Carolyn Ulrich is the editor of Chicagoland Gardening and contributing writer for State-by-State Gardening magazines.

This article applies to:



Tough as Nails
by Carolyn Ulrich    

What does your garden have to offer? Wet soil? Dry? Shade? Standing water? Here are some plants that will be happy there. 

With temperatures that can range from minus 30 to 105 F, the climate in the upper Midwest is a meteorological marvel. Alaska may be colder, but it can’t match us for heat. Saudi Arabia is hotter but rarely sees snow (yes, really; who knew?), let alone a thermometer that plummets to the depths familiar to all of us.

While it’s hard for humans to cope, we at least get to live indoors. But pity our poor plants, facing the rigors of the weather 24/7, 12 months a year — and they’re doing it outdoors! No wonder some of our prized possessions decide they just can’t take it anymore and give up. But some plants can. Whether they’re natives that have evolved here over millennia or new crackerjack introductions, they’re tough enough to hunker down for the rigors of winter and then bounce back to face the heat and drought of summer, a sly smile on their faces as if to say they know a secret. In fact, they do.

Photo by Nicole Juday
Snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata)

Drought and Heat

When I sat down to put this list together, I was rather surprised to find myself typing … and typing … and typing. 

So if we have another beastly hot summer this year, cheer up. With so much to choose, you can still put together a stunning garden. 

Aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius)
Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)
Bergenia — many cultivars
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Bluestem grass, big and little
Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Calamintha nepeta subsp. Nepeta
Callirohe involucrata 
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum)
Creeping thyme — many cultivars
Flowering spurge (Euphorbia corralata)
Gaura lindheimerii
Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
Hairy wild petunia (Ruella humilis
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum)
Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta)
Lavender — several cultivars
Lead plant (Amorpha canescens)
Mulleins (Verbascum)
Orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya)
Prairie dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepis)
Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum)
Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea)
Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
Rough blazing star (Liatris aspera)
Russian sage (Perovskia)
Sedums — all kinds
Silky aster (Aster sericeus)
Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)
Snow on the mountain (Euphorbia marginata)
Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
Winged sumac (Rhus coppalina)

It’s Been Raining Too Much 
(aka Plants for Moist Soils)

These plants don’t necessarily like to stand in water, but they appreciate a damp soil. I have found that culver’s root and Joe-pye weed are the first plants to wilt in my garden when the weather hits 90 F. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get rid of them, but I do need to watch them with an eagle eye and trot out the hose when I see them sagging. Obviously a bit of wrong plant, wrong place.

Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)
Boltonia asteroides
Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virgatum)
Hydrangea — many cultivars
False sunflower or ox-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) — also shade tolerant
Siberian iris (Iris sibirica)
False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) 
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
New England aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Smooth aster (Aster laevis)
Calandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) — shade
Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica
Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Obedient plant (Physotegia virginiana
Green dragon (Arisaema dracontium
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum

Photo by Kylee Baumle
Canna ‘Tropicanna’ (Canna indica ‘Phasion’)

Standing Water

It’s hard to find a large number of plants that like to stand around with wet feet. Yet there are some. If you have a wet spot in your yard where water stands, be sure to grow the brilliantly red cardinal flower and consider yourself blessed.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata
Cattails (Typha spp.)
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
Swamp white oak (Quercus alba)
Red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)
Blue flag and yellow flag iris (Iris virginica
Queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra)
Canna — many cultivars
Bald cypress tree (Taxodium

Dry Shade

This one’s a tough cookie. Most of the shade plants we’re familiar with also prefer a moist woodsy soil. After all, many of them hail from the woods and savannas of the Midwest. But dry shade? Not easy. But Senior Editor Cathy Maloney has found Jacob’s ladder to be a good plant for dry shade conditions in her Riverside garden, and I have had success with the native wild geranium. For this situation a little experimentation is called for. After all, how dry is dry? What has worked for me may not work for you. No way to find out except to dig in and plant.

Lamium maculatum
Woodland aster (Aster anomalus)
Aguilegia canadensis
Phlox divaricata
Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum)
Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Corydalis lutea

From Chicagoland Gardening Volume XIX Issue I.


Posted: 04/03/13   RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Other People Are Reading