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Saturday - February 26, 2011

From: Chicago, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Wildflowers for a shady spot in IL
Answered by: Anne Bossart


I have a low-sun spot on the side of my house in Chicago, IL. I would really like to turn this spot into a wildflower garden. Could you suggest some native IL flowers that might work in this spot? My plan was to grow them from seed this Spring.


Because you are living in the mid-West you probably have images in your head of the iconic tall grass prairie wildflowers like the blanket flowers, black eyed Susans and Mexican hats in this image. It is unlikely, however, that the conditions on the side of your house mimic the sunny, deep soil conditions of the prairie.

That is not to say that you cannot have a wildflower garden.  You can create a garden of native Illinois herbaceous perennials whose habitat is most like the shady side of your house.  To create a list of such plants visit our Native Plant Database and perform a Combination Search.  Select Illinois, herbaceous plants and shady conditions.  You can also select the natural soil moisture in your garden as well as bloom colour and time preferences to narrow the search further.  You can create separate lists for annuals and perennials.  The list that is generated has links to detailed plant information pages that will give you an idea of how difficult (or easy) each plant is to grow from seed.

You will find that most of the plants in the list are woodland or woodland edge plants so the garden you create will very much have that "sense of place". Many woodland plants flower early (before the leaf canopy fills in to shade them) and go dormant in the summertime so if you select those, you will need to have companion plants that will take over once they go dormant.  Do not overlook ferns as they perform that task quite well.  You might also want to include some woodland shrubs (just search for shrubs instead of herbaceous plants) to complete the garden.

You can check for seed suppliers on our Suppliers page.

Some of the plants from the list that you might try are:

Anemone canadensis (Canadian anemone) (this one is so easy to grow, it can be aggressive)

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Coreopsis lanceolata (Lanceleaf coreopsis)

Dicentra eximia (Turkey corn)

Geranium maculatum (Spotted geranium)

Iris cristata (Dwarf crested iris)

Phlox divaricata (Wild blue phlox)

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed susan) (this will take some shade)

Anemone canadensis

Aquilegia canadensis

Coreopsis lanceolata

Dicentra eximia

Geranium maculatum

Iris cristata

Phlox divaricata

Rudbeckia hirta



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