy. These bee-favorites are available in several colors, including blue, yellow, white, and purple. They do best in full or part sun. 

 

Penstemon
Penstemons are like a smaller version of foxgloves, though they’re not available in as many colors. The flowers are white, and plants are available with green or purple leaves, and they’re popular with bees and hummingbirds. They grow to about 4′ tall, and 2′ wide, and are a great tall statement for the middle of the garden. Penstemon does best in full sun.

Ironweed, Beebalm, Purple Prairie Clover Ted Lare


Ironweed 
Ironweed flowers are a rich purple on top of strong, dark green stems. It’s a showstopper when it blooms from mid-summer to late-fall. This stately plant, up to 4′ tall, is a favorite for bees and butterflies. Ironweed does self-seed, so you may want to deadhead spent blooms to keep it contained. 

 

Bee Balm
Bee Balm is a pollinator favorite that comes in a wide range of colors from lavender to red to rich dark purple. This perennial can spread, but there are new varieties available that are more compact and stay in a well-behaved clump. They range in height from 2′ to 4′ tall. Bee Balm like full sun, but will tolerate some shade. The lavender blooms seem to be the most popular with bees, while red is best for hummingbirds. Native bees often overwinter in the hollow stems of Bee Balm.

 

Purple Prairie Clover 
Clusters of bright, purple flowers adorn this mounding plant in mid-summer, and the bees love it. They get to around 3′ tall by 2′ wide. The foliage is a unique addition to the garden because it is soft and fern-like, adding some finer texture to balance out coarser plants. Full sun is best for Prairie Clover.

 

Mountain Mint, Little Bluestem, and Big Bluestem Ted Lare


Mountain Mint
The refreshing scent of mint floats in the air when you brush by this plant, but it isn’t aggressive like other mints. This mint is tough and can survive in wet or dry locations. It will grow to about 3′ tall and 2′ wide, and is happy in full to part sun. The tiny flowers are popular with some of our largest native pollinators in Iowa. These big insects can be a little scary, but they’re really just gentle giants, with no desire to hurt us.

 

Little Bluestem 
Grasses don’t offer showy flowers, but they’re still very important to pollinators. Grasses provide shelter during high winds and even homes for some, like Skipper butterflies. Little Bluestem is a short native grass that grows to about 3′ tall 2′ wide. In the fall, the foliage turns orangey-yellow, and the fluffy seedheads appear all up and down the stems. Little Bluestem performs best in full sun locations.

 

Big Bluestem 
It’s got a similar name, but Big Bluestem is actually quite different. It’s a bit bigger, growing to 5′ tall and 3′ wide. It does have a similar bluish color and turns orangey-yellow in the fall. The seedheads form at the top of the stalks of Big Bluestem. It does best in full sun.

 

Pennsylvania Sedge  
This is a gorgeous, slowly spreading groundcover with a grass-like appearance. It’s semi-evergreen, and the foliage stays lush, even through a drought. It grows to about 8″ tall and prefers full shade locations, but it can also tolerate some sun. 

 

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Gardening Trends for 2019

Gardening Trends of 2019

A new year and upcoming fresh start in the spring is all you need to inspire the backyard retreat you’ve been dreaming of. While some staples of our backyards are so reliable they never change, there’s always something new and trendy to transform your living space into something ready to impress. Be warned, your friends and neighbors will be asking for your decorating and plantscaping secrets! Here’s all the inspiration you’ll need for updating your outdoor space this year:

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Outdoor Spaces for Multiple Purposes:

The traditional layout of the backyard is simple, but cookie cutter and unimaginative. The lawn may be nice, green, and lush, but only our kids and dogs are getting any use out of it. In 2019, we’re embracing new ways to make use of all of our property, all day. From outdoor yoga in your own backyard sanctuary in the morning, to afternoon games of pick-up football, to spending an evening with a projector and your favorite films, your backyard is there for you to enjoy! This trend doesn’t really call for any drastic or expensive changes to your home, but instead for a shift in perspective to do more of your daily activities in your outdoor space. If you have a beautiful space outside, lots of room, and privacy from neighbors, it’s time to think up more ways to get out and enjoy your own backyards.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Indoor Plantscaping:

We already know that we spend a lot of time inside, even in the summer. While it’s encouraging to think of all of the exciting ways that we can get out to enjoy our backyards when the weather is good, there’s just no escaping the indoors – and it shouldn’t feel like it needs escaping from! Whether you’re working a 9-5 office job, or cozied up inside escaping from the winter weather, the design of the spaces that you inhabit have a surprising effect on your mind and body. We all have to live indoors sometimes, so we might as well make our indoor spaces a little more lively with plantscaping.

Make room on your bookshelves for trailing plants, mini terrariums, and decorative vases next to your treasured memories and photos. Modern plantscaping in 2019 isn’t all about big statement plants, but also places a big emphasis on inserting plants into your spaces as they are. Your home is already the perfect place to display plants, and the addition of a little bit of green life is the lift that your spaces (and your mood) might need, especially if your decor scheme is very neutral.  

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Native and Drought Tolerant Plants:

Except a select few that make a nearly full-time hobby out of maintaining their garden and landscape, most of us want to spend more of our time outdoors enjoying our home rather than toiling away at maintaining it. Instead of mowing, watering, trimming, and doting on your plants all summer, you could be kicking back with a beverage and some friends, enjoying the natural beauty of your outdoor space. Choosing plants that are native to our area and drought-resistant is the perfect way to cater to the hot-dry heat we’re prone to Central Iowa.

