Zone 4 - plants that I can ignore in my dry, sunny yard?
July 3, 2023 4:50 PM   Subscribe

I would like to replace my small, sunny, dry front lawn with plants that I can ignore. So far, roses, peonies, salvia, and solomon's seal have thrived. I like purple flowers. What should I plant?

I have a small square front lawn with clayey soil. This is not my house but the lawn is similar.
Would love to fill it with plants I can ignore - I don't want to have to water it or maintain it.
A clay sewer line runs under the lawn, so nothing too big (roots + old clay pipe = bad).
I'd love to do only purple flowers - Lavender and Catmint are doing well in my backyard with no watering so I'll probably get some for the front.
I like pollinators.
I like a bit of a lush bushy vibe - love this - except it's a very small yard, so the plant size needs to taper down to the edges rather than spill out onto the path or sidewalk.
Thus, I'd like the plants' heights to be graduated nicely: Tall, Medium, Short, and Ground Cover around the edges... so if you could let me know what "height category" a given plant is in, I'd appreciate it!
posted by nouvelle-personne to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Anise hyssop thrives in our boulevard strip. It is tall, has purple flowers, and bees love it. You may have to improve your soil drainage.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 4:56 PM on July 3, 2023

Rosemary. Lantana. Lavatera (mallow), including the 'aborea' variety grown upright in a tree or shrub habit. Chives. If the climate works, hibiscus, azaleas, clematis.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:18 PM on July 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

(and lavatera can be a groundcover or a bush/shrub, lantana is a shrubby groundcover that will climb-careful what you plant it near as it spreads aggressively, clematis is a vine, I'd imagine you're familiar with the rest.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:26 PM on July 3, 2023

Be sure to get the Hardy varieties.
Mostly lowgrowing.
posted by BoscosMom at 5:29 PM on July 3, 2023

Sedum will spread quickly but is not invasive. I pull bathmat sized slabs off of my flagstone wall every spring. They are grown more for the folliage though they do flower. The flowers are not your classically pretty blooms and often look like they are from another planet. Sort of an aquired taste but i am really growing to love them.
posted by BoscosMom at 5:44 PM on July 3, 2023

I live in Zone 4 and have clayey soil. Some things that grow well for me on the sunny south-facing side of my house:

Irises - Siberian and bearded
Day lilies. (None of mine are purple, but they come in purple.)
Centaurea montana (more blue than purple)
Chives (purple flowers in the spring, attractive to butterflies)
posted by Redstart at 6:06 PM on July 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

Irises would be a great addition. They are pretty drought tolerant. And they come in different heights. There are tall versions and dwarf versions.

Russian sage is similar to both lavendar and salvia.

Alliums are a bulb that would be a fun addition. They are purple and remind me of Dr. Seuss.

Veronica is another kind of tall pointy perennial that is low maintenance.

I just ordered but don't yet have Eryngium it sea holly. It's also a very unique looking plant.

If you are on FB there might be a local to you plant swap group. Many low maintenance perennials are also vigorous growers and gardeners like to give away plants when they are thinning their beds or want to make room for new plants. I just acquired two colors of iris I didn't have via a FB giveaway.
posted by MadMadam at 6:23 PM on July 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are great suggestions so far, thank you all!

I should add, I like blue flowers too. Thanks!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:25 PM on July 3, 2023

I can't recommend specific plants, but in light of your constraints/wishes you should be looking at native plants for your area. They are, pretty much by definition, completely suited to your soil and weather conditions and are also pollinator-friendly. But what will suit your purposes where you live will depend on where you are. Look for local purveyors of native plants or check out online providers for your general area. For example, these are the offerings from Prairie Nursery that suit your conditions, and these are what Prairie Moon has available. But YMMV, especially if you are not in the upper Midwest US.
posted by DrGail at 7:09 PM on July 3, 2023 [3 favorites]

Pincushion flowers come in purple and blue. The variety I have is called Butterfly Blue and the blooms are wonderful. They don't get very tall and are nice and bushy.

Anemones are stunning. They do like to spread but have wonderful bushy foliage and fabulous flowers. This variety is my favorite. The flowers are a deep pinkish purple.

Ruffled red shiso is a very beautiful annual that reseeds freely. Like it will go nuts and some people hate it for that but it's easy to pull up and looks amazing when you let it grow. I let it pop up in any bare spots it likes and just pull it when it starts to go to seed. The foliage is red if you hold it up to the sunlight and look through it but it reads like a very dark almost black purple. It's the perfect plant for purple vibes.

Cosmos are my favorite purple flowers in my garden. If you scatter seeds once they will reseed themselves forever but they are a little more polite than the shiso. The foliage is lovely and feathery and they have a nice upright growth habit. If your growing season is long enough they can get pretty tall so they make a nice statement.

All of these plants start to bloom a little later in the season so they would make nice companions for spring bloomers like your peonies and roses.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 7:14 PM on July 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

The suggestion of native plants from your area made me think of asters. I'm not sure if you're in my part of Zone 4 but there are likely to be some native purple asters wherever you are, and you can buy cultivated varieties of asters at nurseries too.
posted by Redstart at 8:30 PM on July 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

These are all pollinator plants. I live in zone 5a and for this year’s plantings, I started everything early inside. I’m still quite new to gardening.

