13 Best Native Plants for Indianapolis

Total
1
Shares
large area of aromatic aster light purple flowers

What if we told you there were dozens of plants that can not only survive but thrive in Indy’s hot summers, cold winters, and ridiculous temperature variations in spring and fall? Plants native to the area have been doing it for centuries, most of the time without any help from humans. That’s just one of the reasons Indianapolis native plants are perfect for your landscape.

Advantages of Indiana native plants:

  • Cold-hardy: Native plants have adapted to freezing temperatures and snowfall.
  • Water-wise: Natural rainfall provides all the water native plants need (except maybe during the occasional dry season), so you don’t have to water them often. 
  • Pest- and disease-resistant: From many years of growing in the wild, native plants have developed their own methods of preventing local pests and diseases. That means no pesticides or herbicides for you to apply. 

How to choose native plants for your Indianapolis yard: 

The most important consideration is which U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone your home falls under. Most of the city is in zone 6a, which means the coldest winter temperatures are around -10 to -5 degrees Fahrenheit. The northwest corner of Indianapolis falls under zone 5b instead, where annual lows can reach -15 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You have to choose native plants suited for your home’s hardiness zone, or else your plants are less likely to make it through winter. 

You also have to think about the growing conditions in your specific yard. What is the texture of your soil? Does your yard get full sun for many hours a day, or is there lots of shade? Choose native plants that match your yard’s growing conditions. 

Indiana has some of the most fertile soil in the country. Take advantage of it! Fill your yard with low-maintenance native plants that can survive just about anything Indy throws at them, no matter how brown your thumb. Here are 13 of the best native plants for Indianapolis to get you started. 

1. American bellflower (campanulastrum americanum)

American bellflower produces lovely little blue blooms with wavy edges on the petals and a white ring around the center. The flowers are bright and interesting to look at. They grow alone or in upright clusters atop a tall, erect, and hairy stem. 

In nature, these flowers occur in moist woodlands or near shady streams. If you live near the White River or one of its tributaries, American bellflower should do especially well in your garden. 

Aside from adding appealing texture and color to your garden, American bellflowers will attract hummingbirds and bees. This plant is a great choice for pollinator gardens. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4a-8b
  • Sun: Partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium 
  • Soil: Loamy, rich, well-drained
  • Duration: Annual
  • Mature height: 3-4 feet

2. Aromatic aster (symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

Looking for a ground cover that goes above and beyond the basic green of a traditional lawn? Consider aromatic aster, which grows in bushy clumps low to the ground and produces light purple, daisy-like flowers with bright yellow centers. The abundance of blooms the plant produces will create a blanket of color in your landscape. 

Aromatic aster does best in dry and sunny locations, and it’s especially drought-tolerant, even for a native plant. This plant can tolerate a wide range of soil textures, which means it’s likely a good fit for your yard. Just make sure that wherever you plant it gets at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. 

Aromatic aster’s blooms will attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and skippers. Some local birds, insects, and a few mammals will feed on the seeds and foliage without causing permanent damage to the plant. 

  • Plant type: Ground cover
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-8b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Rocky, sandy, loamy, clay, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet

3. Crossvine (bignonia capreolata)

Crossvine is impressive because it can climb as high as 50 feet. Let crossvine grow up a tall tree, along the side of your home, or up a trellis or pergola for a whimsical touch and pop of color in the landscape. This vine will usually retain its leaves all year long. They’ll be deep green in summer, then fade to maroon as temperatures cool. 

The real selling point of crossvine is its spectacular showy flowers. Large, bell-shaped blossoms will show up in April or May every year, and they’re a sight to behold. The bright red cup of the flowers fades to yellow at the tips of the petals, and you can see smears of red peeking out from the inside of the “bell.” This tropical color layout evokes the image of a sunset or a fruity beachside cocktail. 

Crossvine tends to produce more blooms than other species of vine, and the flowers can last as long as four weeks. If you’re after a native flowering vine packed with color, you’ve found it. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 6a-9b (can survive in zone 5 but will likely lose leaves over winter)
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Climbs up to 50 feet

4. Eastern arborvitae (thuja occidentalis)

As a cypress tree with a cone shape, eastern arborvitae sort of looks like a skinny Christmas tree. Its leaves (needles) will stay on the tree and maintain their bright green color throughout winter. 

