Regional Picks: Cutting-Garden Essentials – Midwest

Fine Gardening - Issue 132

1. Orange butterfly weed

Name: Asclepias tuberosa

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained loam to dry soil

This native is as carefree as the butterflies it attracts. Mix it with other wildflowers for a casual, sunny look in the garden or a vase. This species is a surprisingly long-lasting cut flower because, unlike its relatives, it does not ooze milky sap. It blooms from July to September, followed by green fruit filled with silky, silvery white seeds, which offer a unique touch to floral arrangements.

2.‘Prairie Fire’ switchgrass

Name: Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Fire’

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 4 to 5 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; fertile, well-drained soil

The stiff, stunning, blue-green foliage of this native grass starts to turn wine red in early summer. Airy, rosy red flower panicles are held just above the foliage into fall. We enjoy cutting the panicles and adding them to bolder flowers in a vase for a fine-textured counterpoint. They are long lasting in a vase and versatile in the garden. ‘Prairie Fire’ is unique among switchgrasses because its color peaks early and holds well into fall.


3. Blue false indigo

Name: Baptisia australis

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained, sandy soil

From late spring into July, 1-foot-tall spikes of showy, indigo-blue flowers appear on gray stems that rise above the mounding blue-green foliage. Each floret on the flower spike looks like a sweet-pea blossom. Blue false indigo’s persistent flowers are excellent and long lastingwhen cut for a vase. In addition, the black seedpods that follow the flowers are perfect for dried arrangements.


4. ‘Prairie Dusk’ penstemon

Name: Penstemon ‘Prairie Dusk’

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 24 to 30 inches high and18 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; average to dry soil

Penstemons are one of our favorite summer bloomers. Long and graceful flower spikes offer a profusion of snapdragon-like, rosy purple flowers in early summer and are a beautiful addition to floral arrangements. In the garden, they are drought tolerant, disease resistant, and deer resistant; they are, however, attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Developed by the University of Nebraska, the cultivar ‘Prairie Dusk’ is especially hardy and easy to grow.

Denny and Cathy Caliva own and operate Earthworks River Farm Nursery near River Falls, Wisconsin.

Photos, except where noted: Michelle Gervais, courtesy of Denny and Cathy Caliva, courtesy of Amber Wave Nursery, courtesy of Bailey Nurseries



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