Nothing speaks more of my childhood than slogging through hay fields on hot summer days in upstate New York. Grasshoppers jumping; clothes wet from spittle bugs; grass cuts stinging from sweat; the never-seen bob-o-links raising their voices…
Today, trendy gardens, like the New York City High Line, are often meadows. In addition, there’s a strong ecological movement to turn turf to meadow.
If you’re so inclined (and I hope you are), the NPWG team blog is the place to be. We have meadow-guru Catherine Zimmerman, and just about every other contributor has added something about the design, installation, native plants, insects or ecology of meadows. Just scroll through the team list at the bottom of this page for someone from your part of the country, then have fun seeing a native plant meadow through their eyes.
Of course, if you care about wildlife, what you want to encourage in your meadow, and your sunny drought-tolerant garden, are your local natives (not cultivars or other “nativars” – what you want is the real McCoy). For those of you living in Southern Connecticut, this post continues the series on natives to plant here.
In Southern Connecticut, the natural state of things is forest and wetlands. Sunny, dry meadows occur as temporary openings in the forest canopy caused by storms, fire, and filled-in beaver ponds. Meadows have also been created here by humans since the Native Americans burned forest understory to encourage the deer population (if they only knew where that would end up…).
However, between blow-downs, the native plants that thrive in well-drained full sun keep their species alive by being niche players in any scrap of sunshine they can find. Today, look for our native meadow plants in these niches, now mostly railroad right of ways, roadsides, and the edges of parking lots.
Before getting to the plants, two things I often hear as common wisdom that I think need correcting:
First, you don’t need an initial herbicide application to create your meadow. Catherine Zimmerman shows you how in her book, Urban and Suburban Meadows: Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces. Further, it’s my personal observation that where herbicides were used (imagine spreading enough Round-up or whatever to cover a 4-acre plot), it didn’t do any good — the undesirables showed up any way.
Second, annual mowing of the whole native plant meadow does more harm than good — it kills many of the insects and chases out the animals that would otherwise live there. If you feel you must mow, say to encourage different species of plants and animals, do no more than a quarter of the area a year. In deer-ridden Southern Connecticut, mowing to control revision-to-forest is not necessary — the deer will keep your woody plants pruned to height, thank you.
Native Plants for the Dry Sunny Meadow
- Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Pearly everlasting (Antennaria plantaginifolia)
- Butterfly weed (Orange milkweed) (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Heath aster (Aster ericoides)
- Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) (southeast USA)
- Partridge-pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate)
- Field thistle (Cirsium discolor)
- Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) (Midwestern USA)
- Eastern daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus)
- Flat-topped Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)
- Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
- Indian-tobacco (Lobelia inflate)
- Wild Lettuce (Lactuca Canadensis)
- Wild Bergamont (Bee Balm)(Monarda fistulosa)
- Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
- Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium)
- Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
- Narrowleaf blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
- Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
- Early goldenrod (Solidago juncea)
Note on daisy fleabane and field thistle: these plants are great in the meadow but I do not recommend them for garden since they reproduce a bit too vigorously to be good garden guests.
Native Grasses for the Dry Sunny Meadow
- Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
- Switch grass (Panicum virgatum)
- Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
- Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Native Shrubs for the Dry Sunny Meadow
- Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum)
- Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)
- Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine)
- Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina)
- Caneberries (blackberries, raspberries, etc – NOT invasive wineberry)
- Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Frequently seen Non-Native Plants in Meadows
These plants are some of the natives from the temperate zones of Eurasia and North Africa that are now found in temperate zones all over the world. While they don’t have the same value to our native wildlife as our native plants, should they show up in your new meadow, not to worry. They don’t tend to get out of balance and tend to disappear on their own as the meadow matures.
- Stinking chamomile (Anthemis cotula)
- Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) (hybrid with native species)
- Ox-eyed daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
- Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
- Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
- Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota)
- Common St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)
- Butter and Eggs (Toadflax) (Linaria vulgaris)
- Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
- Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
- White clover (Trifolium repens)
- Common mullein (Verbascum Thapsus)
- Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca)
Least desirable meadow plant
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is an invasive that blooms at the same time as common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), and looks much the same. However, mugwort is much more widespread in hot, dry places and even worse for allergies. Further, mugwort is difficult to control — studies show that the best bet is to ground cut every few weeks for 2 to 3 years.
The prior posts in this series are:
- Native Shrubs and Small Trees for Southern New England
- Native Trees for Southern New England
- Southern New England’s Native Vines
- Native Plants for Southern Connecticut Rain Gardens and Wetlands
- Nature’s New England Winter Garden Design
- Native Woodland and Shade Garden Plants for Southern Connecticut
© 2012, Sue Sweeney. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us