If you are ok with watering to establish the plant, and they aren’t too pink-y, you may like zebra hollyhocks. They’ve done really well, tons of blooms. They’re 3-5’ tall, depending on variety, so you may need to stake them. They’re biennials but will self-seed.

I’d highly recommend these cosmos. They’re short for cosmos, ~2’, (which I like), a very intense red-based purple, and have been blooming like crazy.

I know you said you already have lavender, but I’ve been so happy with this dwarf variety I want to share it! I had ~90% germination as a noob gardener starting the seeds indoors in a soilless potting mix, and the purple is deep and intense. They are ~12”.

I adore anemones, but like dahlias, remember you will need to dig out the bulb/ corm in the fall and replant in the spring. So gorgeous.

You could try some early season bulbs (plant in fall, will bloom in early spring, perennials) like tiny 6” tall muscari or even tinier crocus. I’ve bought muscari and crocus bulbs from this company and had an excellent success rate.

For ground cover, you could try vinca; our patch has been coming back for years, slowly spreading.
posted by queseyo at 10:27 PM on July 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

Strongly second scabiosa (pincushion) - they're delightful, long-lasting, and will reseed nicely, though like most things you'll have to water to establish. I believe one of the blues is a perennial (most are annuals) - Johnny's and (baker creek) carry them.

I second the chives - they naturalize nicely and are tasty. You could mix them with garlic/Chinese chives (white flowers, polinators still love them) for variety and flavor, if you eat them.

Echinacea (and check for purple rudabeccia, I'm not aware of any but I've only grown a few varieties). Midsized.

Russian sage is a strong recommendation- and I'm not a sage fan, but these are beautiful. Another midsized to tall.

Rosemary comes in many flavors - you can get nice columnar bush-types or low ground covers and everything in between. Similar with lavender. You may have luck with poppies (breadseed and Lauren's grape have done well for me).

Blue Monday is a short reseeding annual

Depending on shade/water situation, you may be able to plant violets next to path for your lowest level - wild types naturalize nicely and come back from drought that would kill similar (pansies).

Heads up that that garden (your link) is heavily manicured/watered/fertilized, etc, so would suggest "garden shopping" your neighbors yards for varieties and levels of care you're comfortable with.

I'll also strongly suggest you want native plants, though my suggestions are nearly certain not to be - that will get you closer to low-water (you'll have to water to establish everything for probably 2y - and when you're in an exceptionally hot or dry period too). If that's unacceptable - hardscape, look at xeriscaping.

I'd suggest looking more at bushes and bulbs than annuals or perennials, but I'm happy to defer to others - I have been slowly murdering bushes to make space for my veg and fruit trees. I went hard on bulbs my first year gardening because the larger ones (crocisma, glads) do a nice job taking up space and covering the ground. Now I'm pulling those up as I need the room - but I do love to garden and pulled up all of my lawn in the 1st year I bought the house! Check mature size, give them enough room, and be sure you pick varieties that don't require pruning/etc. There's a short pink/purple blueberry that may interest you - raintree nursery has it, though I'm sure others do too (blueberries are good for moth polinators).

No bush reccs from me, but I can say my local master gardener's club made incredible recommendations for shade-tolerant ground cover that were super helpful - I'm sure they could have done the same for bushes. Perennial borage is nice (annual borage is delightful for pollinators but floppy and seeds prolifically), and clematis is great but you have to know what your variety needs (pruning, cut to ground, don't cut at all, needs watering, when it blooms, etc).

posted by esoteric things at 11:31 PM on July 3, 2023

Spiderwort is native, hardy, and good for bees. Not especially showy but it looks good in large clumps. It will spread and it can be a bit annoying to dig up the noodle-like roots.

Beebalm, coneflower, and milkweed are other natives available in purple.
posted by hydrophonic at 6:47 AM on July 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

Honesty plant (Lunaria annua) is not native but it's been a self-seeding annual that thrives in my neglected patch. Purple flowers in the spring, then green coin-sized seed pods on stalks that dry to a papery silver.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:02 AM on July 4, 2023

For low ground cover plants around the edges, there are several creeping thymes and creeping phlox.

Check the Extension service with your state's land grant university. They may have online resources and also Master Gardeners who can answer a host of plant-related questions.

Happy growing!
posted by interbeing at 7:22 AM on July 4, 2023

Seconding the suggestions of violets and thyme where you want something low growing. In my Zone 4 clay soil, violets happily spread themselves all over in my perennial beds and lawn and require zero care. My sister across town has sandier soil, and thyme has spread itself equally happily around her yard. I was there today noticing purple-flowered patches of it. I have thyme and it hasn't died out but it doesn't seem inclined to spread all over either. I think it likes lighter soil better.

Oregano also has purple flowers and it seems to like my conditions fairly well.

Heal-all or self-heal is a weed that grows everywhere here. The flowers are fairly attractive and it spreads easily. That's another thing you could use where you want shorter plants, if you don't care how much it spreads itself through the beds.

I didn't think of bee balm before because mine is red, but bee balm is very happy in my garden.
posted by Redstart at 9:06 AM on July 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

Definitely oregano (when it flowers the bees just live in it) and hyssop, balloon flower, speedwell/veronica. borage has electric blue-purple flowers that i think are edible.
posted by pepper bird at 7:14 PM on July 25, 2023

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