By Debra Knapke
So many choices confront the beginning gardener or the new homeowner, and so many plants seem to be must-haves: must-have trees, shrubs, edibles, perennials and annuals. If I were creating my first landscape and had to limit myself to 10 plants, here are the ones I would choose.
- is native to the Midwest or is a non-native that is adapted to our weather and soil
- plays well with others; in other words, not invasive
- offers multi-seasonal interest
Serviceberry (Amelanchier species and cultivars) – A native single or multi-trunked tree that offers four season interest and edible berries in June.
Red oak or white oak (Quercus rubra and Q. alba) – You are planting this tree for your children, but few trees surpass the majesty of an oak. The red oak grows faster than the white, but white oaks have better fall color; your choice.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) – A native shrub for sunny to part shade locations. Look for the cultivars ‘Diabolo’ (4-8’ tall and wide) and ‘Little Devil’ (3’ tall and wide) which have maroon leaves and white to pink flowers in June. Its exfoliating bark feature is a winter season bonus.
Daffodils (Narcissus species and hybrids) – One of the plant signals that it is indeed spring. You can have daffodils in bloom from mid-March to mid-May if you choose your cultivars wisely.
Perennial sage (Saliva nemorosa) – An attractive perennial that supports our native pollinators. As long as you remove spent flower spikes and water it during dry times, it will bloom from May until frost. And, it is not usually eaten by deer.
Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) – A groundcover for hot, dry location that can double as lawn where there is very light foot traffic.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – One of our native daisies, from the prairie, that provides food to a variety of insects, butterflies, moths and birds. This summer bloomer is at home in sunny to part-sun gardens.
Butterflyweed/ milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa, A. incarnata, A. syriaca and others) – This is your chance to help a species in peril: all of the butterflyweeds/milkweeds are essential food sources for monarch butterfly caterpillars and the adults. Butterflyweed does best in a sunny, well-drained garden that is close to a bench so you can watch for this beautiful insect.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – A native shrub for the shade that offers early flowers, edible fruit and gold leaves in the fall, and a lovely silhouette in the winter.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – A tough tree that offers one of the best golden fall color shows. Make sure you plant a male clone unless you want the fruit, but be forewarned: the fruit is extremely fragrant when ripe, and not in a good way!