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These plants are tough enough to survive our area’s climate naturally so they’re ready to look their best all summer without all of the work. Not only are native plants trendy, gorgeous, and convenient, but less watering is beneficial to the environment, too. Native plants are the foundation that your landscape needs this year to look spectacular and to provide the platform that the rest of your garden needs to make those accent annuals shine – while keeping your social time intact.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Growing the Next Generation of Gardeners:

Going ‘eco-friendly’ and maintaining a healthy relationship with our food is a huge modern trend, and part of it means passing on our passion for natural beauty and nurturing plants to a new generation. There isn’t much of a better life lesson to teach than how to nurture plants, especially within an edible garden that nurtures us in return. It’s even sweeter knowing that this is a hot topic moving into 2019, and that by handing down your knowledge and passion to younger kids, you can set the tone for a lifetime of ethical thinking.

Start with something simple like catgrass and easy vegetables. When kids are young they might spend more time exploring your garden than growing, but once they get older they’ll be excited to learn more and take on more garden duties.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Beneficial Insects in the Garden:

Not every creepy-crawly is created the same, and many are like a natural garden maintenance crew that help to keep your plants looking their best. Beneficial insects include popular favorites like Ladybugs and Monarch butterflies, who are not only beautiful additions to your garden, but also help to keep your plants healthy.

Ladybugs protect your plants from being ravaged by pests like aphids and mealybugs. These adorable and beneficial bugs are like a chemical-free pesticide for your whole yard.

Monarch butterflies, like the ever-popular bee, are important pollinators. This is an essential building block in your garden’s health, so it’s great to have such stunning and colorful specialists on the job.

Both beneficial insects are actually available for purchase so that you can jump-start your garden with gorgeous accents of living creatures that make your gardening duties easier! Just be sure to purchase from a reputable company, such as the ones we proudly stock on our shelves.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Say Yes To Mint:

Every year there are new color trends that are set to take over everyone’s gardens. We are in love with the shades of mint we’re seeing this year – after all, it’s more than just a delicious herb! Mint brings to mind freshness and rejuvenation, which is exactly what we’re excited to be seeing in our gardens this spring. By bringing this popular minty-blue color into your garden and summer containers, your garden design will get a fresh, on-trend pop of color.

Coral Comes Alive:

Another popular color this year is Living Coral, the Pantone color of the year. This cheerful shade looks electric in garden beds, borders, and container gardens. With so many new annuals available in this shade, it’ll be easy to add some Living Coral into your garden design. If you can’t get enough of this color, try one of our jaw-dropping hot coral perennials.

2019 is the year of smarter gardening techniques, eco-focused living, and relaxing color palettes. Make it your goal this year to achieve a stunning garden design that is environmentally responsible, and easy to enjoy. Your home can be healthy from the roots up, and embellished with the trendiest color of the year to make your living space up to date and beautiful to suit all of your needs.

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Prairie Establishment

Iowa Prairie

“Not a breath of air stirred over the free and open prairie…”
– Francis Parkman

Prairies once covered hundreds of miles in the state of Iowa. Today, less than 0.01% of the original prairies remain. Not only are they an integral part of our heritage, they play an incredibly important role in our natural environment. Without them, the Iowa that we know and love wouldn’t be the same, so restoration is key to protecting the land that we call home.

The Importance of Prairies:

Prairies are beneficial for many, many reasons, both visually and environmentally. They provide beauty in all seasons, with changing colors and textures throughout the year for aesthetic appeal, while also providing a natural habitat for nesting birds and wildlife. They also make for an excellent food source for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, while working hard to prevent erosion, as well. Not to mention, they work perfectly for ditch planting and providing a screen in urban environments.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

How to Grow a Prairie:

With so many benefits for both you and the environment, growing your own prairie couldn’t be more appealing! Although large expansive sites are optimal for prairie restorations, you can also plant backyard prairies with just a few hundred square feet. Prairies thrive in many soil types, so your only concern should be choosing a site that gets full sun, especially in the afternoon. However, if you have a prairie remnant on or near your site, remember to contact your local county conservation office for advice on how to protect it.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Selecting Your Prairie Seed Mix:

Once you have your site, you will need to select your prairie seed mix. There are mixes available for both wet and dry sites, and you’ll want to select one that is as diverse as possible. Try to pick one with many different species of grasses and flowers for year-round interest and to provide the best pollinator habitat. Typically, they are modeled after historical prairies with about 60% grasses and 40% flowers. To fit with your aesthetic, you can adjust this percentage, but remember to keep at least 20% grasses for a true prairie.

When choosing your prairie seed mix, it’s important to select locally-sourced seeds harvested from Iowa plants that are adapted to our ever-changing climate. Here at Ted Lare Garden Center, our horticultural experts will be happy to help you select the best mix and the correct amount for you and your plot. You can also learn more about selecting and planting seed by visiting the Tallgrass Prairie Center online.

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Planting Prairie Seed Mix:

Before you begin planting, you will need to kill off any existing vegetation. You can do so with 1-2 applications of Round-Up from April through October, but remember that spring is easier for killing any weeds than fall. If there are any trees or shrubs, you’ll want to remove those and treat with a herbicide, but if you have steep slopes and erosion problems, you can skip treatment. Once the vegetation is killed, it is best to till the soil and remove old vegetation, if possible.

With the site properly prepared, prairies can be planted in both spring and fall, but late fall and early winter are optimal, as many prairie seeds need our cold winters to break dormancy. This late seeding also rules out the need to break up the soil before planting, as freezing and thawing will naturally work the seeds into the soil.

To ensure an even application, spread your seed right after a light snowfall so you can see where the seeds have fallen. While seed injectors and mechanical seed spreaders are great for larger acreages, spreading by hand is both simple and cost-effective. To spread by hand, grab a handful of seeds and walk quickly over the area, slowly moving your fingers to release seed as you go, and repeat until the area is covered. Without snow cover, it will be difficult to tell where seeds land, but continue to cover the area as best you can.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Maintaining Prairie Grass:

Maintaining your prairie during its first year is the most critical, as there will be a seed bank of weeds waiting to sprout that your prairie seeds will have to battle against for light and nutrients. To give them a fighting chance, mowing your prairie grass is key.

