11 Beautiful Ohio-Native Plants Every Gardener Needs

The Reasons Why Native Ohio Perennials Are Becoming the Most Popular Garden Addition--And Their Surprising Uses!

a garden with a red barn in the distance

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When planting a garden, consider adding native perennials. Plants native to Ohio are attractive for a multitude of reasons--and in this article, you’ll discover why you should consider growing native plants, the best ones to incorporate into your garden, and how to care for these beautiful plants.

The prospect of beginning a garden can be daunting. For those who have always wanted a big, beautiful garden but are worried about the upkeep, native plants can be the solution. This article will introduce you to some of the easiest, most popular Ohio plants to begin your garden with.

Established gardeners can also benefit from learning about native plants--even those who have already incorporated some of Ohio’s beautiful native perennials into their gardens should consider researching the practical applications of some of these plants. From teas to tinctures, your plants might be more useful than you think.

Read on to learn about these 11 Ohio native plants and why they’re so popular:

  • Bee Balm
  • Blue Flag
  • Wild Geranium
  • Goldenrod
  • White Wood Aster
  • Wild Bergamot
  • Wood Poppy
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Cardinal Flower

Why Choose Ohio Native Plants?

Support your local ecosystem and positively influence your own relationship with the natural world by planting perennials native to Ohio

Plants native to the Ohio region generally require less maintenance than those that have been introduced. The seeds and mature plants can often be found directly in nature and transplanted into your own garden, so not only can these plants be procured for free but, once you have them, they won’t require the fancy soils or constant labor of delicate foreign species.

Birds, butterflies, and bees find native plants incredibly appealing. Incorporating native plants, whose seeds and berries have evolved to develop in harmony with the local fauna, helps the ecosystem remain balanced. 

As these plants begin to blossom, small flies start pollinating them and eventually become food for young birds. As birds mature and plants start producing their berries or seeds, birds feast on these and then spread the seed to other areas through their droppings. Native species are an integral part of any ecosystem--by providing an area for native plants to flourish, you can help preserve the biodiversity that makes Ohio so unique. 

Native plants are also naturally aesthetically suited to the region they come from. Their aesthetically pleasing appearance also has another benefit: reducing plant blindness. Plant blindness is broadly defined as the inability to see or recognize the plants in one’s environment. This leads to an inability to appreciate the natural world and can prevent people from feeling connected to the land. Planting native Ohio plants can help reduce plant blindness, helping you to feel more connected and appreciative of the region.

The Best Plants To Choose for your Ohio garden

Choose from this list of 11 perennials and start building your dream garden

A lot of variables factor into which specific plants will be best for you. Below is a carefully compiled list of plants culled from an extensive list of Ohio native plants.

These plants are beautiful, easy to care for, attractive to essential pollinators, and capable of competing with weeds to grow strong and proud. These plants have an additional bonus: although birds and bees love them, deer are uninterested in them. Feel free to plant these perennials in close proximity to a food garden without worrying about inviting deer to feast on your fruits and vegetables.

A bee balm in bloom--bright pink firework blossoms.
A vibrant bee balm bloom. Image courtesy of Audrey from Central Pennsylvania.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

These flowers consist of tubular petals adored by hummingbirds and bees. Considered delicious by these pollinators, bee balm is also appealing to humans. The leaves and flowers can be harvested and made into tea--they’re also mildew and deer resistant. For a fuller, more flowery look you can pinch off the stem tips in early spring as the plant develops in order to encourage more growth.

Sun: full to partial

Soil moisture: average, can withstand drought 

A riot of iris colored blue flag flowers
These bright Ohio flowers will make your garden pop. Image courtesy of Retro Lenses.

Blue Flag (Iris versicolor)

Add a pop of blue-violet to your garden with these late spring/early summer blossoms. While blue flags can be found growing near swamps, streams, and wet meadows, they are well-suited to a garden environment and require minimal care. Consider adding this plant to the borders of ponds or swampland. At the end of their season, collect the seeds and store in moist sand for next year. Caution: no part of this plant can be safely ingested--the roots are especially toxic and can induce nausea and vomiting. Although powdered blue flag roots can be added to potpourri, never use it while cooking.

Sun: partial

Soil moisture: wet, moist

A delicate, small white flower against a green background.
These subtle perennials have a long lasting bloom. Image courtesy of Veryhuman.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

These beautiful light pink or lavender plants will bloom for a long time. They are a great subtle addition to a large garden. While these plants are popular in plant nurseries, be sure to check that you’re getting the native species. In the past, the roots and leaves of the wild geranium have been used to treat sore throats and the other parts of the plant can also be used to cure common ailments. Some variations of wild geranium with scented leaves are natural mosquito and wasp repellents--perfect for those who want to spend time in their garden without worrying about being pestered by insects.

Sun: partly sunny

Soil moisture: average

A ladybug covered goldenrod bush.
Use this native Ohio plant as a garden border. Image courtesy of Beatriz Moisset.

Goldenrod (Solidago)

Goldenrod makes for a beautiful garden border, reaching as high as four feet when mature. Although this plant is often confused with ragweed, the pollen producing plant responsible for hay fever, goldenrod won’t have you coughing and sneezing constantly because it has virtually no pollen. What little pollen it has is carried away by small pollinating flies and bees, not the wind. The flowers are edible as salad garnishes or can be infused in teas. The leaves can be blanched and frozen and later incorporated into soups or cooked like spinach. This versatile, edible plant is a great addition to any garden, especially for those with pollen sensitivity. 

