Jump Starting your Native Plant Garden with Annuals and Ground covers

Building the Filler and Cover layers for a dynamic planting.

At last night’s public meeting, I presented information on a new take on native plant gardening — using native annuals and ground covers to start and stabilize native plantings. The following information is a summary of information I presented. I recommend persons interested in this topic to research the “Universal Adaptive Strategy Theory” to better understand how plants function as a dynamic ecosystem. Another resource is Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s book “Planting in the Post Wild World.”

The three main points are:

  1. Gardening is a disturbance and we should focus on creating a “designed disturbance.”
  2. We need to cover the new garden areas with cover crops (“filler plants”) to choke out weeds and other unwanted ruderal species.
  3. At the same time, we need to create a “dynamic filler” as a longer term strategy to promote stability.

Filler Plants:

Use ruderal annuals and short-lived species to temporarily fill gaps and add short seasonal display.  Plants grow quickly, but do not tolerate competition.  Ruderal plants thrive on disruption, and gardening is often a disruption – weeding, tilling, mowing are distruptions.  The key is to make gardening a planned and designed disruption with a goal of promoting stability over time.

Open Grassland community

  • Wild rye – Elymus canadensis
  • Partridge pea – Chamaecrista fasciculata
  • Blanket flower – Gaillardia pulchella
  • Red sage – Salvia coccinea
  • Lemon beebalm – Monarda citriodora
  • Slender gerardia – Agalinis tenuifolia
  • Plains coreopsis – Coreopsis tinctoria
  • Drummond phlox – Phlox drummondii
  • Eryngo – Eryngium leavenworthii
  • American basketflower – Centaurea americana

Sunny, dry, sandy

  • Tansyleaf tansyaster – Machaeranthera tanacetifolia
  • Purple sandgrass – Triplasis purpurea
  • Prairie three-awn – Aristida oligantha
  • Standing cypress – Ipomopsis rubra
  • Plains coreopsis – Coreopsis tinctoria
  • Sneezeweed – Helenium amarum
  • Wild buckwheat – Eriogonum multiflorum

Woodland Edge

  • Winecup – Callirhoe leiocarpa
  • Blue curls – Trichostema dichotomum
  • Daisy Fleabane – Erigeron annuus

Sunny Wetland

  • Camphorweed – Pluchea camphorata
  • Jewelweed – Impatiens capensis
  • Ozark tickseed – Bidens polylepsis
  • Prairie agalinis – Agalinis heterophylla


  • Blue-eyed Mary – Collinsia verna
  • Yellow Corydalis – Corydalis flavula

Ground cover plants – dynamic filler

Low, shade-tolerant species used to cover the ground between other species.  Functions as ground cover, erosion control, nectar source.  Plants tend to be rhizomatous and stress-tolerators.

Groundcovers for Shade

  • Pennsylvania sedge – Carex pensylvanica
  • Wild Geranium – Geranium maculatum
  • Wild Ginger – Asarum canadense
  • Alumroot – Heuchera spp.
  • Groundsel – Packera spp.
  • Foamflower – Tiarella cordifolia
  • Ferns

Groundcovers for sunny areas

  • Sedges – Carex spp.
  • Strawberries – Fragaria spp.
  • Grasses, e.g., Sideoats grama – Bouteloua curtipendula
  • Pink evening primrose – Oenethera speciosa
  • Poppy mallow – Callirhoe involucrata
  • Prairie verbena – Glandulara bipinnatifida
  • Creeping phlox – Phlox stolonifera
  • Southern lady fern – Athyrium asplenioides

Seed Sourcing