5 Spectacular Native Plants for the Upper Midwest

5 Spectacular Native Plants for the Upper Midwest

5 Astonishing Native Plants for the upper Midwest United States

The Upper Midwest is home to some varied and unique scenery and landscapes! Much of the Midwest is known not only for its fertile cropland but also for its rolling hills and prairies.

Today, we'll discuss five native plants from the Northern Midwest United States of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, Wisconsin, and sometimes including Kansas and Missouri. Native plants are defined as plants that have been established in a given area for hundreds of years.

It is challenging to pinpoint an exact geographical boundary, as plants do not follow the same boundaries people do, so in Part Five of Six of our Native Regional Plants Series, we will focus on natives that grow in the Upper Midwest States.

Top Natives For The Upper Midwestern States

These plants have adapted to the windy and harsh environments, providing erosion control and holding the soil where it belongs with deep roots. From cold winters, hot summers, and strong storms, to continuously changing weather, the Midwestern States will put any plant to the test!

It is challenging to pinpoint an exact geographical boundary, as plants do not follow the same boundaries people do, so here are natives typically found growing in the Northern portion of the Midwest, spanning USDA planting zones 2 through 6.

1. White Spruce Trees (Picea glauca)

white spruce

Featuring light green evergreen foliage with a grayish to silver overcast, the White Spruce Tree provides an excellent presence year-round. The short needles are soft to the touch, and Spruce does not require any pruning to help it keep its pyramidal shape. It is deer-resistant and will provide a fair amount of protection during the winter months. The Black Hills Spruce (Picea glauca 'Densata') is an excellent darker-needled variety of White Spruce with short, pointed needles that can be found throughout the Upper Midwest!

  • Long-Lived Native Evergreen
  • Excellent Natural Pyramidal Form
  • Dark Green Needles with a Bluish-Gray Overcast
  • Extremely Cold Hardy
  • Mature Height 40 - 60 feet
  • Mature Spread 15 - 25 feet

Spruce trees are popular, ornamental evergreen conifers. They are ideal for use as windbreaks, privacy screens, and accent plantings in your yard.

2. Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

Reaching over 70 feet tall at maturity, Cottonwood trees are a formidable addition to any landscape. Triangular leaves balance on incredibly thin stems, allowing them to quake in the wind and create a very soothing sound. In the fall, the leaves turn a gorgeous yellow, and in the winter, the intricate gray bark provides some interest to an otherwise dreary season. The gorgeous riparian native Cottonwood Tree creates biodiversity and habitat in a hurry!

  • Triangular Leaves Wave In The Wind
  • Great Yellow Fall Color
  • Dependable & Fast-Growing
  • Highly Adaptable - Thrives in Almost Any Soil Type
  • Bird-Friendly Trees
  • Mature Height 60 - 90 Feet
  • Mature Spread 30 - 60 Feet

These mighty native shade trees grow fast and won't mind occasional flooding and withstand harsh storms and winds throughout a wide range of the U.S.!

3. Red Osier Dogwood

red osier dogwood

The Redosier Dogwood is very well known as the Red Twig Dogwood because of its bright red stems in the winter! Growing pretty large, these 8-12 foot tall and nearly as wide shrubs handle moist to average garden conditions in the sun. Redosier is a great pollinator and bird-friendly bush because of its flat-topped white spring flower clusters and white berries in the fall.

  • Lush Green Foliage
  • White Flowers Become White Berries
  • Pollinator & Bird-Friendly
  • Dramatic Red Stems All Winter
  • Suckering Naturalizing Shrubs

All growing season, you will enjoy privacy and screening from their green leaves before going burgundy to purple in the fall before showing off those red stems all winter long!

4. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple Coneflowers are easy-to-grow and popular prairie natives that produce large, showy pinkish-purple, daisy-like flowers with a darker pincushion-like center cone. Smart landscapes rely on rugged, low-maintenance native perennials that come back year after year and produce long-lasting blooms all season long! You'll love watching butterflies and wonderful Goldfinch birds flit from flower to flower, and so will your friends and family. Hummingbirds and other beneficial pollinators will also visit your garden adding to the spectacular show! 

