Home / Blogs / When You’re Feeling Blue, Think Native Plants
February 28, 2023
To me, ‘feeling blue’ does NOT mean feeling sad. My entire life, I’ve always been drawn to the color blue. The old ‘rule’ of blue is for boys and pink is for girls…NO WAY! Not for me. I’ve never been partial to pinks and reds. Blue has always been soothing to me, going hand in hand with my affinity for water. You’ll find my closet consists of a dominantly blue wardrobe. Several rooms in my home are painted blue or blue-gray. I couldn’t even be persuaded into fall color schemes for my mid-October wedding back in 2001 – it was blue with pops of yellow for me!
I love to surround myself with blues, and that includes my outdoor space. If you’d like to add a little dash of blue to your gardens, consider my top 5 favorite native plants below.
Dwarf crested iris (Photo credit: grownative.org)
My favorite plant is easily the dwarf crested iris. Not only is it easy to grow and maintain, it’s also low-growing, around 6” high, and spreads quickly once established, making it an excellent groundcover. This dwarf variety does best in full to partial shade, but can tolerate full sun. They were a great choice for my shady backyard. They do have a short, but spectacular, blooming period in the spring, but their deep green sword-like leaves provide a nice bluish green color all summer. Irises are a hummingbird attractor, but you may also see visits from other birds, bees, and butterflies. They are deer resistant, which is a plus for many homeowners, and they prefer acidic soil and medium-moist soil, which make them a good plant to include in rain gardens.
If you’re looking for a taller version to show off in your gardens, the Northern blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) is a great choice as well!
Eastern blue star (Photo credit: Jamie Alberti)
I selected the ‘Blue Ice’ cultivar for my front yard garden as it is a shorter, more compact version of the typical Blue Star with a deeper blue color. Like all blue star, it has delicate star-shaped blue flowers (the reason for its common name) blooming in late spring/early summer. It will start flowering after its second year. It does best in full sun and moist, fertile soil. It is drought tolerant once established, but can tolerate wet soils for short periods. Other great features of this native are that it can be propagated and is deer resistant. For me, though, it was the lovely little blue flowers that sold me!
While technically blueberry bushes do not have blue flowers, they do produce a mighty tasty blue fruit! Highbush blueberries produce the berries that you generally find in grocery stores and grow in a wider geographic range than lowbush, making it a common choice for home gardeners. Highbush blueberries prefer well-draining, acidic soil and full sun. They typically produce ripe fruit from mid- or late July until mid-August, which I will attest are yummy, but you have to get to them quickly once they ripen before the birds eat them all! We harvest a small amount for ourselves and leave the rest for our feathered friends.
Lowbush blueberries are often marketed as wild blueberries. They are smaller, sweeter, and much darker in color than those of the highbush. They prefer similar growing conditions to the highbush, however, there are a few differences between the two. Highbush varieties grow taller (up to 6-8’) and produce more abundantly. Lowbush varieties are tiny, low-growing shrubs (growing to about knee height) with lower berry production.
So, how to choose which native blueberry to go with? Why not plant both? I put in a lowbush in my front garden, due to its shorter stature, and went with the highbush in my backyard. It’s the best of both worlds, and the birds will thank you too!
Highbush blueberry (left) and lowbush blueberry (right)
I chose the ‘Bunny Blue’ cultivar of the creeping sedge because I needed a plant for a heavily shaded area of my yard and for its pretty leaf blade color. ‘Bunny Blue’ typically grows in a dense rounded clump to 12” tall with grassy blue-green leaves. For those who have tried to find plants that do well in heavy shade, you know it can be a difficult task. I have found that the creeping sedge, or Carex, does very nicely in shade. It is easy to grow and cultivate and is a wonderful groundcover that spreads quickly. I have also successfully transplanted offshoots in other areas to fill in spaces better. Creeping sedge prefers medium to wet soils in partial to full shade and is deer tolerant.
There are many sedges out there to choose from. With over 1,500 species, sedges can be difficult to identify. The genus name from Latin means “cutter,” referring to the sharp leaves and stem edges found on most species’ plants. “Sedges have edges, rushes are round; grasses have nodes right down to the ground” is a helpful aid to many in attempting to identify grass-like plants.
Alliance staff, Jamie Alberti’s cat, KC, enjoying the creeping sedge in Jamie’s garden.
Great blue lobelia (Photo credit: Jordan Gochenaur)
This spiky blue flower is stunning in partial shade or full sun and moist soils. Once it finds a moist spot that it likes, it will reseed each year and spread. The Great Blue Lobelia plant starts out as a low-lying cluster of leaves. Later in the season stems appear and some time between late July and early September, it produces tubular shaped flowers, similar to the native cardinal flower.
Great Blue Lobelia is a stunning addition to any garden and adds nice variety due to its height and appearance. It is a favorite of native pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, making it a great choice for your pollinator garden or rain garden.
You guessed it! This plant produces flowers in the shape of blue bells. This ephemeral plant emerges with thick green leaves and blue/purple buds to announce the arrival of spring, blooming for 2-3 weeks in April. The blue, bell-shaped flowers hang in clusters from stems approximately 1-2′ high. The flowers, up to 1” long, are pollinated by bumblebees and other long-tongued bees but are also visited by several types of butterflies, skippers and hummingbird moths, flower flies, bee flies and hummingbirds. Virginia bluebells grow and spread using rhizomes, underground stems, and reseed freely, making them one of the easiest wildflowers to grow. Bluebells prefer moist, but well-draining, soils in partial to full shade. Look for them in wooded areas with dappled sunlight, often near streams.
Bluebells have a very brief growing season in early spring. In the home garden, they pair well with ferns whose leafy fronds mask the upper portion of the plant that fades over summer. Once established, they typically do not like to be disturbed. Any transplant attempts should be made while the bluebells are dormant. Time your purchase of bluebells from local nurseries as they can be hard to find out of the spring season.
Virginia bluebell (photo credit: Emily Broich)
Whether you’d like to add more native plants to your garden, or take the plunge and plant your first, visit our Native Plant Center, where you can find the perfect plant for you and your space!
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