13 Best Native Plants for Kansas City

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Gray dogwood white flower bunches surrounded by green leaves

For a low-maintenance landscape that’s lush and filled with a variety of foliage and blooms, consider using plants native to the Kansas City region. Native plants are used to local weather conditions and pests. They can thrive through KC’s hot summers and freezing winters with hardly any watering, fertilizing, or weeding from you. 

You can make your landscape even more low-maintenance by choosing a grass type suited for Kansas City’s climate. Then, both your lawn and garden will practically take care of themselves.

When your landscape doesn’t need you to take care of it, you can spend that newfound free time chowing down on the best barbecue in the world or watching the Chiefs game with your buddies.

How to choose native plants for your Kansas City yard:

Only use plants suitable for Kansas City’s U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 6. The hardiness zone designates the coldest winter temperatures in an area. In zone 6, the coldest it gets is about -10 degrees Fahrenheit. 

We’ll go over 13 low-maintenance native plants that meet these parameters.   

1. Butterfly milkweed (asclepias tuberosa)

red and orange butterfly milkweed
John Flannery | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Butterfly milkweed is a native wildflower you’ve probably seen growing in abundance in empty fields or by the roadside. Because these flowers do so well here on their own, they’re super easy to take care of! And best of all, they’ll attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.  

With their appeal to beneficial wildlife, butterfly milkweed flowers make a perfect foundation for pollinator gardens. Showy clusters of bright orange flowers with a backdrop of dark green foliage also make butterfly milkweed a great addition to colorful wildflower beds. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-9b
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-2 feet 

2.  Cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis)

Does your yard typically have wet soil? Cardinal flowers could be a great choice for your garden. This plant does especially well in naturally moist areas, such as rivers or ponds. In ideal conditions, cardinal flowers will reseed themselves over and over again, so you can expect to enjoy their blooms for several years to come, even after the original plant dies. 

Like their namesake bird, cardinal flowers are a beautiful bright red. The small, delicate petals bloom in upright clusters at the ends of long stems covered in spear-shaped leaves. You can use these plants as a striking background for flower beds or pollinator gardens. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-9b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium to high
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, clay, limestone-based
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-6 feet

3. Fringe tree (chionanthus virginicus)

white fringe tree with thin white flower petals
bastus917 (영철 이) | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

Fringe tree, also known as old man’s beard or sweetheart tree, is a small to mid-sized deciduous native. A fringe tree would work well as a sole specimen planting or as the focal point of a plant bed. 

The main appeal of fringe trees is their feathery clusters of white flowers that really pop against the bright green foliage. In full bloom, the flowers look sort of like a light dusting of snow. Fringe tree’s blooming season can last a long time, from late spring into mid-fall. In addition to their interesting look, these flowers produce a light, pleasant fragrance and attract birds. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-9b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 12-30 feet 

4. Gray dogwood (cornus racemosa)

close-up of small white flowers on a gray dogwood tree
Cranbrook Science | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Gray dogwood shrubs grow well in thickets, so this native is a good choice for privacy hedges or windbreaks. The gray dogwood, with its red stems, stark white berries, and white flowers, is showier and more interesting to look at than your typical hedge plant. 

Another great benefit of this native shrub? It resists the most damaging pests and plant diseases. That’s especially impressive because many other dogwood species are highly susceptible to these issues. Once you plant and establish a gray dogwood, you can pretty much leave it alone to do its own thing, and it’ll grow healthy. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 4a-8b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, clay, silt
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Up to 16 feet

5. Missouri evening primrose (oenothera macrocarpa)

close-up of a bright yellow Missouri evening primrose flower
Anastasia Kuleshova | Pixabay

Also known as bigfruit evening primrose or fluttermill, this native bright yellow flower typically grows in bunches. These bunches can look great in plant beds or lining the driveway. 

The flowers get their name from the fact that they open in the evenings and close back up during the day. Even when the flowers are closed, the plant’s dense, grass-like foliage adds a little something to your landscape. 

Missouri evening primrose is a deer-resistant plant, so it’s safe from damage if you frequently have problems with deer. It also attracts beneficial wildlife, including hummingbirds and native bees. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 5a-8b
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Rocky, sandy, loamy, limestone-based
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 8-10 inches

6. Ozark witch hazel (hamamelis vernalis)

ozark witch hazel with a bee on its yellow petals
Plant Image Library | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Ozark witch hazel is an interesting specimen because it blooms from January to April. Its bright reds and yellows will add a splash of color and texture to your garden in winter. This native shrub can grow tall (up to 10 feet) or stay lower to the ground if you prune it regularly, depending on how you choose to use the plant in your landscape. 

Even for a native plant, ozark witch hazel is tough. It’s deer-resistant and tolerates a range of different soil textures and sun conditions. Ozark witch hazel spreads easily on its own through root suckers. If you want to prevent spreading, simply remove the root suckers. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 4a-8b 
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Rocky, sandy, loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-10 feet

7. Prairie coreopsis (coreopsis palmata)

close-up of a bright yellow coreopsis flower
Chris M Morris | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Prairie coreopsis, a species of tickseed, is a quintessential Missouri wildflower. You’ll see these tiny, butter yellow, sunflower-like flowers all over, and they will thrive in your garden, too. They tolerate extreme heat, drought, poor soils, and interference from deer. 

