Resources for Midwestern Gardens and Landscapes

Part of the You Can Learn Landscaping and Gardening series.
By Ken Brown
February 29, 2008

Do you know some of the concerns and things to watch for as you do landscaping in the Midwest? The Midwestern United States has a harsh but beautiful climate. In the spring you can get day time highs in the 70s. But, at night it may dip to below freezing.

Midwest Summers Challenge Landscapers and Gardeners

The summer in the midwest presents it's challenges to the Midwest Landscape designer. Hot and humid air sweeps across the plains and batters the normal home owners landscapes of perennials with hot rain, brutally dry conditions and Midwest tornados. It is tough to landscape in the Midwest.

Moisture rises from the Gulf of Mexico bringing rain and relief to the normally dry midwest. This cycle of brief but powerful storms to long dry spells require plants adapted to this climate. There are no mountains to slow the blowing wind that quickly drys the hardiest prairie landscape.

Summer in Chicago can reach 90s and sometimes 100 degrees. Missouri and Oklahoma can be dry and hot for weeks at a time with little relief. During those times the midwestern gardener needs to water and care for sensitive perennials that may not be adapted to the harsh reality of the midwest summer.

When fall rolls around the Midwest begins to cool off. The leaves of the trees change colors and eventually fall to the ground. You will get a cold spell and then in late October a glorious though brief reprieve with an "Indian Summer." But, it quickly rolls into Winter.

The toughest test yet for the Midwestern Landscaper is winter. Temperatures drop below freezing and stay there. Sometimes it is brutally cold and dry. Other times wave after wave of heavy wet snow blanket the trees and perennials. Limbs break and you don't know if your favorite perennial will survive the cold, snow and the salt.

North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have little sunshine in winter and the temperature stays below freezing for months. Southern Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Indiana can have periods of extreme cold punctuated with warming temperatures into the 50s, 60s and even the 70s in late February. The ground in this area heaves up and down with each wild change.

Issues that Affect Gardens and Home Landscapes in the Midwest

These are all issues that affect the home gardeners and landscapers in the Midwest. It doesn't matter if you are from Chicago, Indianapolis, Des Moines, Kansas, Minneapolis or Grand Forks. The Midwest landscape has special challenges that keeps your interest year after year. The most exciting time of the year is Spring when you get back out into the still wet and soggy back yard and take stock of the results of winter.

Then the thrill you get when the plants and perennials you knew were dead, pop their little green heads out of the dirt and begin their journey to the sunlight. Yes, you need many different resources to help your garden survive the Midwest weather and to bring you joy and happiness.

Perennials Suited for the Midwest Garden

As spring begins to awaken the midwest garden you find a wide range of plants can add color to the landscape. Star Magnolias, Tulips, Irises begin the spring explosion of beauty. You can also grow Dutchman's breeches and bloodroot in this environment. Summer will show off the catmint, Salvia, Black eyed Susans, and Coneflowers.

Many people vacation in the fall in the Midwest to enjoy the beauty of the fall colors. The trees begin to change over from green to yellow to reds and crimson. Burning bushes start their colorful displays. Grasses begin to take over the eyes of interest in your backyard.

Trees that work in the midwest include the River Birch, Austrian Pine, many Oak varieties, and Maples. For spring color look for Irises, Allium, Astilbes, Clematis, Rhododendron, Salvias and flowering Crabapples. Spring quickly changes to summer where you can find flowers on your favorite Catmint, Columbine, Daisies, Hostas, Jacob Ladder, Spirea, and Coreopsis. Look for summer blooms on Yarrow, ConeFlowers and Black Eyed Susans. The fall cooler weather will show off the Burning Bush, Stonecrop or Sedum, Rose of Sharon, and the ButterFly bush.

You can plan for wonderful color throughout the spring, summer and fall. Plan carefully for winter as you can watch the snow build up on Globe Blue Spruce, many Grasses, and see the color of the Red Twig Dogwood. The Midwest is home to all these perennial varieties. For more information on what is available in your area, check out any of these books on this page.

Environmental Concerns of the Midwest Landscape

As you plan your landscape you have to be aware of the environment your plant will be exposed to throughout the year. Will the perennials be sitting next to the road? Many Midwestern States use salt to keep the roads clear through the winter months. Can your perennial survive the salt and road debris that will pummel it in winter?

Many factories exist in Midwestern cities and could be a source of air bourne pollutants. When these particulates fall from the sky with rain or snow what effect will they have on your newly planted landscape? You may want to rinse leaves off throughout the season to keep them healthy. Many insects will feast on your plants and you need to be vigilant in watching for warning signs of insects and take action to keep your garden healthy.

Other Factors

Minnesota claims to have 10,000 lakes, Illinois has rich black dirt which makes for wonderful farmland. Many areas are swampy, wetlands. Excess rain and snow has caused many a midwestern creek and river to overflow their banks. This creates wet areas that require special care or specific plants that thrive in wetlands. You may want to find ways to move excess water off the property. Many plants like their roots to be well drained.

From Bogs to prairies the midwest offers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy nature and all it can offer in color, smells and beauty. Take the time to find out more about your specific state or area of the Midwest. Grab one of these books and see how to make your garden landscape shine for the community.

Resources for Midwestern Landscapes

I have tried to find resources of interest for you if you live in the Midwestern United States.

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