Mow your prairie seedlings down 3-4 times over the course of the first summer. Don’t fret, it won’t hurt your new seedlings, but it will actually force them to put more of their energy toward producing roots, giving you a stronger plant overall. Weeds, however, do not tolerate mowing well and will eventually stop sprouting, allowing your prairie seeds to overtake the spaces the weeds were occupying. After the first year, mowing will typically only need to be done first thing in the spring.

By about year 4, your prairie will be ready for a prescribed burn. If your area does not allow prescribed burning, you can instead use a rake to remove dead foliage after your typical spring mowing to keep thatch levels from smothering the plants. If your prairie is large, simply mowing in the spring will be enough to keep it looking good.

The only other maintenance that may be required is periodic weed control. It is important to keep an eye out for aggressive weeds, such as Canadian Thistle, which can spread quickly. Herbicides may be necessary, especially during prairie establishment.

To learn more about the mowing and maintenance schedule, be sure to check out our Prairie Establishment handout.

While it may not look like much in its first year, keep it up, and your hard work will pay off. Typically it takes about 3 years to see your prairie start to thrive, so do not panic during those first two years.  Watch as your native prairie plants burst into bloom, getting more beautiful with each passing year. With prairie establishment, you’re not only beautifying your backyard, but you’re also bringing our natural Iowa landscape back to life so we can continue to enjoy our rich heritage for years to come!

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Best Iowa Perennials for Fall Blooming

Iowa fall perennial flowers with butterfly

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
– Albert Camus

Slowly, but surely, the days are getting shorter and soon our nights will be getting colder, as well. Summer is passing in a swift, hot haze and soon will change to the crisp beauty of a color-changing fall. While spring and summer are the traditionally thought “gardening season”, there is still plenty of beauty to be had in autumn, as well! Here are some of our favorite Iowa perennials for fall.

Pictured below: Japanese Anemone

Iowa fall perennial japanese anemoni

Japanese Anemone:

Japanese Anemones are one of many Asiatic beauties that have made the journey to North America to dazzle in our gardens. They produce deep, dark mounds of green foliage with long-stemmed, buttercup flowers that shoot upward like a star. They are relatively low-maintenance and are excellent choices for planting in boggy spots, since they don’t mind getting their feet wet. Plant them in partial shade and you can enjoy their lovely spring colors – like the rosy double blooms of the Pamina – right up to the first frost.

Joe Pye Weed:

While it may be called a weed, this flower is one you won’t want to pull from your garden. The gorgeous plumes are lined with large, serrated leaves and bunches of beautiful purple-red flowers. They are low-maintenance, attractive to butterflies, and you can find them in a variety of sizes – like the tall, elegant Gateway that can grow to 6’ tall! Give them full to partial sun and keep the soil moist for the most amazing growth all season.

Pictured below: Toad Lily

Iowa fall perennial toad lily

Sedum:

Also known as Stonecrop, this unique flower makes an interesting combination of flower and succulent. Thick, fleshy foliage makes up the dense groundcover this plant provides, but perched atop the leaves are delicate clusters of tiny flowers in varying hues of pinks and reds. Pollinators simply love them in the late season and their low-maintenance care makes them a simple fit for any garden – especially the radiant raspberry red of the Dazzleberry. They thrive in full to partial shade with occasional watering.

Toad Lily:

Toad Lilies are a captivating plant with a distinctive look to dazzle in the garden. The stunning star-shaped flowers feature a myriad of speckles that almost make it appear like a toad’s skin and sit atop a mound of green, oval leaves. They come in many amazing colors, including a beautiful powder blue dotted with purple called the Blue Wonder. To enjoy these tremendous lilies, plant them in partial to full shade and keep the soil evenly moist.Love what you’re reading? Sign up to our email newsletter, and get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

Pictured below: Turtlehead

Iowa fall Perennial Turtle head

Turtlehead:

Turtlehead flowers get their name from their unmistakable resemblance to a turtle’s head poking out of its shell. The little petals sprout from a green cone and hood together on top and bottom to form a little head with a mouth. While the blooms come in bright colors, like the hot pink Hot Lips, the foliage is dark and glossy, creating beautiful, tropical contrast in the garden. Just like their namesake, these plants like to be wet, making them great additions to sunny, boggy areas or surrounding a pond.

When autumn comes, your garden doesn’t have to end. These perennials will give your garden a perfect touch of color and brightness right until the first frost for an everlasting season. To explore more fall favorites, take a look at our perennial blooming calendar for Iowa or visit us in-store today!

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3 Reasons to Trim Back Your Annuals

A little pruning now and then keeps it healthy, but you shouldn’t pull it out and chop the roots up.“
– Len Goodman

Some of us feel a little timid when it comes to trimming back our beloved annuals. These bold bloomers captivate our hearts and backyards in their precious, short growing season and we can be nervous to start cutting away their blossoms. It’s time to be brave and grab the trimmers, though, because cutting back your annuals will rejuvenate them for the end of the growing season, boasting bigger, better, and healthier growth into the fall.

Once summer has embraced its best months and we start thinking about the fall and back-to-school season just around the corner, our star annuals that were lush and dense with vibrant color might be looking a little lackluster, despite some of our best efforts. A well-timed pruning can actually give them a second life by trimming the dead weight! Don’t spare the scissors, because they can give your favorite flowers new life to last longer in their prime right into fall:

Pictured below: Petunias

purple and white petunias in a pot

Reason 1: Some of Your Plants Can’t Take the Heat:

When we walk into a garden center to pick out our favorite blooms, we tend to fall in love with the look of our plants first. But a garden center is a bit like the United Nations of plants – something from the depths of the Amazon jungle might be on the shelf beside a desert dweller.

