Featured Plant:
Red Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

In recognition of Earth Day 2013, Prairie Nursery is donating 5% of sales of Red Milkweed and other select Monarch favorites to Monarch Watch, a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.

In its native environment Red Milkweed (AKA: Swamp Milkweed, Marsh Milkweed, Rose Milkweed) is found growing in floodplains, wet meadows, and near the edges of ponds, lakes and streams.  It also grows very well in average, well-drained garden soil. We have a huge specimen, here at the Prairie Nursery farm, that has flourished on a pretty dry site. Full sun is best and some light shade is tolerated.

Red Milkweed plants form a stately bunch of upright stems with long narrow leaves and heads of fragrant mauve-pink flower clusters, composed of many small intricate blooms. At 3′ – 5′ tall a single large clump of Red milkweed makes an excellent focal point in a garden. Put to good use in rain gardens, this Asclepias is also used in shoreline restoration, shoreline buffers, detention basin and bio-swales.

The flowers of Asclepias incarnata are attractive to all kinds of butterflies. The female Monarch Butterfly lays eggs, exclusively, on plants in the Asclepias family, and Red Milkweed is known to be one of the best attractors. Monarchs feed on the flowers and lay their eggs on the plants. The emerging caterpillars then feed on the leaves.

Below is a photo taken at a friends vegetable garden, with Red Milkweed growing among the Asparagus.

Red Milkweed occurs naturally throughout most of the U.S., and much of Canada.

Native Plants that Grow Under Pines

The plants listed in today’s post are great choices for planting under most deciduous trees, and all are tolerant of the acid environment under conifers (pine, spruce, fir, etc.). The rhizomatous species work well as groundcover. (Scroll to end of article to see images of Bearberry in sandy conditions under pines.)

Planting Tips:

  1. Keep in mind the mature heights of plants as well as their mature width. The height of the tree and the height of its lowest branches will influence how tall the under-planting should be.
  2. Care should be taken to minimize disturbance and damage to tree roots during the preparation and planting processes. It is best to avoid large power equipment. There is a common misconception that most tree roots are deep and create a mirror image of the tree’s crown. In reality, most roots are fairly close to the surface and reach even beyond the drip-line.
  3. In an effort to disturb tree roots as little as possible, plant small-size container plants (2-1/2″ to 4″ pots), even if they will grow to a much bigger mature size. Remember to space plants allowing for their mature size.
  4. It is a good idea to mulch your transplants, especially when newly planted. The new small plants are sharing the available moisture with a large tree. Mulch will help to retain valuable water. In a woodland environment plants benefit from the cover of leaves and pine needles.

Flowering Herbacious Plants

Scientific Name Common Name Height Soil Moiture Notes
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Bearberry 6″ – 1′ Dry-medium Rhizomatous; Deer resistant
Asarum canadense Wild Ginger 1’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous
Aquilegia canadensis Columbine 2-4’ Dry-medium Deer resistant, hummingbirds
Aster divaricatus White Woodland Aster 2-4’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous
Aster cordifolius Heart Leaved Aster 2-3’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous
Cornus canadensis Bunchberry 6″ 1’ Dry-moist Rhizomatous, Deer resistant
Gaultheria procumbens Wintergreen 6″-1′ Dry-moist Rhizomatous
Geranium maculatum Wild Geranium  1-2’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous
Heuchera Americana American Alum Root 1-3’ Dry-medium
Helianthus strumosus Woodland Sunflower 3-5’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous, Bird, Deer resistant
Podophyllum peltatum Mayapple 1-2’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous. Foliage dies back in late summer.
Polemonium reptans Jacob’s Ladder  1-2’ Medium Excellent texured foliage.
Smilacina racemosa Solomon’s Plume 1-3’ Medium Rhizomatous
Smilacina stellata Starry Solomon’s Plume 1-2’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous
Solidago flexicaulis Zigzag Goldenrod 2-4’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous
Solidago odora Anise Scented Goldenrod 1-2’  Dry-medium
Uvularia grandiflora Bellwort  1-2’ Dry-medium Spring Ephemeral.


Scientific Name Common Name Height Soil Moiture Notes
Adiantum pedatum Maidenhair Fern 1′ Dry-medium Rhizomatous; Deer resistant
Athyrium felix-femina Lady Fern 1’-2′ Dry-medium Rhizomatous; Deer resistant
Gymnocarpium Dryopteris Oak Fern 6″-1’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous; Deer resistant
Osmunda regalis Royal Fern 3′-6′ Moist Rhizomatous; Deer resistant


Scientific Name Common Name Height Soil Moiture Notes
Carex eburnea Ivory Sedge 4”’-11″ Dry-medium Deer resistant
Carex pensylvanica Pennsylvania Sedge 1’ Dry-medium Rhizomatous; Deer resistant


Bearberry, growing under pines and among the juniper
along the Lake Michigan shoreline:

Bearberry along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Native Rock Gardens!