Also known as white cedar, this tree is popular in landscaping. You’ll usually see several of them planted close together in a tall hedge or decorative row. 

Eastern arborvitae trees have the potential to grow as tall as 30 to 60 feet if you let them, but they don’t have to be that tall if you don’t want them to. You can plant them close to other plants or structures so their roots don’t have too much room to spread and prune the branches regularly to keep your eastern arborvitae as short as you desire. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 2a-7b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy, clay, alkaline, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 30-60 feet

5. Hollow joe-pye weed (eutrochium fistulosum)

Don’t be fooled by this wildflower’s unappealing name. Hollow joe-pye weed produces beautiful clusters of tiny light pink flowers that make a charming addition to any garden. The stems of these flowers are tall, sometimes reaching up to 7 feet. Plant joe-pye weed at the back of your garden to create a backdrop for other flowers and add some height to the design. 

Joe-pye weeds are a good source of nectar, so you’ll often find bees buzzing around the flower heads. These flowers also attract loads of butterflies and birds. They would make an excellent addition to a wildlife-friendly native plant garden. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4a-8b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium to high
  • Soil: Rocky, sandy, loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-7 feet

6. Indian pink (spigelia marilandica)

Indian pink, also known as woodland pinkroot, is a beautiful native flower with an exotic look. The deep red flowers are thin and tube-shaped, with bright yellow tips that flare out at the end. These small, bright blooms grow in clusters that stand out against the bushy, dark green leaves that grow along both sides of the stem. 

The plant usually begins blooming in March, and you can extend the blooming season well into May and even beyond if you remove old flowers as they wither. Indian pink will bloom even when planted in an area with a lot of shade, so it’s perfect for shade gardens. 

Keep in mind that Indian pink doesn’t compete very well with other plants that spread aggressively. If planting in a flower garden, be careful when choosing the species you plant it with.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 5b-9b
  • Sun: Partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-2 feet

7. Ostrich fern (matteuccia struthiopteris)

Indiana has a handful of native ferns to choose from, one of which is the ostrich fern. It gets its name from the shooting plumes that resemble ostrich feathers. Like most ferns, this variety does well in moist, shady spots. Pay attention to natural rainfall if you decide to plant an ostrich fern in your landscape. If an abnormally long time passes with no rain, you’ll need to water this plant regularly to keep it healthy and growing.

Once they establish their root system, ostrich ferns spread pretty quickly and easily. Looking to fill a large gap in your landscape that gets a lot of shade? Plant one ostrich fern and its feathery fronds will fill up all that empty space before you know it. Those fronds will make a good backdrop for more colorful plants in your garden. 

  • Plant type: Fern
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-7b
  • Sun: Partial shade to full shade
  • Water needs: Medium to high 
  • Soil: Clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3-6 feet

8. Roughleaf dogwood (cornus drummondii)

Roughleaf dogwood usually grows between 12 and 16 feet tall, so it works best in the landscape as an ornamental tree. From April to June, the tree will produce large, showy clusters of creamy white flowers. Later in the year, the leaves turn a brilliant red to accent your fall landscape. With roughleaf dogwood, you get a show year-round. 

The best thing about roughleaf dogwood is how adaptable it is. You can grow this tree successfully in most soil textures and in wet or dry conditions. Look out for pest and disease problems, since the dogwood is susceptible to some. But don’t panic if you notice symptoms — these issues shouldn’t cause any major damage as long as the tree is otherwise healthy. 

Between its flowers and its fruits, this tree will attract pollinators, including Indiana native bees and butterflies, as well as several species of birds. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 4a-9b
  • Sun: Partial shade, full shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, clay, limestone-based
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 12-16 feet

9.  Smooth hydrangea (hydrangea arborescens)

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the hydrangea bush. It produces large puffs of tiny flowers that look elegant and produce a fresh, delicate scent. The smooth hydrangea, sometimes called the wild hydrangea, is a cold-hardy variety perfect for a place like Indianapolis, where you run the risk of freezing in winter. 