Your petunias are from South America, while Chrysanthemums come from China, and Rosemary originates from Mediterranean countries, like Italy. While they all come from different homelands, we adopt them here in Iowa and group them together in our own container designs. They might survive next to each other in a container, but some plants have some very different needs from each other.

Pictured below: Alyssum

Hibiscus yellow orange flower

While you’ve probably taken into account the most extreme needs when planting, once the season is in full swing the smaller differences become much more apparent. Annuals from temperate climates will thrive in the cooler nights of spring and fall while folding under the heat of July and August. Classics like Pansies and Violas, Osteospermum, Geraniums, Nemesia, Alyssum, and Snapdragons love cool temperatures and might not be looking their best by this point in the summer.

Once they start to struggle in the heat, they’ll benefit from a generous haircut and some fertilization. Your heat-lovers will be free to put on the best show they can in the rest of the hottest summer days, while the summer pruning will set up your cool-temperature plants to perform again as the days cool into fall. Without this trimming, they’d be too exhausted to even make an attempt at reviving in the fall. By pruning now, you invest in better color, later into the season. Your garden could still bloom with enthusiasm after your heat-lovers finish their season.

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Reason 2: Garden Interventions:

In the gardens of our childhood, your local garden center might have offered a maximum of 12 different annuals, known then as “bedding plants”. From those 12, you would make your selections, plant your annuals, and wait for them to bloom. It was formulaic, it was predictable, and it was easy to follow without negotiating different types of flowers, growing habits, and needs. In exchange for all the choice we get to explore and be creative with now, we have to be a bit more involved in our gardens.

With a wider selection of plants to choose from to fit our every need, we have more variables to balance. In creating our perfect aesthetic, we keep in mind how aggressive our plants are or how much water they need to pair plants successfully. Sometimes our “perfect look” calls for pairing some mismatch plants, like meeker and slower growing Marigolds or Snapdragons with much more aggressive Verbenas or Petunias. This doesn’t have to rule out matching them though, you’ll just need to keep your trimmers ready to save your passive plants from getting consumed by the stronger growers. Trimming back and taming your annuals opens up new pairing possibilities to create a container that is absolutely perfect.

Pruning Marigolds in a garden

Reason 3: Get A Response:

Pruning your plants gets them angry and ready to grow back with more conviction and a vengeance. Your annuals are like a champion boxer – they more you try to knock them down, the tougher they get. If you trim off a quarter of their growth a couple times a year, they come back bigger, stronger, better, and more gorgeous. You get to trim off any unsightly dead growth, only to be rewarded by even more stunning growth! This method works best on plants like Petunias, Pansies, Calibrachoas (Million Bells), Bacopas, and most foliage container plants.

Simply pinch back the foliage and give them a healthy dose of fertilizer to fuel their comeback growth. Check back in a week and you’ll be delighted to see that your plant making a comeback filled with stubborn growth and blooms.

Pictured below: Snapdragons 

Pruning Marigolds in a garden

Keep in mind that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all-annuals method, as some won’t respond well to being hacked back. Anything with a central blooming stem (like Canna Lilies, Snapdragons, Begonias, or Marigolds) won’t make a comeback in the same way or nearly as quickly. Don’t let them go to seed, as they’ll stop blooming, but don’t be quite as aggressive with the scissors on these plants. They still need your guidance and some trimming to be egged on to keep growing and blooming for our enjoyment, just in a gentler sense.

We can sometimes be a little nervous to take a generous snip off of the gorgeous annuals we’ve adored watching bloom all summer. Just as our kids need haircuts before schools reopen in the fall, a haircut is often exactly what our favorite hard-working plants need to come back stronger. Taking charge of your garden with scissors in hand is all you need for gorgeous blooms all summer and long into the fall.

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Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses with a purple sky backdrop

“There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.”
– Thomas Jefferson

Whenever the word “grass” is uttered, our thoughts instinctively go to the traditional, green grass that adorns lawns worldwide. We think of the constant mowing and maintenance that eats away at our weekends, and we can’t help but cringe away at the thought. However, with interest growing for ornamental varieties, it’s time we take a second look at what grass can really offer us.

Ornamental Grasses:

Unlike their cookie-cutter, short and green cousins, ornamental grasses come in all sorts of shapes, colors, and sizes to add decoration to your yard. They can range in color from green to red, and they even come in such shows-topping shades as blue and black. They can come as short as a lawn, or they can grow above your head. Whatever appearance you want from your grass, chances are there is a plant waiting for you.

A bunch of tall white ornamental grasses

Easy-Growing:

Their appearances alone make them a beautiful addition for any garden, but they also have the added benefit of being some of the easiest plants to grow. Much like typical turf grass, ornamental grasses can handle a wide scope of weather changes, powering through even when our annuals and perennials may be suffering. However, unlike lawn grasses, these decorative delights won’t need to be trimmed every week to look pristine.

In the vast prairies of Iowa, we are no strangers to grass, and the grasses are no strangers to us. In fact, some of the most popular varieties of ornamental grasses are natives to our area. This means these plants are seasoned professionals at growing here without extra watering, grooming, or fertilizing. Our local pollinators also love them, so you can even expect to see more friendly faces buzzing around your yard.

Pictured left: Karl Forester Reed Grass by Patrick Standish https://www.flickr.com/photos/patrickstandish/3850363181, Pictured right: Prairie Dropseed by Ron Frazier https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomronworldwide/35513739292

Karl Forester Reed Grass near a stair case and prairie drop seed ornamental grasses growing in a garden

Our Top Selections:

Feather Reed Grass, also known as Karl Forester Reed Grass, is a bestseller in the world of ornamental grasses. It boasts beautiful, tan-coloured tufts sitting atop tall blades of green. To add a touch of pink to your garden, try the Korean Feather Reed Grass.

