Growing native perennials from seed is easy and a great way to save money on plants. Native plants naturally reseed themselves each summer and fall, so it’s only natural for you to sow seeds in the fall. By direct-sowing native perennials in fall, you mimic these conditions so your garden can thrive.
In the typical perennial wildflower life cycle, each plant blooms during the warmer months. After blooming, the pollinated flowers develop into seedheads. These seedheads ripen and mature in late summer and into fall.
Once matured, the seeds scatter around the parent plants or blow away in the wind. Those dispersed seeds overwinter outdoors in natural environmental conditions and are ready to germinate the following spring.
If you don’t already have a parent plant as a source of seeds, you can buy many native plant seeds from reputable growers. You can then create part of the natural cycle by direct sowing your seeds in the fall. The cold, wet winter weather will help trigger the natural cycle of the seeds so that when the weather starts to warm again, your seeds will be ready to sprout!
Why grow native plants?
- Native plants are well adapted to the local environmental conditions.
- They don’t need much extra help (fertilizers, pesticides, maintenance) to encourage them to grow well.
- Native species are very beneficial to local pollinators, birds, and hummingbirds.
- Many native plants are host plants for the caterpillars of native butterflies because they have co-adapted to live together.
- Native perennials are easy to grow and low-maintenance.
- They are beautiful!
Keep reading to learn more about 11 fabulous, colorful native perennials you can sow in your garden this fall. Within a year or two, you will have plenty of beautiful, vigorous, mature plants to enjoy.
Beebalm thrives in sun or shade, prefers moist soil, and needs airflow to prevent mildew.
If you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden, I recommend Scarlet beebalm. A related Monarda species, Monarda fistulosa, also known as wild bergamot, is a similar native plant with pale purple flowers that hummingbirds and pollinators adore. Beebalm and wild bergamot produce copious flowers from summer until fall, and the minty-scented leaves repel deer and rabbits.
Beebalm is native to the central and eastern United States, growing in prairies and grasslands. It thrives in full sun but also does well with light afternoon shade.
It appreciates rich, moist soil and tolerates a brief drought. Some beebalm varieties may be prone to powdery mildew, especially in warm, humid climates. Give your plants plenty of space to help improve airflow and create ideal growing conditions.
This easy-to-grow native perennial thrives in full sun and medium-moisture soil.
Black-eyed Susan is a very easy-to-grow native perennial that brightens any garden setting. It is native to the central United States and grows in prairies and open grasslands. Give your black-eyed Susan a location with full sun and average-quality medium-moisture soil.
This plant is a short-lived perennial, but you won’t generally notice that each plant lives only two or three years. Once these plants start, they will readily reseed themselves in your garden without becoming overly weedy.
Pull any unwanted seedlings each spring, and you can enjoy the rest of the beautiful golden yellow flowers, along with the bees that love to visit them.
Plant butterfly milkweed to attract butterflies with its vibrant orange flowers.
Anyone hoping to attract butterflies to their garden should have at least one variety of milkweed. Orange-flowering butterfly milkweed is a terrific perennial that grows quickly and easily in home gardens. Milkweeds are also the larval host plants for the monarch butterfly caterpillar.
Butterfly milkweed flowers bloom from late spring until late summer with bright clusters of orange flowers. Attractive seedpods follow flowering. They soon dry and crack open to reveal fluffy white seed masses.
Butterfly milkweed is very easy to grow from seed. Choose a sunny location with well-drained soil. These plants do well in average-quality soils with dry to medium moisture.
Butterfly milkweed’s deep tap root helps it tolerate drought but makes it difficult to transplant once established. Grow milkweeds in containers, raised beds, pollinator gardens, wildflower gardens, or prairie-themed gardens.
The foxglove beardtongue attracts pollinators with its white trumpet-shaped flowers.
Foxglove beardtongue is a beautiful spring-blooming perennial. It grows in grasslands and open woodland edges in the eastern and southeastern United States.
In the home garden, foxglove beardtongue would be a welcome addition to a pollinator or mixed native perennial garden. It does best in full sun with dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil.
Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds all love the white, trumpet-shaped flowers. The flowers are very showy, especially at peak bloom, and massed with other spring-blooming perennials.
They also make good cutting flowers. Foxglove beardtongue is easy to grow from seed and slowly spreads in ideal conditions. Deer leave them alone.
This native wildflower has yellow blooms that attract pollinators.
Lanceleaf coreopsis is a beautiful perennial wildflower native throughout central and eastern North America. It grows naturally in grasslands and fields and along roadsides and disturbed areas.
Grow this cheerful flower from seed in full sun with average-quality, well-drained soil. A very similar and closely related native plant, Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria), is another great option.
Lanceleaf coreopsis has an abundance of perky, bright yellow flowers that bloom throughout the summer. The flowers attract numerous pollinators, including butterflies and bees. Foraging songbirds love the seeds.
This plant self-seeds readily and can be weedy in ideal conditions. Harvest some fresh flowers to place in a vase indoors, and deadhead spent flowers to help control unwanted spread.
The Maximilian sunflower is a tall plant with yellow flowers that attract pollinators and seed-eating birds.
If you’re looking for a tall and hardy native sunflower, the Maximilian sunflower is a great choice. This plant is native to central North America and grows in prairies and meadows.
A fast-grower, you can start Maximilian sunflower from seed in a sunny location with rich, moist, well-drained soil. It will likely reseed itself and can create attractive colonies.
Maximilian sunflower can grow quite tall and needs plenty of space. The sunny yellow flowers bloom profusely in the summer and fall, attracting pollinators. After blooming, seed-eating birds will happily forage on the seeds. This is an excellent plant for a wildlife-friendly landscape and makes good cut flowers.
Pale pinkish-purple flowers in obedient plants allure and serve pollinators.