Smooth hydrangeas tolerate a wide range of soil textures, from loose and rocky to dense clay. Whatever kind of soil you have in your yard, it’s likely fine for this shrub. The spot where you plant them should receive about six hours of direct or dappled sunlight each day. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-9b
  • Sun: Partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium 
  • Soil: Rocky, sandy, loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3-6 feet

10. Soft rush (juncus effusus)

Looking for a nondescript border to line a rain garden or water feature? Soft rush, a tall ornamental grass, could be perfect since it performs very well in moist soil. It can even sit in standing water up to 4 inches deep. This bright green grass grows in bunches that usually reach about a foot high. Tiny white flowers appear sparsely across the top of the grass during summer. 

Like many native plants, soft rush is considered a weed in some environments. But that doesn’t mean it can’t look good and serve a purpose in your landscape. You just have to keep it from spreading too much and becoming invasive.

One way to prevent spreading is to plant soft rush in a buried container instead of directly in the ground. That will limit root growth. You also can prevent unwanted spreading by removing the flowers before they form seeds. 

  • Plant type: Ornamental grass
  • Hardiness zones: 4a-9b
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: ½ – 1 foot

11. Spicebush (lindera benzoin)

Spicebush has a unique look when in bloom because it produces its flowers very early in spring before new leaves appear. The visual effect is an explosion of bright yellow without any green to interrupt. In fall, the leaves themselves turn a lovely yellow shade. 

If you want a vibrant fall color on your spicebush, don’t plant it in full shade (even though the plant can survive full shade). You’ll get the brightest, purest yellow by planting in full sun or light shade. 

Where does spicebush get its name? When any part of the plant is crushed or bruised, it will release a pleasant spicy aroma. The scent is nice for humans and attracts butterflies and birds. Deer, on the other hand, don’t like the strong scent, so they tend to stay away from spicebush. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 4a-9b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, limestone-based
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-12 feet

12. Virgin’s bower (clematis virginiana)

The Clematis virginiana vine goes by a few different common names, including virgin’s bower, old man’s beard, and devil’s darning needles. Whatever you call it, this vine will grow in a sort of clump or mound climbing over a wall, trellis, tree, or other structure. To encourage the vine to grow in a bushy habit, prune the stems each spring. 

In mid to late summer, showy clusters of tiny white flowers cover the vine. From far away, the flowers resemble a dusting of snow on top of soft green leaves. 

Virgin’s bower can grow just about anywhere. It tolerates dry or wet soils, though it prefers a loamy texture. It also does well in all light conditions, from full sun to full shade. Even though you could plant virgin’s bower wherever you want, you have to be careful about where you place it because the leaves are poisonous. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-8b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Climbs up to 20 feet

13. Wild ginger (asarum canadense)

Wild ginger is a simple green ground cover for those who want the color of a traditional turfgrass lawn without as much maintenance or water use. The leaves of wild ginger are heart-shaped and varied in size. When they spread, they create a charming appearance, sort of like a blanket of miniature lily pads. 

Once a wild ginger plant has established the underground rhizomes by which it spreads, it will grow and fill space rather quickly. Mature plants typically spread 6 to 8 inches in all directions every year. 

Wild ginger needs at least partial shade, which means it should receive no more than six hours of direct sunlight per day. If you have a wide-open lawn without many trees or other tall structures to block the sun for part of the day, you may not be successful in cultivating wild ginger. 

  • Plant type: Ground cover
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-7b
  • Sun: Partial shade, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Rocky, sandy, loamy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4-8 inches

Gardening is easier with native plants for Indianapolis

Even if you’ve never been good at keeping plants alive, a beautiful native garden is well within your reach. Remember, these are plants that already survive in Indianapolis and the surrounding area completely on their own. 

You can forget to water them, never fertilize them, and know nothing about plant diseases, and native plants will still have a pretty solid chance of surviving in your landscape for years.

There’s an even easier way to develop and maintain a beautiful garden — hire a professional gardener to do it for you! With the click of a few buttons, you can sit inside your air-conditioned home all through the hot, humid summer and the freezing winter and still have a thriving lawn and landscape. 

Main Photo credit: Andrey Zharkikh | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

838 comments
  1. I simply couldn’t depart your website prior to suggesting that I actually enjoyed the standard info a person provide on your guests? Is gonna be back often in order to check up on new posts.