Prairie Dropseed is a lower growing grass to enjoy in your garden. You will love the fine, airy look of the bright green blades that proudly display plumes of light brown on top in the summer.

Northwind Switch Grass is a brilliantly bright grass that grows straight and tall to add drama to your garden. The bold blades start off olive in the growing season, with light seedhead tufts to add texture. In the fall, however, they transform to a blazing yellow that simply looks fantastic.

Purple Maiden Grass is shorter-standing grass that, as the name implies, produces purple tufts of color. With this beautiful grass, though, you’re not just getting one color only. In fact, over the season the purple tufts fade to a wonderful white, while the green blades transform to orange-red in the fall.

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Other Grasses We Love:

  • Shenandoah Switchgrass
  • Erianthus Grass
  • Maiden Grass
  • Big Bluestem
  • Little Bluestem Grass
  • Little Miss Dwarf Maiden Grass
  • Overdam Grass
  • Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass

With ornate ornamentals like these, it’s easy to once again become excited by the thought of growing grass. These plants give us the chance to experiment with color and texture in our yards, without any constant maintenance and grooming. To learn more about ornamental grasses or to bring some home to your yard, stop by our garden center today.

Pictured below: Switchgrass by Matt Lavin https://www.flickr.com/photos/plant_diversity/3912256151

3 Switchgrass ornamental grasses on a front lawn
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Give Our Bees a Break

“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.”
– Elizabeth Lawrence

The sights, sounds, and smells of our garden are part of why so many of us have fallen in love with gardening. A warm, sunny summer day doesn’t seem quite complete without the quiet buzzing of bees busily bumbling from flower to flower. They are amazing to watch as they go from bloom to bloom, slurping nectar and scooping pollen before they lift off and wobble to the next flower like an overloaded plane.

These days, it seems like our gardens are quieter. While many of us got used to the sound of our gardens humming along, the open blossoms these years seem to have fewer bees floating between them. Iowa’s pollinators, especially the bee, are in trouble and it’s not just our gardens that will suffer if we lose them. We have some ways to combat their habitat loss, and population decline from pesticides and disease in your backyard to boost their health and the health of your garden.

bee on yellow sunflower

Getting a Bee-Friendly Garden:

Bees are an important part of the health of our garden. Without enough to be in every yard, it’s important to entice them to spend their time in ours. The more appealing we make our yard, the more likely it is to be a regular stop for the few bees that are left in our neighbourhood.

Bee-Friendly Planting: Part of bringing more bees to your garden is providing them with their favorite foods. Bees will always prefer local Iowa native plants over fancy hybrids that they don’t recognize. They also like to visit plants that are in clusters instead of single flowers. They love fantastic color as much as we do, so don’t be afraid to put on a show! Plants like lilac, black-eyed susans, echinacea, and sunflowers are among their favorites.

Pictured below: Echinacea

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The Right Conditions: Bees will favor yards that offer lots of sunshine, little nooks and crannies to rest, and shallow water where they can get a drink. Consider filling a shallow container with some pebbles and filling it partially with water to create a bee bath that gives them a place to land and quench their thirst.

Leave it Natural: Native plants are a great compromise to have a cultivated garden that is bee-friendly, but having areas that are allowed to grow a little wilder are perfect to give bees the natural habitat, food sources, and shelter that they crave. In a busy urban center, a tiny patch of wild can be a bee oasis.

The friendlier we make our yards to bees, the better our gardens look. Bees pollinate our blooms to help them reproduce, creating more, healthier flowers. Bees are also a crucial step for many of our fruit-bearing garden favorites, so they are a must if you want to enjoy tasty apples or raspberries.

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Keeping Bees Alive:

Providing the right food and shelter to attract bees to our gardens is helpful for both us and these adorable pollinators, but we also need to focus on curbing practices that can harm these buzzing beneficial insects. Our local bees are struggling with our use of pesticides, and understanding how these chemicals works can help us prevent hurting our pollinators.

Your entire garden is an ecosystem, complete with lots of complex food chains. When some of our most irritating pests appear, they are usually followed by predators that help us keep their numbers under control. Most pesticides wipe out all insect life – not only will your bees be hurt as the innocent bystanders, but the predators that keep the pests under control will be gone, too. Pesticides might fix a problem for now, but wiping out everything only invites the pests to come back as a bigger problem in the future. In the end, using pesticides and other poisons hurts everything in your garden, including bees, without a lasting benefit to your garden.

Bee on purple Lavender and Bee on sunflower

To help save your bees, avoid spraying pesticides on anything that is in bloom, if you use them in your garden at all. If you have to use chemicals to solve a garden problem, start with the mildest solution and work upwards in toxicity. Instead of chemicals, consider using safer methods like netting, garden fleece, or mesh barriers to keep pests away, or even using companion plants in the garden that naturally repel pests.

Creating bee-friendly gardens is easy, and we only have benefits to be rewarded with. There are many solutions to the problems that reduce our bee numbers, and many of the ways to attract bees to our yards are not only simple but very aesthetically pleasing. By saving the bees, we not only feel a little better about our impact on the world around us, but we get a garden bursting with life and healthy blooms.

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Best Iowa Perennials for Summer Blooming

blue delphinium flowers

“The summer night is like a perfection of thought.”
– Wallace Stevens

With the sun beaming on our skin and soaking us with radiant warmth, it’s safe to say that summer is here. Our days are longer and the urge to get out to enjoy the season grows stronger. What better way to enjoy the summer than with beautiful perennials? The season might not last as long as we want it to, but perennials give us the same sensational color to look forward to year after year! Here are some of our favorite summer bloomers that thrive right here in Iowa!

