Best Native Plants for St. Louis

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Butterfly on purple prairie blazing star

The spirit of St. Louis is rich in history, music, beer, and yes, plants. 

Missouri native plant species have called Missouri home for hundreds or even thousands of years and are well adapted to local conditions.

Advantages of St. Louis native plants:

  • Inherently low-maintenance 
  • Save you time and money
  • Invite local wildlife into your lawn, including pollinators, birds, and butterflies
  • Positively contribute to the local ecosystem and increase the biodiversity in your area

St. Louis is located in the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s hardiness zone 6b. Native plants in this zone should be able to withstand winter temperatures of -5 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Perennials 

Aromatic aster (symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

Close-up of a light purple flower from aromatic aster
Joshua Mayer | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re looking for a late-blooming wildflower, you may have met your perfect match. Aromatic aster produces its pink or purple-blue flowers from August to September. Its 1-1.5 inch flowers resemble small daisies and attract bees and butterflies. Aromatic aster is even a larval host plant to the checkerspot butterfly.

This flower also earned a place on the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plants of Merit List. This list highlights plants that are easy to maintain, resist most pests and diseases, and provide a high ornamental value for homeowners.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Soil should be dry to moderately moist
  • Soil: Clay or sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet tall; 1-3 feet wide

Butterfly milkweed (asclepias tuberosa

A butterfly hanging off the side of a yellow milkweed plant
Lenny DiFranza | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

As the name suggests, butterfly milkweed is a favorite nectar source for butterflies and other pollinators. This native perennial is also a host plant for monarch butterfly larvae. Butterfly milkweed puts out yellow/orange flowers from June to August and is another one of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plants of Merit. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Soil should be dry to moderately moist
  • Soil: Can tolerate poor soil but must be well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-2.5 feet tall; 1-1.5 feet wide

Downy phlox (phlox pilosa)

Close-up of purple flowers from prairie phlox
Joshua Mayer | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Also called prairie phlox, this flowering perennial puts out fragrant light purple or pink flowers. The small, five-petaled flowers are about ¾” wide and bloom from May to July. Downy phlox is a good choice if you want to increase butterfly watching opportunities in your yard.

Downy phlox will sometimes put out another, more sparse, round of blooms in the fall. This flower has no disease or insect issues normally, but keep an eye out for spider mites when the weather turns hot and dry. Downy phlox prefers to be mulched throughout the summer to keep its roots cool.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Fertile and moderately dry or moist, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-1.5 feet tall; 1-1.5 feet wide

Lanceleaf coreopsis (coreopsis lanceolata)

bright yellow flowers from lanceleaf coreopsis
Andrey Zharkikh | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

If you like to have a lawn full of summer color, lanceleaf coreopsis can’t be beaten if you’re looking for a yellow bloomer. Lanceleaf coreopsis puts out bright yellow blooms 1-2 inches wide from May to July. It self-seeds and will form colonies over time. This flower is a colorful addition to a native prairie or wildflower garden. If you plant it as a border, plan to thin out new seedlings.

Plant lanceleaf coreopsis in well-drained soil to prevent crown rot. This flower does not have any notable disease or insect concerns. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Keep the soil dry or moderately moist 
  • Soil: Rocky or sandy soils, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-2 feet tall; 1-1.5 feet wide

Prairie blazing star (liatris pycnostachya

Close-up of purple flowers from prairie blazing star
Joshua Mayer | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

If you want a show-stopping purple flower in your lawn, prairie blazing star won’t disappoint. Blooming from July through August, prairie blazing star grows from 2-4 feet tall on average and can be a great cut flower to add to summer flower arrangements. 

Not only will you enjoy its pretty, purple spikes, but the birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds will too. The tall spikes may need to be staked to remain upright; otherwise, this plant is low maintenance with no disease or insect concerns.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Keep soil dry or moderately moist
  • Soil: Average, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-5 feet tall; 1-2 feet wide

Purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea)

bee sitting on top of a purple coneflower
It’s No Game | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

For homeowners looking to increase the wildlife habitat in their lawn, purple coneflower is another good choice. Its purple-pink, daisy-like flowers bloom from June through August and are a favorite treat for butterflies and birds.

