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Regional Picks: Tough Roadside Plants – Midwest

Fine Gardening - Issue 137

1. ‘Northwind’ Switchgrass

‘Northwind’ Switchgrass

Name: Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

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

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; tolerates most soils; average moisture, though drought tolerant; salt tolerant

The stiff, upright habit of ‘Northwind’ switchgrass helps it resist wind and snow at roadside, but the plant’s steel blue display in summer; tall, narrow plumes in September; and lovely shades of yellow from fall into winter should not be overlooked. All these attractive qualities make it a beauty to drive by and observe en masse through the seasons.

 

2. ‘Caradonna’ Meadow Sage

‘Caradonna’ Meadow Sage

Name: Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; tolerates most soils; average moisture, though drought tolerant; salt tolerant

“Like a steadfast soldier” is one way to describe the dependability of ‘Caradonna’ meadow sage. Its deer resistance and its ability to survive harsh midwestern conditions in public spaces are great assets for roadside plantings. This is a 50-mile-an-hour plant with upright purple stems—16 to 20 inches tall—and violet-blue flowers that can readily be seen at driving distance.

 

3. Blue False Indigo

Blue False Indigo

Name: Baptisia australis

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; tolerates most soils; average moisture, though drought tolerant; salt tolerant

Blue false indigo is one tough native roadside perennial, as long as you leave its roots undisturbed and give it plenty of sun. Its bushy foliage has a blue-green cast and is topped in late spring by lovely indigo-blue flowers that slowly develop into swollen green pods. These pods eventually turn charcoal black and provide visual interest in winter. It is no wonder that this deer-resistant plant was named Perennial Plant of the Year for 2010.

 

4. ‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint

‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint

Name: Nepeta faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; tolerates most soils; average moisture, though drought tolerant; salt tolerant

This plant is neither narrow nor low—it gets its name from a garden in England. ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint stands tall and proud, grows as wide as 3 feet, and is drought tolerant. It is also deer resistant and a durable, aromatic companion for roadside plantings; it may even help reduce deer browsing in the garden beyond. Its soft foliage is gray-green, and lavender-blue flowers appear in April and bloom well into September.

 

Ellen Barredo is the horticultural manager at Bowood Farms in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photos: (1 and 3), Michelle Gervais; (2 and 4), Jennifer Benner

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