The concept of Rock Gardening was something I learned at an early age. Our backyard was situated on a sandy dune on an island between the Mississippi and the Black Rivers. On the highest point of our yard, facing west, there was a very large pile of rocks, tossed there by the neighboring farmer, cleared from his potato field.

No need to have it removed…a pile of field stone = future rock garden.

My Mom and Dad decided to take advantage of the rocks, constructing beautiful rock gardens which combined artful grouping of rocks with slabs of limestone from a local quarry. Planted among the rocks were the rock garden plant choice of the time (it was the 1970’s), creeping phlox. Phlox crept within and over the rocks and made a nice carpet of color in spring, and was followed by low growing perennials including herbs such as mint, creeping thyme and oregano, and a few brave annuals tucked into pockets of soil in between the rocks.

Flash 40 years forward, and I have a similar spot on a slightly sloping, south facing hill on our property. We have decided to transform a portion of this spot into a rock garden this year, making use of drought tolerant native plants from Prairie Nursery. Unlike the limited plant choices of the past, I have so many amazing native plants to choose for my new rock garden!

Due to the shallow soil that will be present among the rocks choosing native plants that are drought tolerant is the first step. Choose shallow rooted plants that can be tucked in between the rocks, or used in groupings around the rocks. Among the species we hope to use are Prairie Smoke, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Ivory Sedge, Lavender Hyssop, Brown Eyed Susan, Prairie Blue Eyed Grass.

Coreopsis lanceolata – Lanceleaf Coreopsis is a superhero of xeric gardening .

We plan on piling the rocks across the middle and base of the hill, to take advantage of water/moisture that flows down the hill after a rain. Rocks will be strategically placed to not only form the base for our garden, but to help hold the soil in place. Pea gravel will then be spread to add interest around the rocks.

A few other native species that will tolerate the dry, lean, shallow soils:

Prairie Onion, Purple Prairie Clover, Downy Phlox, Western Spiderwort, Broad Leaved Penstemon, Hoary Vervain, Sky Blue Aster, Prairie Dropseed and  Little Bluestem.

Dalea purpurea – Purple Prairie Clover has a native range that covers a large portion of North America including not only all of the Midwest states, but deserts of the SW, and mountains of Colorado as well. An excellent rock or xeric garden choice.

Sharing links to several great sites with tips on constructing your rock garden, thanks to Garden Brief and E-How:


Rock gardens using native plants chosen for drought tolerance, require very little care; perhaps a little weeding, and possibly adding soil over the years if needed. Rock gardens can be constructed on any scale;  a small front yard garden, or an expansive back or side yard. It all depends on how much space, time and energy you can devote to the project. A rock garden, regardless of size, adds structure and beauty to any landscape!

Featured Plant: Pasque Flower

Common name: The name Pasque Flower refers to the religious holiday of Easter, when the flowers are often in bloom. In South Dakota, where it is the state flower, it is referred to as the May Day Flower, Prairie Crocus or Wind Flower.

Scientific name: Anemone patens (also known as Pulsatilla patens). Anemone: an ancient Greek name from anemos, “wind.”  patens: Latin for “spreading.”

Pasque Flower

Flowers on a Hilltop

With less than two months to go until the official start of spring it still seems a long way off. But when the snow finally clears and the hilltops warm in the ever higher sun, the Pasque Flower will be one of the earliest signs of life on the spring prairie.

Last spring Neil Diboll let me in on a great location, not far from Prairie Nursery, where native Pasque Flower adorns a hilltop every spring. Neil gave me directions and we were to meet up there late in the afternoon, as he was returning from a consulting job.

I arrived first and found the spot with no problem. My approach to the designated hill was by the Northwest side and as I began to climb upwards and out of the woods I was happy to find several Pasque Flower groups blooming along the hillside. Wow. What a find. I turned on my camera and started clicking away. The light wasn’t the best there, so I kept angling up the hill, shooting as I went. Upon cresting the hill I realized I had been on the fringe! The large domed hilltop was strewn with flowers. And the light was beautiful. After about 10 minutes of giddy Pasque Flower photo-taking, Neil showed up and we continued the photo shoot together.

Here are some photos from that afternoon, March 22, 2012.

Anemone patens

One of the earliest perennials to bloom in a prairie, Pasque Flower is an uncommon plant
that has been extirpated from many areas because of modern development.

Pasque Flower

Native to both North America and Eurasia, it inhabits hill prairies and gravel prairies.
Barrens with scant woody vegetation are preferred as this reduces competition from other plants.
The preference is full sun, dry conditions, and a gritty soil containing gravel or rocky material. Root rot can be a problem if the soil becomes waterlogged from poor drainage.

pasque flower

Pasque Flower is only about 6” high with a delicate, near transcluscent petals
that can range in color from white to lavender.

pasque flower

The flowers emerge before the leaves, often just after the snow has melted.
The delightful furry leaves remain well into the summer.

pasque flower

The silvery plume-like seedhead is also a treasure.

We have a limited quantity of Pasque Flower in 3″ pots, available this spring.