Delphinium

Hummingbirds can’t get enough of Delphinium and neither can we – they are the ultimate summer perennial. The tall spikes of this pretty perennial are bursting with blooms and saturated with color all season long. For a genuinely vibrant blue that jumps out of your garden, try the Blue Mirror Delphinium. To bring this delight home to your yard, plant in full sun with evenly moist soil. Water regularly and don’t be afraid to stake your plant for a more polished look if you notice any drooping.

Pictured below: Bee Balm

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Baptisia

For a bold look that brings full foliage and a pop of colorful flowers, the Baptisia is sure to please. This favorite offers plenty of green to fill your garden, with showy spikes full of sensational little flowers. Also known as the “False Indigo”, this luscious perennial comes in many shades, including the beautiful maroon and yellow blooms of the Cherries Jubilee. They are summer bloomers, but they can’t always handle the heat. Plant in partial sun and water regularly, especially during any heat waves. This is a great perennial for a sheltered part of your yard where it will have the chance to add some color and life, while looking its best in the heat.

Hardy Hibiscus

Nothing says summer like the exotic tropical show of a Hibiscus. One look at these big, bold blooms and it’s easy to be transported to an oceanside oasis – right in your own yard. While many think that tropical plants are too delicate to last in our sometimes harsh climate, Hardy Hibiscuses defy the odds. They’ll stand up to the temperature drops and the dry seasons that their tropical cousins wilt in. For a pink and white flower to whisk you away, try our Starry Night Hibiscus. Plant in full sun with well-draining soil to prevent rotting roots. Keep the soil evenly moist and enjoy your fabulous flowers all summer long.

Pictured below: Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus yellow orange flower

Bee Balm

Bee Balm isn’t just for the bees – it’s a summer hit with gardeners everywhere, too. These lovely flowers pop out in a way that almost makes them look like pins in a pincushion. With beautiful colors to fit any garden, this plant makes it easy to draw in bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds alike. You’ll fall in love with its mounding flowers, and the pollinator population that comes with it will have your yard healthier and simply buzzing! To grow your own, plant your Bee Balm, or Monarda, in full to partial sun and water regularly. This plant is known for its spreading habit, so keep an eye on it with scissors handy to prevent it from growing anywhere it isn’t wanted.

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Asiatic Lily

Lilies are a worldwide summertime sensation with an iconic look you can’t beat. Their big, bold flowers make them stunning statement pieces. Their irresistible aesthetic adds that “je ne sais quoi” in gardens, containers, and cuttings alike! They’re also easy to care for, making them ideal for the gardener who loves to enjoy their yard without the heavy labor. We have plenty of color options for every gardener, but we truly love the Pink Pixie for a pop of color that fits any garden. Plant your Asiatic Lily in full sun and water regularly to keep the soil moist. The flower may love the sun’s heat, but the roots don’t. Mulching is a great way to keep them cool, while also retaining water for less frequent watering.

Pictured below: Asiatic Lily

asiatic lily beautiful flower

For perennials you’ll love year after year, these plants are proven winners for our Iowa climate. They are sure performers that will keep your garden looking like the summer getaway it is, without the extra hassle. This summer, spend more time enjoying your backyard oasis, and less time working in it! For more summer perennials we love, check out our full perennial blooming calendar or visit us in store today.

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Native Plants (Iowa)

“You’ve got to stay strong to be strong in tough times.”
– Tilman Fertitta

These days we seem to get busier and busier every year. The hurry of our families and lives is sometimes overwhelming. We do our best to keep up, but when we finally get a moment to ourselves, the last thing we want is a reminder to do more work. Without the time and energy, maintaining a gorgeous garden seems impossible. This couldn’t be further from the truth, though! With a wide variety of native plants to choose from, it’s downright easy to create an impressive garden you’ll be eager to show off that doesn’t demand constant toiling. You’ll be able to have your dream garden and the time to actually sit back and enjoy it.

Pictured below: Yarrow

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Benefits of Native Gardening:

Native gardening has gained popularity for its low-maintenance beauty thanks to the natural hardiness of its plants. But many gardeners also know that they don’t need to plant only local plants to have a hardy garden. There is a wide variety of hybrids on the market these days, offering non-native plants that are tougher than their exotic cousins. While they are hardy enough to make the cut in foreign territory, these plants are still being taken out of their natural comfort zone: hybrid varieties of classics still take some degree of maintenance and sometimes provide mixed results. Native plants, however, have been thriving in your local climate for thousands of years, which is a type of hardiness that any hybrid will struggle to compete with.

Native plants are the ultimate low-maintenance option that is a perfect fit for the time-sensitive gardener. They have very few gardening needs and are perfectly happy in full sun with little to no additional water. Not only are they drought- and heat-tolerant, but they’ll even thrive on a little bit of neglect. A garden with native plants offers a stunning variety of natural colors that essentially take care of themselves, year after year. These pretty locals will be a favorite of guests to your garden – from visiting pollinators and birds to your friends and family.

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Native Gardening in Iowa

In Iowa, we are no strangers to prairie plant life. Our native flowers are accustomed to plenty of sun in the summer but are hardy enough to survive our chilly winters. Some of our favorite, low-maintenance Iowa prairie flowers are tough growers with a pretty exterior:

Butterfly Milkweed

Don’t let the name fool you, because Milkweed (also known as Butterfly Weed) is a charming flower that adds to its beauty by attracting scores of butterflies. It’s mainly known as the flower of Monarch butterflies, but their nectar is also a favorite of ladybeetles and bees. The pretty clusters of flowers will help to draw scores of beneficial insects to your garden, but will also repel destructive pests like deer and rabbits. This flower works hard for you and is frequently available in delicate shades of orange or pink to dress up your low-maintenance garden.

