Know Your Natives: Ironweed

The summer heat is brutal to ordinary blooming plants. But if your landscape is craving color, fear not! Here are some ironclad options that’ll show summer who’s boss.

As the summer heats up, many flowers are shriveling and shrinking from the sun. But there are some tough, hardy options available if you’re craving midsummer color.

Wooly ironweed is the way to go. This native perennial thrives in direct sun and thin soils — and it’s sure to liven up any garden during the hottest months.

Wooly ironweed grows several stems each about 3 feet tall. In nature, it’s found in the rocky clays of the Hill Country, but can easily be grown in a variety of soils. The gray-green foliage provides interest in the spring and would make a great backdrop for shorter perennials like damianita or blackfoot daisy. Right when annual spring wild flowers are starting to droop, bright purple flowers in a showy umbel burst from the ends of each ironweed stem.

The bloom period of ironweed makes it an important plant for native pollinators. Spring and fall are times of relative abundance in terms of available blooms for nectar-seeking insects. By planting summer-blooming plants, like ironweed, you can help local pollinators make it through the tough summer months. Pair it with mealy blue sage and rock rose, other hardy summertime bloomers.

Western ironweed, Vernonia baldwinii, is another important nectar plant, but for a different reason. Growing up to 5 feet or more in ideal locations, this prolific ironweed blooms from late summer through fall — right around the time monarchs migrate through Texas on their way to Mexico. The purple ironweed blooms would look great alongside goldenrod and Maximilian sunflower. Western ironweed is an aggressive colonizer so only plant it where it has room to spread.

Getting to know native plants, like ironweed, can help gardeners ensure there’s always something interesting happening in their landscapes.

Show summer who’s boss. Plant some ironweed this fall.

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