Sun: full

Soil moisture: average, somewhat drought resistant

A cluster of Ohio native white wood aster with yellow or red centers.
Whether yellow or red, this flower makes a great backdrop for brighter blossoms. Image courtesy of  David J. Stang.

White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus)

Butterflies won’t be able to resist these delicate white blooms. The centers, which start off yellow, will gradually turn red as the plant ages, providing a subtle, autumnal color change around early fall. These plants can tolerate drought, rocky soil, and lack of sun. This makes them perfect for garden borders or places where the soil quality is poor. White wood aster can be grown in close proximity to other plants. Consider using it as a gorgeous backdrop for more vibrant flowers.

Sun: partial or shade, best with three hours daily of partial sun

Soil moisture: average or dry

Wild bergamot, light lavender in color and covered in furled petals.
Practical and pretty--this flower makes for an edible garnish or fragrant addition to potpourri. Image courtesy of USFWS Mountain-Prairie.

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

These firework-shaped blossoms make for a great addition to potpourri when dried. The leaves smell of either oregano or mint, depending on who you ask. In addition to having a wonderful scent, this plant has a history of being infused in tea as a cure for headaches and indigestion. Although this plant shouldn’t be confused with the bergamot orange, both are used to make popular essential oils. The flowers can also be added to salads for a bright, summery garnish.

Sun: full to partial

Soil moisture: average to dry

A single yellow flower, similar to a buttercup, against a backdrop of green leaves.
Chipmunks find these Ohio native perennials especially tempting. Image courtesy of David J. Stang.

Wood Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Add bursts of bright yellow to your garden with these small, clustered blossoms. While the flowers themselves bloom in March and April, the plant continues to serve as an essential part of the ecosystem throughout summer. The seeds produced by the mature plant are a chipmunk delicacy--for those with an affinity for these tiny, cute little creatures, wood poppy is a garden must-have. And chipmunks aren’t the only ones enjoying these plants. Try making a delectable tea from the flowers and leaves. But be careful--the bright yellow sap found in the stems has been used as a dye by Native Americans for centuries, but it can also stain your hands if you’re not careful.

Sun: partial

Soil moisture: average

A white butterfly clings to the orange red blossoms of the butterfly weed.
Plant this flower to encourage butterflies and moths to visit your garden. Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

These vibrant orange blooms are a wonderful addition to any garden. While all of the plants listed are butterfly-friendly, butterfly weed is doubly so. This plant will attract a cloud of bright colored butterflies to your garden, drawing in these pollinators who will then go on to pollinate the rest of your plants. This drought-tolerant plant requires very little maintenance. Butterfly weed is also known by its nickname, pleurisy root, so called because chewing the tough root is thought to reduce the effects of pleurisy.

Sun: full

Soil moisture: dry, moist

A large black-eyed Susan fills the photo, the titular black eye surrounded by a yellow ruff of petals.
Naturally prolific, this plant can be acquired for free from wide open fields. Image courtesy of FAL.

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Blooming throughout the summer, these bright flowers will tolerate drought, poor soil, and neglect. Perfect for the frequent traveler or those who want a bright garden without having to do a lot of maintenance work. These plants can be found spreading across open fields and are easily transplanted into the home garden. Growing to heights surpassing three feet, these plants do have a tendency to crowd out more delicate species. When incorporating them into your garden, be sure to leave plenty of room between them and the next plants.

Sun: full

Soil moisture: average to dry

Joe Pye weed looks like a pink feather duster sticking up from the ground.
A picnic out in the Ohio woods is a great opportunity to find some Joe Pye weed. Image courtesy of liz west.

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)

Joe Pye weed is easy to propagate through stem cuttings--simply find the plant out in nature, take a clipping of the stem, and wait for a root to form before adding to your garden. In mid-summer to early autumn these pinkish, vanilla scented blossoms will form clusters of 5-7, providing pops of color throughout your garden. This plant can grow over six feet in the right conditions--consider using it to form a natural border between yards or as a way to make your garden a little more private.

Sun: full or partial

Soil moisture: average

Bright red, the Cardinal flower is in clear focus here.
Cardinal flower is a beacon for fast-flying hummingbirds. Image courtesy of linnaeus.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Covered with bright red, trumpet shaped blooms, cardinal flowers bloom through summer and into fall, making them a great flower to transition from a summer to autumn garden. Their nectar and vibrant color will make them a hotspot for hummingbirds as well as butterflies--make sure you have your camera handy to capture the diversity of species drawn to this plant. Add a bit of organic fertilizer to the soil before planting to ensure full health. The plant gets its name from the red of a Roman Catholic cardinal’s robe and has a history of being used as an aphrodisiac in love potions. However, the plant can be toxic in large quantities--it’s best to avoid using these plants medicinally unless you have experience with natural medicine.

Sun: full to partial

Soil moisture: average

Consider Incorporating Native Ohio Plants Into Your Garden

Native plants are perfect for any type of gardener--novice or experienced, everyone should try adding native plants to their garden

Native plants are a great addition to any garden, especially for those looking to encourage native biodiversity and support the Ohio ecosystem. The addition of any one of these 11 plants will make for a brighter garden without increasing maintenance. 

Whether you’re growing from seeds, procuring from nurseries, or transplanting wild plants into your garden, these native perennials will live longer, require less attention, and flourish in your garden.

Once you’ve begun incorporating these plants into your garden, consider making plans to harvest them at the end of their season. Many plants can be dried and infused in teas, sewn into fragrant sachets, or transformed into natural cures for the common cold. Beautiful and useful, native plants are a must-have in any Ohio garden.

May 27, 2020
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