Plant of the Month

July: Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed has a PR problem, because if all you hear is its name, the weed part is a bit of a turnoff. But it‘s a gorgeous addition to any perennial garden, and pollinators absolutely love it. It’s a tough plant too, which makes it a favorite for rain gardens, bioswales, and low-maintenance, natural style perennial borders.

Photo by Maria Gulley

Photo by Maria Gulley

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Brilliant orange flowers in huge clusters up to nine inches across bloom from the center out in July. The stems below the flowers can be a bit bare and thin, so it’s a good middle-layer plant rather than something you plant right at the edge of a bed. You may know butterfly weed best as the monarch butterfly plant - plants in this genus are the only food source for monarch caterpillars. With fewer and fewer wild places where butterfly weed can grow naturally, bringing these plants into our yards is vital to keeping the gorgeous orange butterflies around.

Common Name: Butterfly Weed, Milkweed

Scientific Name: Asclepias tuberosa

Light: full sun

Size: 18-30” tall, 18-24” wide

Bloom Time and Color: large clusters of bright orange flowers in mid-summer

Notable Varieties: ‘Hello Yellow’ (somewhat compact yellow-flowering variety); Swamp Milkweed, a water-loving, pink-flowering cousin, has similar flowers in a different color and is also landscape-friendly

Soil: tolerates clay soil and dry soil

Other Notes: pollinator-friendly, larval host for monarch butterflies, native to Indiana, deer resistant, interesting fall seed pods

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June: Tulip Tree

Tulip tree, also known as tulip poplar is Indiana’s state tree. It’s also an attractive, landscape-friendly shade tree that grows at a decent pace and is native to Indiana. Plus it has cool-looking flowers that are a huge hit with bumblebees! It’s a winner all around, as long as you have the space and sun it needs.

Tulip tree became the Indiana state tree in 1931. It was selected for its stately size and form and because it can be found all over the state in mature forests. Tulip trees can become truly massive with trunks over 4’ across. The record-holder for Indiana has a trunk diameter of 280”, or nearly 7.5’ in diameter, and is over 100’ tall. Native Americans used the large trunks to make dugout canoes, and the wood is sometimes used to build furniture today. While tulip trees don’t have many serious pest or disease problems, when they’re under stress they can become susceptible to aphids and tulip tree scale. If you see sticky residue on leaves or on the ground under the tree, take a look at younger stems for tan lumps or aphids, and contact a tree care professional or landscape company with tree experience for diagnosis and treatment.

Common Name: Tulip Tree or Tulip Poplar

Scientific Name: Liriodendron tulipifera

Light: full sun

Size: 60-90’ tall, 30-50’ wide

Bloom Time and Color: green tulip-shaped flowers with cream and orange markings in early summer

Notable Varieties: ‘Majestic Beauty’ (variegated leaves with chartreuse margins

Soil: tolerates clay soil

Other Notes: good golden-yellow fall color, pyramidal form, native to Indiana

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May: Bluestar

There are a lot of perennials that I think deserve more attention. Bluestar is definitely one of them. This plant has an informal but not messy look, blooms earlier than most perennials, stays put where it’s planted, and has brilliantly golden fall color.

There are a handful of species in the genus Amsonia referred to as bluestar that grow naturally in different regions of the U.S. The two that are easiest to find for sale in the Midwest are Amsonia hubrichtii and Amsonia tabernaemontana, and A. tabernaemontana is also native to our region. They all have in common clusters of pale blue flowers and yellow fall color. The main difference is in foliage texture: A. hubrichtii has an airy, fine texture while A. tabernaemontana has a more substantial presence with wider leaves. They are good for massing in mixed perennials beds, and pollinators love the late spring flowers.

Common Name: Bluestar

Scientific Name: Amsonia species, hybrids, and varieties

Light: full sun

Size: 2-3’ tall and wide

Bloom Time and Color: pale blue flowers in May

Notable Varieties: ‘Blue Ice’ (dwarf variety of A. tabernaemontana), ‘Storm Cloud’ (variety of A. tabernaemontana with smoky purple stems and emerging foliage and deeper blue flowers)

Soil: doesn’t like waterlogged soil, but can take a lot of water if it drains quickly

Other Notes: native to Indiana, deer resistant, pollinator-friendly, good fall color

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April: Flowering Dogwood

April: Flowering Dogwood

If you ask someone what their favorite tree is, there’s good chance that they will name a spring-flowering beauty. And of those spring bloomers, flowering dogwood is a classic crowd-pleaser. With its snowy white or soft pink blossoms, flowering dogwood stands as a sign that spring has fully arrived at last.

March: Fragrant Sumac

March: Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant sumac is an adaptable, low-maintenance shrub perfect for even the toughest situations. It thrives even planted in clay, surrounded by asphalt, and battered and dried by full sun. It spreads to form colonies that retain slopes and block out weeds. As long as you don’t plant it in a bog, it will hold the line and even bring some spring and fall surprises just about anywhere.

February: Sycamore

February: Sycamore

Sycamore trees are among the most distinctive trees in the American landscape. Whether you know the name or not, you have no doubt noticed beautifully mottled gray and tan and white bark on a giant of a tree in a park or a forest or driving along the highway. For me, it was one of the first trees I learned to identify growing up as a budding plant nerd.

January: Serbian Spruce

January: Serbian Spruce

For a dense evergreen tree in a classic Christmas tree shape, Serbian spruce is the best fit for central Indiana. The needles have thin white stripes that give the tree a faint white-ish cast from a distance for a softer look. They work well as focal points, or in groups to form a living barrier.

December: Christmas Fern

December: Christmas Fern

Ferns don’t typically make me think of Christmas, but this semi-evergreen fern keeps going strong into December. Its foliage remains green into mid to late winter. It is not the most delicate and dainty fern, but its tough, large leaflets are a good addition to shade gardens when evergreen massing is called for.

November: Little Bluestem

November: Little Bluestem

Late fall is prime season for ornamental grasses to shine. Most fall foliage is gone by mid-November, but some ornamental grasses keep touches of color and a harvest-time feel in contract to the solidity of evergreens. Little bluestem is one of my favorites for that late fall feeling.

October: Sweetgum

October: Sweetgum

For most of the year, it can be easy to overlook shade trees as exciting plants. But once fall arrives, we can't look away from the colors. Sweetgum trees are some of the most stunning you'll find. With pale yellow, rich gold, vibrant orange, scarlet, and deep maroon - sometimes all at once on the same tree - they deserve at least as much attention as everyone's favorite maple.