Native Plants with Neat Growing Habits

Fringed Bleedingheart (Dicentra eximia) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Fringed Bleedingheart (Dicentra eximia) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

In helping clients decide which native plants to place in gardens, I am often asked for plants that are “neat” in habit. I don’t know if this is because they fear native plants are “messy” or they are just neatniks.

What I suggest are these plants which grow in easily managed clumps. When you choose plants, look for the growth habit. If a plant description says “running” or “fast spreader”, watch out.

The clumping growth habit makes upkeep easy. Just divide the clumps when it becomes too big. And give the extra to your gardening friends to spread the native plant goodness around.

All the plants in this list are tough as nails. I have planted some of them in some hard, dry, clay soil without any amendment but plenty of weeds. And they thrive.

Herbaceous – Perennial flowers

Agastache scrophularifolia (Giant Purple Hyssop)
Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine)
Asclepias incarnata  (Swamp Milkweed)
Asclepias syriaca      (Common Milkweed)
Asclepias tuberosa    (Butterfly-weed)
Baptisia tinctoria    (Wild Indigo)
Euphorbia corollata (Flowering surge)
Heuchera americana (Alumroot)
Liatris spicata (Spiked Gayfeather)
Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)
Penstemon digitalis (White Beardtongue)
Penstemon hirsutus  (Hairy Beardtongue)
Rudbeckia triloba (Three-lobed Coneflower)
Zizia aptera (Heart-leaved Golden Alexander)
Zizia aurea (Golden Alexander)


Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
Sambucus canadensis Common Elderberry)

Native Plant Resource

USDA Plants Database

The PLANTS Database provides information about the native and non-native vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens of the U.S. and its territories.

Native Plant Gardening Book List

I have purchased, read, consulted and cherished each to the books in this list. They are my “keeper” books which have a permanent place in my personal library.


The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust

I like this book for the planting and pruning techniques which make my garden a showplace with easy maintenance. I highly recommend it.


Native Plants of the Northeast by Donald J. Leopold

The author, a professor of Environmental Science invaluable resource of great native plants for the the home garden. The appendices include many valuable plant lists.


Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History by Carol Gracie 

This guide provides extensive information on the planting, care, growth habits and life cycles of favorite spring native plants.


William Cullina has written a three-book series on native plants for the garden.

Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada by William Cullina

This book goes beyond the usual native plant garden guide to information on growing for your garden or to sell.


Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines by William Cullina 

This is a guide to growing and propagating North American woody plants for your garden or for sale.


Native Ferns, Mosses, and Grasses by William Cullina

This last book in Mr. Cullina series on native plants for the garden, the author focuses on the understated plants that bring calm, serenity and  grade to the garden.



  1. For Midwestern homeowners, gardeners and landscapers I recommend two books by me, Charlotte Adelman and my co-author, Bernie Schwartz,. These books suggest native alternative plants to choose that resemble or look exactly like, and share cultivation requirements with the nonnatives so many people love. These books are: The Midwestern Native Garden – Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants, An Illustrated guide, and its companion volume, Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees-Gardening Alternatives to Nonnative Species, an Illustrated Guide. A unique feature shared by both books is the Nature Notes following each native plant entry that provide information about the wildlife, such as bees, Lepidoptera (butterflies/moths) and birds that use the plant for food, shelter and reproduction. The books are published by Ohio University Press and are also available on Amazon.

    • Hi, Charlotte
      Thank you for the information. I haven’t read the books but they seem very useful. I’ll leave the comment up for any Midwestern gardeners who may read this.

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