Why Would I Buy Those? Short-lived Perennials.

Monarda punctata

Monarda punctata

We are in the nursery business. We are here to sell you plants. We all know that to be the case. So why in the world would we describe any perennial in our plant catalog as “short-lived”? Who wants to spend hard-earned money on short-lived perennials? Who wants to tell a client the perennials they just paid for and paid for the labor to install will look nice for a bit and then die out?

We believe in giving you as much information as possible in our plant profiles so you can make informed decisions that in the end will lead to a successful and productive project. For that reason we tell you all we can about the plant, even if it means making the plant seem less attractive for a project. Unfortunately, this may mean that landscape architects may not specify it in their plans and home-owners may not ask for it.

But we are here to make a case for these short-lived perennials.

As I am sure you have already guessed – short-lived perennials, like the Monarda punctata pictured above serve an ecological function. They can serve an aesthetic purpose in new landscapes as well.

These colorful, quick growing plants are often the nurse plants to those slower-growing longer-lived perennials that take a bit of time to establish. The old gardening adage “the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps” does not hold true for these perennials. They are quick growing and quick to flower, filling ecological voids in a space while those more robust plants set roots and prepare to fill a space for seasons to come.

While these slow-to-establish plants are unhurriedly gathering steam over a couple seasons, these short lived perennials are providing flowers and nectar for pollinators and food for beneficial insects quickly, keeping soil in place until the rhizomes of the others take hold. In other words – they are essential. They are an important part of our native plant communities.

Could you plant a landscape without these short-lived perennials, avoiding uncomfortable conversations about spending money on plants that will likely live no longer than three years or so? Sure. You absolutely can.

But perhaps the conversation can be around the dynamic landscape these plants help create. That each season will bring change and transition. These short-lived perennials can be considered helpers in the landscape, hiding bare spaces and feeding pollinators until the others mature.

Try these combinations in your plans –  short-lived perennials and their long-lived cultural counterparts:

Lobelia siphilitica

Lobelia siphilitica

Lobelia siphilitica – Combine with Asclepias incarnata ‘Ice Ballet’ , Anemone canadensis, Chelone glabra and Osmunda cinnamomea


silene virginica NMN Photo

Silene virginica

Silene virginicacombine with Chrysogonum virginicumPhlox divaricata,  Heuchera villosaCarex texensisAthyrium filix-femina and Polystichum acrostichoides

Sisyrinchium angustifolium

Sisyrinchium angustifolium

Sisyrinchium angustifolium – combine with Aster laevis, Penstemon digitalis, Ruellia humilis, Solidago odora, Bouteloua curtipendula or Sorghastrum nutans

Eragrostis spectabalis

Eragrostis spectabalis

Eragrostis spectabalisCombine with Aster divaricatus, Callirhoe involucrata, Liatris microcephala, Schizachrium scoparium, Solidago rigida or Sporobolis heterolepis.

And check out the Companion and Understudy Plants section of our plant profiles for these other short-lived perennials to plan your dynamic native plant combinations:

Lobelia cardinalis, Zizia aptera, Zizia aureus, Rudbeckia triloba, Rudbeckia hirta, Coreopsis lanceolata and Monarda punctata



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