  • Pinkish-Purple Daisy-Like Flowers
  • Hummingbird & Pollinator Friendly
  • Hardy Perennial Mounds
  • Drought Tolerant & Easy to Grow

Any xeric landscape, Rock Garden, mixed perennial border, or Cottage garden needs these long-lasting flowers! Coneflowers do double duty when it comes to benefiting wildlife.

5. Native Ornamental Grasses

ornamental grasses

Native Grasses - The Upper Midwest is home to all of the Tall and Short Grass Prairies, and the Upper Midwest is home to these large swaths of grassland. These deep-rooted perennial grasses look great and need very little care. The airy plumes add summer, fall, and winter interest, bird seed, and waving motion to the landscape. The grassy blades form clumps, and fountains, or spread into large mats, depending on the variety.

  • Full Sun Perennial Plants
  • Fine-Textured Fountains & Clumping/Spreading Plants
  • Long-Lasting Plumes
  • Bird-Friendly
  • Wide Range of Sizes, Types & Growing Zones
  • Extremely Hardy & Adaptable

There is a huge variety of Ornamental Grasses available for you to choose from which are native, rugged, and beautiful in your garden!

Honorable Mentions

  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) are native trees that are fast growing and develop a purple-bronze winter color. The spikey short needles can range from silver-blue to dark green for the rest of the year. Red Cedar thrives in the harshest conditions around.
  • Swamp Rose - a pretty single-petalled pink fragrant Rose with yellow centers. Nectar-feeding butterflies and pollen-feeding native bees love these flowers as much as you will! The 3-6 foot tall and wide shrubs have great green foliage and when fall arrives you get fancy red rose hips too! Handling higher moisture environments and even wet soil from flooding.
  • Aromatic Aster - A fall-blooming fragrant perennial that is loved by bees, and migrating Monarch butterflies benefit from these sky-blue flowers! The tiny petals look like fringe and these perennials look like blue mist in the late-season garden.
  • Great Blue Lobelia - A big blue Cardinal flower, the Great Blue Lobelia has big spikes of clear purplish-blue flowers with fancy, lipped florets. The butterflies and hummingbirds love this fantastic water garden plant.

Supporting Plants in the Upper Midwest US Climate

How can you help your plants along in the Upper Midwest? There are a few key tactics to remember to give your new plants the best start and keep them growing beautifully. One good thing about the North Midwestern area is the amount of fertile soil, ample moisture access, plus year-round mild to warm conditions.

caring for midwest plants

Choosing native plants that grow in your Growing Zone and weather, means they will not require as much care once established. Ensure they can handle the sunlight quality and quantity in your planting area, then find your Hardiness Zone. Then find more information on choosing Perennials and Shrubs for your area. Search for native plants for your state on the NatureHills.com site, or you can contact your local County Extension Office for more localized information and support in choosing plants for your immediate area.

When you can’t plant in your landscape’s soil due to it having poor drainage or being soggy - instead grow up! Raised beds, berms, and large planters allow you to control the soil your plants are in, and pinpoint water the plants without having to water an entire area.

Rain splashing on soil causes dirt to cover leaves and infect them with potential mold and fungal issues. In the higher humidity and rainfall that is common in the North Midwest US, you need to water at the roots of your plants and spread mulch around their root zone to stop splashing mud. Use the Finger Test method to ensure whether they need moisture or not. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses installed beneath the surface of the soil and mulch layers help save you time!

Speaking of mulch, this 3-4 inch deep layer of shredded bark, compost, and/or arborist mulch will make or break any success you have with your landscaping! Mulch holds moisture in the soil by preventing evaporation, and keeps roots insulated from heat and chill, while slowly breaking down and enriching the soil by adding organic matter to improve soil health.

Using Nature Hills Root Booster when planting helps you and your plant roots harness the power of mycorrhizal fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with feeder roots for the life of the plant! This living support network lives underground and helps roots take up moisture better and break down nutrients faster!

Tough Native Hardiness

These Native plants are already adapted to the soils and climate of the area, increasing their chances of success.

Including these trees, shrubs, and plants in your Upper Midwest landscape not only provides beauty to your space but also enriches the habitat available for pollinators and wildlife by providing them shelter and food resources!

Be amazed at how they thrive and watch the wildlife around you thrive as well!

Nature Hills ships plants with mature root systems that establish faster in your Upper Midwest landscape and pump out bigger and more bountiful blooms year after year!

Happy Planting!

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