Sunny Gardens: Design Concepts and Recommendations

A Micro-Prairie of Wildflowers: Plant mostly annual and biennial flowers. Use real deal seeds sourced locally from the wild such as Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria), Indianblanket (Gaillardia pulchella), Prairie parsley (Polytaenia nuttallii), Soft goldenaster (Chrysopsis pilosa), Partridge Pea (Chasmaecrista fasciculata), Lemon Beebalm (Monarda citriodora), Foxglove (Agalinas sp.).

Milkweed Patch: Mix in various other perennial flowers but dominate with milkweeds. Attempt to create conditions suitable to each milkweed species.

Tallgrass Garden:  Use a few species per garden, each in its own clump with ground/mulch separating each clump of species: Big bluestem, Indian grass, Switchgrass, Tridens strictus …

Prairie Pimple Mound: Replicate a prairie pimple mound (small area of slightly higher elevations) and use the plant species typical associated with pimple mounds.  These plants are an important part of our natural heritage.

Cheery garden of sunflowers and goldenrods: These prairie plants attract the most insects and birds. Mix Sunflowers and goldenrods in a garden patch—they can be very aggressive, so they need their own space.

Blazing Star Patch: Plant an area of bright purple Blazing Star (also called Liatris and Gayfeather), one of the most popular flowers used by florists.


  • Have a committed owner who can perform weekly maintenance and enjoys learning the plants.
  • Prairie plants require a sunny place and should have sun 80% of day or more throughout year.
  • Start with bare dirt that has been weed and grass free for 3 months or more. If you do not prep by killing weeds and grasses in advance, they may take over your garden.
  • Provide well-maintained borders, such as concrete sidewalk, flagstone path, or steel edging.
  • Remember the adage: Aim to look INTENDED, not UNTENDED.
  • Start small, only a few hundred square feet.
  • Larger gardens should be subdivided with hardscaped walkway divider paths. Each subdivision should be less than 400 ft2.
  • An experienced plant person should review garden regularly.
  • Create a design theme for each garden or subdivision.
  • Group species together.
  • Keep it simple, minimize the number of species per garden or section.
  • Use sandy loam if possible.
  • Mound some sections.

Test Your Knowledge!

How many birds die annually in window collisions alone?