Not only will the wildlife appreciate this flowering perennial, but purple coneflower also makes a good cut flower, as well. This plant self-seeds but you’ll need to divide the clumps every four years or so. Leaf spot, Japanese beetles, and aster yellows disease are sometimes problems for this plant.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade. (Does best in full sun.)
  • Water needs: Keep the soil dry or moderately moist 
  • Soil: Average, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-5 feet tall; 1.5-2 feet wide

Zigzag goldenrod (solidago flexicaulis

bright yellow blooms from zigzag goldenrod
Fritzflohrreynolds | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Would you love to add Missouri wildflowers to your lawn but worry you have too much shade? Zigzag goldenrod is a woodland flower that works well in partial shade. Also called broad leaf goldenrod, this plant displays yellow flowers from July through September, providing late-season color for your lawn.

Zigzag goldenrod is relatively free from disease and insect issues but look for rust, powdery mildew, and leaf spot. Butterflies and bees are frequent visitors.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Sun: Full sun to full shade. (Prefers partial shade.)
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Average, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet tall; 1-3 feet wide

Shrubs

Wild hydrangea (hydrangea arborescens

white flowering wild hydrangea
Chris M Morris | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

If you’ve lived in the South for any length of time, you’re familiar with this showy, flowering plant. Wild hydrangea grows in almost any soil type but needs to stay moderately moist. Because of its tolerance for wet soils, it can be a good choice for a rain garden. This shrub flowers most prolifically from May through July but may continue intermittently through September.

Wild hydrangea is susceptible to several diseases and insect problems, including leaf spots, bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, and aphids, to name a few. Prune this shrub in late winter for the best foliage the following season. This is another of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plants of Merit.

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Sun: Partial shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Rocky, shallow, clay, average
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3-5 feet tall; 3-5 feet wide

Trees

Eastern redbud (cercis canadensis

skinny branches full of small pink flowers from an eastern redbud tree
Eric Kilby | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Eastern redbud is a native tree that is prized for its display of pink flowers in March and April. The flowers are especially noticeable because they form in early spring before the tree puts on its leaves.

Make sure your soil is well-drained and not consistently wet. Eastern redbuds are susceptible to several diseases, such as canker, blights, and mildew, among others. Insects such as caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and webworms can be problematic. Preventive measures include regular water and fertilization. Trim dead or dying branches as needed. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Prefers at least a moderate level of fertility, well-drained, consistently moist
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 20-30 feet tall; 25-35 feet spread

Flowering dogwood (cornus florida

Flowering dogwood is a popular tree that is found throughout the eastern U.S. and into Canada. It puts out white blooms from April to May, providing a beautiful start to spring in your lawn. Bright red fruits show off in late summer, and the green leaves turn to multiple shades of red in the fall. If you have an eastern redbud, the spring bloom periods for these trees often overlap.

This native tree requires a moderate level of maintenance. If possible, plant this tree in partial shade, and mulch around it (starting several inches away from the base of the tree) to keep the soil consistently moist. Flowering dogwood is susceptible to many diseases when stressed, including dogwood anthracnose, powdery mildew, root rot, and others.

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade; prefers partial shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Tolerates average soil; prefers lots of organic matter, well-drained, acidic
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 15-30 feet tall; 15-30 feet spread

Pawpaw (asimina triloba

Dark purple flowers from a pawpaw tree
Plant Image Library from Boston, USA | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

This tree is sometimes considered a large shrub and usually grows up to 20 feet tall. It is found in nature as an understory tree in wooded areas and along streams. This tree works well in a home rain garden due to its preference for most soils. Its purple spring flowers turn to edible fruits that mature in early fall.

Pawpaw trees have no common disease or insect issues. Pawpaw has been named a Plant of Merit by the Missouri Botanical Garden.

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade; prefers full sun
  • Water needs: Keep soil moderately moist to wet but well-drained
  • Soil: Tolerates average soil; prefers fertile, acidic soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 15-30 feet tall; 15-30 feet spread

Do you want to find out more?

  • GrowNative.org – The Missouri Prairie Foundation created this website to educate Missourians about the wonders and benefits of native plants.
  • St. Louis Audubon Society – A wealth of information about local bird species, but that’s not all! Did you know that you can have a conservationist come to your home to help you create a landscape that is beneficial to birds, pollinators, and people? Through their Bring Conservation Home program, you can make your lawn a feast for local wildlife.

If you’d prefer to have someone else establish a native habitat in your St. Louis lawn, contact one of our St. Louis lawn care professionals today. They’ll install native plants, trees, and shrubs to help you accomplish the goals you have for your landscape.

Main Photo Credit: Larry Mills | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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