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High Value Generalist Plants for Every Garden: Full Sun Dry To Mesic (medium moisture)

Meadows in Virginia are primarily successional communities. That is, some disturbance event removes or suppresses trees and forest cover, and various assemblages of dense herbaceous vegetation emerge. Absent any recurring disturbance, eventually early-successional pioneer trees and shrubs (species like Red Cedar, Virginia Pine, Black Locust, and Sweetgum are common examples) would close meadows back up into forests. Historically, meadows would have been managed by burning. Now, the primary means is mowing. In any case, limiting the ability of fast-growing trees to close a meadow back up into a thicket and eventually forest is a necessary part of meadow management.

 

There is little publicly available high-fidelity data for successional communities, so we are drawing primarily from our own experience working with and seed collecting in meadows with this list. We have listed species that are, in our experience, reasonably common and good choices for establishment into full-sun plantings that mimic wild meadows occurring in dry to average moisture areas.

 

Our dry to mesic meadows tend to be dominated by warm-season grasses. In some of the driest meadows, often on slopes, vegetation may be thinner than in more mesic examples. Goldenrods are ubiquitous, and Bonesets and Mountain Mints are also common. 

 

While you will need to manage woody succession, some cover by trees and shrubs is not a bad thing. You may want to mimic a more old field habitat and include some successional shrubs or small trees. We have included a brief note on some appropriate species on this list. Devoting some area to plantings of small trees and shrubs that appear in nearby forest fragments can help create a diverse ecotone. And, the inclusion of just a few canopy trees like White or Northern Red Oak may be appropriate for a more savanna-like planting.

 

For more help with plant selection, you can return to our Compendium here.

 

Grasses:

  • Andropogon virginicus (Broomsedge) – emerges when soils warm up, somewhat shade tolerant

  • Coleataenia anceps – (Beaked Panic Grass)– A robust grass of moist to wet meadows and dry, rugged meadows and along forest edges. Forms short rhizomes.

  • Dichanthelium clandestinum – (Deertongue Grass)– Various moist to wet forest and forest edges and associated meadows. Common in disturbed areas, ditches, and into upland meadows.

  • Elymus glabriflorus (Southeastern Wildrye) – emerges earlier than the others here

  • Elymus virginicus – (Virginia Wildrye)

  • Eragrostis spectabilis (Purple Lovegrass) – our shortest common meadow grass. The seed heads can detach and roll around, so if that’s a concern they can be gently raked out in the late fall.

  • Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem) – very similar in appearance to Broomsedge, often dry meadows contain stands of both. In our experience, somewhat less shade tolerant than Broomsedge.

  • Sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass) – tall with showy glaucous (blue-ish cast) leaves and culms and showy coppery seeds. Seems to establish readily in new meadows.

  • Triden flavus (Purpletop) – tolerates a lot of disturbance, you can see populations in median strips. Generally happiest in drier or well-drained sites but will pop up in wetter meadows too.

 

Forbs:

  • Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed).

  • Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

  • Asclepias viridiflora (Green Milkweed)

  • Baptisia tinctoria (Yellow Wild Indigo)

  • Chamaecrista nictitans (Sensitive Partridge Pea)

  • Chrysopsis mariana (Maryland Goldenaster)

  • Clinopodium vulgare (Wild Basil)

  • Coreopsis tripteris (Tall Coreopsis)

  • Coreopsis verticillata (Threadleaf Coreopsis)

  • Eupatorium hyssopifolium (Hyssop-leaved Boneset)

  • Eupatorium pubescens (Hairy Thoroughwort)

  • Eupatorium rotundifolium (Roundleaf Thoroughwort )

  • Eupatorium sessilifolium (Upland Boneset)

  • Euthamia graminifolia (Narrow-leaved Goldenrod)

  • Helianthus divaricatus (Woodland Sunflower)

  • Liatris pilosa (Grass-leaved Blazing Star)

  • Liatris spicata (Dense Blazing Star)

  • Liatris squarrosa (Scaly Blazing Star)

  • Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot)

  • Monarda punctata (Spotted Beebalm)

  • Oenothera fruticosa (Sundrops)

  • Packera anonyma (Small's Ragwort)

  • Penstemon hirsutus (Hairy Beardtongue)

  • Pycnanthemum incanum (Hoary Mountain-Mint)

  • Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (Narrow-leaved Mountain-Mint)

  • Rudbeckia fulgida (Orange Coneflower)– primarily in the Piedmont

  • Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan)

  • Sericocarpus asteroides (Toothed Whitetop Aster)

  • Sericocarpus linifolius (Narrowleaf Whitetop Aster)

  • Silphium asteriscus (Whorled Rosin Weed)

  • Solidago altissima (Tall Goldenrod)

  • Solidago juncea (Early Goldenrod)

  • Solidago nemoralis (Gray Goldenrod)

  • Solidago rugosa (Rough Goldenrod)

  • Symphyotrichum ericoides (White Heath Aster)

  • Symphyotrichum dumosum/pilosum/lateriflorum – these can be tricky to identify down to species, but some late-flowering white aster is a common constituent and useful to late season pollinators

  • Symphyotrichum patens (Late Purple Aster)

  • Symphyotrichum undulatum (Wavy-leaved Aster)

  • Trichostema dichotomum (Forked Blue Curls)

  • Vernonia glauca (Broadleaf Ironweed)

Successional trees and shrubs:

  • Rhus spp. (Sumacs) – Staghorn (R. typhina) and Smooth Sumacs (R. glabra) will grow quickly and colonize and area. The fruit are valuable to various birds and the open structure will still allow you to garden around them.

  • Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Redcedar) – Eventually will reach canopy size, but do so slowly. The dense foliage is great cover for birds.

  • Hypericum spp. (St. John’s Worts) – Shrubby St. John’s Wort (H. prolificum) and St. Andrew’s Cross (H. stragulum) do well on dry meadows and meadow-forest ecotones. H. stragulum does especially well in thin acidic soils and underneath open canopy of pines or upland oaks.