 Coneflowers

These flowers feature a seed head with long, falling petals that cascade in a cone shape. Also known as Echinacea, these flowers offer many color options beyond their classic purple hues. The unique shape of these flowers is eye-catching to the passerby as well as to helpful insects and local birds.

 Yarrow

Also known as Achillea, Yarrow is another example of an unapologetically vibrant native plant. While the colorful clusters of flowers make this perennial incredibly popular, the leaves add functionality as a long-loved herb. Many gardeners swear on Yarrow leaves’ pain-relieving ability and have used them for a variety of common ailments from toothaches to bellyaches. A bit of Yarrow in the garden adds a splash of color, all while requiring minimal care. In fact, a little neglect actually helps this plant to thrive.

Pictured below: Coneflowers

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Ironweed

This native is as tough as the name suggests. Ironweed is a perfect plant for the middle or back of the garden, maturing at a height of about a foot and a half tall. The blooms are what makes this plant so spectacular. Vibrant, dark purple flowers cover the tips of the plant mid-summer, making it a real showstopper. Certainly one of our favorite natives, you will love this plant and so will the pollinators!

Rough Blazing Star

Also known as Liatris, the Rough Blazing Star is also unofficially known as the “butterfly magnet” because butterflies cannot resist the blooms of this lovely plant. It is extremely drought tolerant and stands at about three feet tall with clusters of large purple blooms. Rough Blazing Star is much bigger than common Liatris and also blooms much later. Try this plant in your garden, and you will be impressed with its hardiness and beautiful blooms.

Showy Goldenrod

This plant is a much tamer, non-invasive version of ordinary Ditch Goldenrod. The blooms are large with a bright, sunny yellow color, born on very sturdy stems that grow up to three feet tall. It has large flowers bloom later in summer and fall, adding that perfect pop of color to any Iowa garden. Bees and other pollinators are also very attracted to this plant.

Pictured below: Butterfly Milkweed

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Using native plants in your garden makes growing a healthy and hardy garden a much more realistic option for busy gardeners. With a garden that practically takes care of itself, while still offering up an array of charming blooms, you’ll actually have the opportunity to sit and enjoy your garden. And we offer lots of varieties to choose from and the advice you to help you get started.

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Perennial Blooming Calendar (Iowa)

Iowa spring perennials summer blooming calendar timing season fall

“Each moment of the year has its own beauty.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

When planning our gardens each year, we do our best to ensure that we will have beautiful blooms, no matter the season. From the moment spring has sprung, right up until the chill of fresh frost, we want a fresh and flowering garden. All perennials have their own time, some can’t wait to pop their heads out of the frosty ground and other Iowa flowers refuse to show up to the party until the days are at their longest and hottest. Knowing which perennials do best in each season will help you effectively plan a garden full of new color all season long.

Spring:

Spring is all about the early risers. These perennials need to be pretty cold-hardy and tough to survive unpredictable weather, especially here in Iowa. Spring bloomers usually won’t mind the rain and will tolerate shade. The first glimpse of fresh spring growth and the first colors of early flowers is a refreshing way to start your garden’s growing season right after too many months of cold and bleak weather.

Bleeding Hearts are one of the best early spring bloomers. Their small, heart-shaped flowers delicately hang from long, tall wand-like stems. An old-fashioned favorite for a reason, these beautiful blooms are native in North America, making them very low-maintenance. With full to partial shade and regular watering, these flowers will charm your garden throughout spring.

Pictured below: Dianthus

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Creeping Phlox flowers are gorgeous ground-cover flowers that don’t mind the chillier side of spring. Their small, star-shaped flowers will coat a garden on a fantastic evergreen bed of foliage. For the best blooms all spring, give them full sun and regular watering.

Irises are a longtime favorite flower for their unique and show-stopping appearance. Tall, colorful blooms delicately droop around slender, upright foliage to create an amazing look for any springtime garden. To add depth to your garden, try the magnificent and moody purple of Caesar’s Brother. In contrast, the delicate cream-colored Butter & Sugar is sure to brighten your garden.

Armerias or Thrifts produce gorgeous balls of blooms. Their deep-colored foliage is reminiscent of grass and makes for a perfect backdrop for its round tufts of flowers. The fluffy flowers almost resemble a little rabbit’s tail, especially in white varieties like our Cotton Tail Thrift.

There are so many options for early-blooming perennials that give new life and color to your garden as early as possible. Other spring-blooming perennial favorites include:

  • Dianthus – fabulous, full blooms that burst with color
  • Lenten Roses – hardy, star-shaped flowers with sensational stamens
  • Snowdrop Anemones – fragrant flowers that look almost like daisies
  • Lupines – tall tufts of plentiful blooms of color
  • Amsonia – starry flowers, also known as Blue Stars

Pictured below: Lupines

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Summer:

Summer is all about show-stopping, fabulous flowers with an attitude. The gorgeous weather that tempts us outside also gets the best displays out of your plants. You’ll see a dazzling array of colors, shapes, and sizes that are sure to bring life to your garden. Enjoying the best of summer weather and color only lasts so long – this is not the season to shy away from the large and loud.

Veronicas offer vivacious, vibrant spikes of tiny flowers. Their full sun-loving habit makes them an ideal summer perennial that will last all season. This means you’ll have the pleasure of enjoying their gorgeous color right until the break of fall. We love the Royal Candles Speedwell variety for the bright, purple-blue flowers to brighten any garden.

Alliums have all the beauty of onion flowers without the tears. The little tufts of purple flowers make them an outstanding addition to any summer garden. Enjoy the beauty of our favorite, the Millennium Ornamental, for a burst of color midsummer.