Because they grow here so easily, prairie coreopsis flowers also spread like wildfire through self-seeding. Want to keep them contained and prevent spreading? All you have to do is deadhead (remove) flower stalks as soon as they die off. You also can cut back the plants in summer if you fail to prevent spreading prematurely. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-8b 
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low to medium 
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, chalky
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1 ½ – 2 ½ feet

8. Purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflowers are extremely popular for home gardens in prairie states like Missouri because these colorful, showy flowers are especially easy to take care of. And not only do they look great, they also attract and benefit local wildlife such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. They’re a perfect plant for native pollinator gardens. 

The flowers look like light purple daisies, and they bloom all through summer. Beware that newly planted coneflowers can sometimes take up to two years to bloom for the first time. If you just planted them this spring and they don’t bloom in summer, that’s perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. You’ll just have to exercise patience. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-8b  
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-5 feet

9. Purple poppy mallow (callirhoe involucrata)

bright purple poppy mallow flower
Nick Varvel | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Another name for purple poppy mallow is winecup because of the deep purple color and cupped shape of the flowers. Sometimes, the flowers also can be pink or white. The plants themselves spread along the ground to form a mat of foliage, and the vivid flowers stand out beautifully against that backdrop. 

Because the plant spreads, it can do well in a hanging basket or trailing down a wall or post. It also would look great in a wildflower garden with flowers and leaves of contrasting colors and textures. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-8b 
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Rocky, sandy, loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Up to 1 foot

10. Showy goldenrod (solidago speciosa)

close-up of yellow goldenrod flowers
John Benson | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Goldenrods are beautiful and interesting to look at, with long stems covered in leaves and clusters of tiny, golden yellow flowers that grow in an upright, column-like clump. As the name suggests, the showy goldenrod is one of the brightest, most visually impactful species. Even when you plant them in a wildflower garden alongside other colorful blooms, showy goldenrods are sure to stand out. 

Another thing that makes showy goldenrods special is that they bloom in August and September, when most other flowers are dormant. Beware that these flowers can spread aggressively, so you may need to prune them regularly if you want to keep them contained in a small area.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-8b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Rocky, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-5 feet

11. Sky blue aster (aster azureus or Symphyotrichum oolentangiense)

small, delicate flowers of sky blue aster
Joshua Mayer | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Looking for another fall-blooming native flower to pair with showy goldenrods? Sky blue aster could be the perfect choice. This plant produces charming little daisy-like blooms from late August through October. The flowers typically range from light blue to lavender in color, always with a bright yellow center. 

Sky blue asters normally don’t have issues with pests or plant disease, and they can thrive in almost any soil. The flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators, making sky blue aster a good foundation plant for a low-maintenance native pollinator garden. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-8b 
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-3 feet

12. Sourgum (nyssa sylvatica)

close-up of green and red leaves of a sourgum tree
David J. Stang | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Sourgum trees, also known as black gum trees or black tupelo trees, are a popular choice for specimen plantings. They have shiny, dark green foliage in summer that turns to brilliant red in fall. If you’re looking to add a vibrant pop of fall color to your landscape, the sourgum tree is probably for you. 

A sourgum tree might also be a good choice for you if your soil drains poorly and your yard often suffers from standing water. That being said, this hardy tree also tolerates drought and dry soil. It’s extremely versatile in the environments it can thrive in. Its uses are also diverse: You can keep a sourgum small or let it grow into a huge shade tree depending on your needs.

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 3a-9b 
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 30-50 feet

13. Spicebush (lindera benzoin)

green leaves and red berries from a spicebush plant
Melissa McMasters | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Spicebush gets its name from the small red fruits it produces in fall that emit a spicy, peppery scent. The fruits are edible, and they provide a food source for local wildlife. The tiny white or yellow flowers that precede the fruits aren’t particularly showy, but they attract pollinators, which is a plus for any native garden. 

Visually, the main appeal of the spicebush is its bright yellow fall color. Spicebush is another excellent choice for livening up your landscape in fall when most flowers stop blooming because it provides interest almost year-round. 

Beware that spicebush doesn’t handle drought or heat particularly well, and it’s vulnerable to laurel wilt. However, this native Missouri shrub has a low flammability rating, which means you could feature it in a fire-resistant landscape. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 5a-9a 
  • Sun: Partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, limestone-based
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 8-15 feet

Native plants make gardening easier

Just about every gardening chore on your to-do list will be easier if you fill your landscape with native Kansas City plants instead of nonnatives. 

Native plants need less:

  • Watering
  • Weeding
  • Fertilizing 
  • Pest control
  • Disease control
  • Frost protection in winter

Want to lighten your workload even more? Hire a Kansas City lawn care professional to handle all your lawn and garden maintenance for you.

Main Photo Credit: Cranbrook Science | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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