Obedient plant is native to eastern North America and often found growing in moist meadows and stream sides. It grows best in rich, moist, well-drained soil and periodically tolerates wet soil.
Give it a location with full sun to partial shade. These plants can be weedy and readily spread by seed and underground rhizomes. Pull extra sprouts each spring to help control any unwanted spread.
Native obedient plants have pale pinkish-purple flowers, but you can find cultivars in white or deep-colored hues. These plants bloom through the summer and fall, often until the first frost.
This plant boasts distinct flower spikes lined with small tubular flowers that attract pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. The long blooming period makes them an excellent candidate for a pollinator-friendly landscape. Obedient plant also makes attractive cut flowers.
Passionflowers are versatile vines that attract butterflies and serve as host plants for fritillary caterpillars.
Passionflower, sometimes called the purple passionflower, is a vine native to the southeastern United States. This plant is quickly grown from seed, and its round fruits will help it reseed itself in ideal conditions.
Passionflower vines are best grown in full sun with medium-moisture, well-drained soil. As a vine, passionflowers love to climb, but they will happily trail along on the ground and make a good ground cover.
The large, showy flowers are very attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. Passionflower is also the host plant for several species of fritillary caterpillars.
Echinacea is a resilient, attractive wildflower native to North America.
Purple coneflower is a spectacular, easy-to-grow, perennial wildflower native to eastern and central North America. In its native habitat, it is a typical plant of tallgrass prairies and open meadows.
The home gardener can grow coneflowers in a sunny location with rich, moist soil. Once established, it tolerates drought, poor-quality soil, and rocky soil. Rabbits will nibble these plants, mainly when the plants are young, although the coneflower is typically not bothered by deer.
Purple coneflower blooms throughout the summer months. Its large, showy, pinkish-purple flowers have prominent, raised central disks with a distinct prickly-looking texture.
These flowers are fabulous for attracting many varieties of butterflies and other colorful pollinators. In the fall, seed-eating birds will come to forage on the seedheads.
This perennial has pinkish-purple flowers attracting butterflies.
Rose verbena is native to the central and eastern United States, where it grows in prairies, open fields, and disturbed areas. It prefers a location with full sun and dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil.
This easy-to-grow plant is reasonably drought-tolerant and looks great in a rock garden or container setting. These low-growing plants make a good ground cover for borders and edges.
Rose verbena is a clump-forming perennial with clusters of showy pinkish-purple flowers that attract butterflies. It will readily self-seed in ideal conditions but generally doesn’t become weedy. In areas where it’s not winter-hardy, rose verbena can also be grown as an attractive annual.
These pinkish flowers with a lilac hue attract pollinators.
Wild geranium is an appealing spring-blooming wildflower native to eastern North America. It will thrive in rich, moist soil but is easy to grow in well-drained soil. It does well in full sun and also in partial shade. In hot, dry conditions, the foliage may turn yellow prematurely.
Wild geranium has pretty pinkish flowers with a slight lilac hue, fading to white at the center. These plants form attractive vegetative clumps and look great planted in masses.
At full springtime bloom, the flowers will attract early pollinators. Wild geranium is a good choice for a woodland shade garden, and deer or rabbits generally do not bother these plants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, absolutely! While these plants look great in a naturalized landscape setting, they can also grow well in a large container or raised bed. If you are growing a container garden, you’ll want to use pots with suitable drainage holes, and that are at least 12 inches tall and 12 inches in diameter. The trickiest thing about growing in smaller containers is keeping the soil moist during the hottest summer months. In the winter, you will probably want to insulate your smaller containers by surrounding them with straw or moving them to a more protected location.
If you sow perennial wildflower seeds in the fall, you must wait through the winter until your plants first germinate and start to grow the following spring. Some fast-growing perennials, such as black-eyed Susan, will bloom their first summer. Other slower-growing perennials like purple coneflower probably won’t bloom until their second summer. Most perennials won’t reach full maturity until their second summer, although they may still have a sparse bloom during their first summer.
If you have never direct sown seeds before, it’s pretty straightforward. In late fall or early winter, prepare your gardening area by removing any weeds and loosening the top layer of soil. If your soil needs amendments, such as organic compost to boost nutrition, or sand to improve drainage, mix these in thoroughly as part of the soil preparation process. Scatter your seeds or arrange them in rows and gently press them into the soil surface.
The seeds will sit quietly through the winter months. Allow them to experience the natural cycles of cold and rain. In early spring, as the weather starts to warm, you will start to see new seedlings emerge. Learn what your planted seedlings look like so you can keep an eye on winter and spring weeds and pull the weeds without pulling your wildflower seedlings. After the seedlings sprout, keep the soil moist until they grow several inches tall.
Fall is a great time to direct sow native perennial seeds, but it’s not the only option. You can sow perennial seeds outdoors during the winter months or very early spring, while the weather is still cold. Many native perennial seeds will benefit from exposure to cold and wet conditions before they sprout. Just don’t try to start your perennial seeds outdoors in the middle of summer. The intense summer sun will dry out the soil quickly, making it difficult for seeds to germinate.
If you want to have a little more control over environmental conditions, you can also sow seeds indoors in the very early spring. When your seedlings are several inches tall, you can transplant them outdoors, then continue to keep them well-watered for a few weeks to help them recover from the transplanting process.
You don’t need to spend much money to grow beautiful native wildflowers in your home landscape. You also don’t need much space to grow native plants. Starting perennials from seed is easy, economical, and very rewarding. Sowing seeds in the fall mimics the natural growth cycle, where seeds overwinter in cold, moist conditions and germinate the following spring. By the first or second summer, your new plants will be ready to bloom and fill your garden with abundant, colorful, native, and wildlife-friendly flowers!