Astilbes are a spectacular show of unique flowers for any garden. These spikes are not simply adorned in flowers, but in smaller flower spikes. Don’t let their shady needs fool you – these bold beauties are midsummer bloomers. To bring pretty pink color to your garden’s shady spots, try our Visions Astilbe or Maggie Daley!

Catmint is the perfect choice for a cat-friendly summer bloomer. Offering more showy and spectacular blooms than their cousin, Catnip, this plant is another favorite for cats with a more resilient nature. For perfect purple spikes of flowers, try our Walker’s Low Catmint.

Butterfly Milkweed is the ultimate way to bring in the butterflies, just as the name implies. Their bright blooms are practically bursting with fiery warmth, even on the chilliest days of summer.

Pictured below: Butterfly Milkweed

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Volcano Phlox are a summer cousin of Creeping Phlox, with an interesting growth habit that earns their name. Their bountiful blooms appear to be cascading like colorful lava down a mountainside. With rich shades of reds, whites, pinks, and purples, there is a Volcano Phlox for any garden.

Hardy Hibiscus will put on a tropical summer show from midseason right until the finish of fall. Big, rounded petals surround a showy stamen that hummingbirds adore. Looking straight out of a Hawaii catalog, they are sure to make your backyard feel like a warm, sunny getaway. For a pinwheel of pink, try our Starry Night Hibiscus.

Shasta Daisies are the perfect way to bring the classic, summer flower home. The brilliant white petals surround lively yellow centers that emanate the feeling of summer. They look gorgeous in the garden and cut in a vase and will bloom right into fall to keep summer going even when the air crisps.

Russian Sage is great for adding delicate color to your garden. The tall spikes of tiny flowers that add a perfect backdrop to any summer perennials. For lacy blue blooms that look amazing in contrast with red and orange hues, try our Little Spire Russian Sage.

Yarrow is a brilliant way to bring bold color without the extra work. This perennial is native to North America, so it already knows what to do to grow healthy and vibrant. These fine flowers have a dense mounding habit that provides bright color that fills your garden all summer long. Try our Paprika Common Yarrow for a red that is sure to spice up your garden.Love what you’re reading? Sign up to our email newsletter, and get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

Cranesbills or Perennial Geraniums are the perfect way to add delicate ground-cover to your springtime garden. Their small, plate-shaped blooms offer vibrant colors with an almost tropical feel. For a beautiful blue to brighten your garden in spring, try our Rozanne Cranesbill for sensational color all season.

Coreopsis, also known as Tickseed, is another springtime sensation to brighten up the garden as the days get longer. These bright perennials love the heat and sunshine, soaking it up to produce lovely, light blooms. For beautiful color, try our Zagreb Threadleaf Tickseed or our Creme Brulee Tickseed.

Asiatic Lilies have big, beautiful blooms that are impressive in any garden. Their large, flowers are grown in a compact and easy-to-care-for manner that makes them a stunning summer bloomer for a container or bed. We carry these hardy sensations in many gorgeous colors, but for a delicate pink that is irresistible, try the Pink Pixie!

Other summer-blooming perennials include:

  • Geum – small, fire-toned flowers also known as Avens
  • Baptisia – also known as False Indigo, but available in many colors besides blue
  • Bee Balm – rounded bulbs of spiky petals that bees can’t resist
  • Delphinium – stunning, tall spikes full of color
  • Lavender – classic purple flowers famous for their relaxing fragrance
  • Liatris – tall spikes of purple flowers also known as Blazing Stars
  • Stachys Hummelo – tiny tufts of purple flowers atop lush, green foliage

Autumn Joy, Photo: By Magnus Manske [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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Fall:

Fall is less about new perennials and more about those late-bloomers that aren’t quite ready to let summer go. These flowers won’t mind the days getting shorter and will tolerate the cooler evenings.

Black-Eyed Susans are low-maintenance fall favorites. Their classic bright yellow petals surround moody, black centers, bringing a little summer brightness into the fall. Plenty of sun and regular watering is all these flowers need to keep your autumn nights bright.

Autumn Joy Sedum flowers stay true to their name and give a stunning show right until the first frost. Their tiny flowers cluster together into little plates sitting on top of thick foliage that is reminiscent of succulents – giving them a contemporary appeal. Partial sun and occasional watering are all they need for you to enjoy watching their pink blooms turn to a deeper red by season’s end.

Asters start their blooming late in the summer, but their fantastic fall show is saturated with summer colors. The plentiful petals make for blooms that almost appear to be bursting, especially with the color they provide. Delicate and dense, they are a perfect choice to fill a garden late in the season.

Helenium offer amazing, warm-toned blooms to keep the summer heat around even in the cooling weather of fall. Also known as Sneezeweed, it was believed that inhaling the dried leaves of this plant would induce a sneezing that would expel evil spirits from the body. Besides their “exorcising” ability, they have delightful, daisy-like flowers in fiery shades that are perfect for a fall garden.

Other fall-blooming perennials include:

  • Toad Lilies – unique flowers with speckles of color that look like a toad’s skin
  • Japanese Anemones – amazing spring-colored flowers great for fall
  • Turtleheads – dark green foliage producing small, colorful, and bright blooms
  • Joe Pye Weeds – delicate fluffs of flowers in muted colors

Planting your garden this year can include perennials that will keep it alive all spring, summer, and fall – every year. When one variety finishes its show for the year, another will spring up, keeping your garden fresh and vibrant every day. The endless changing color is practically an invitation to enjoy your time outside more. With so many to choose from, we’re happy to help you build your vision. Planning your favorites is a great way to change your outdoor spaces into a colorful haven from season to season.