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Plant a few bulbs this fall – by Cindy Haynes

September 28, 2009


Want to plant a little something now that will liven up beds and borders next spring and summer? Don’t have a lot of room or time to take care of anything else? So, why not try a few long-lasting bulbs that are easy to maintain? Forget tulips – they don’t last. Skip crocuses – you have to plant a thousand to make an impact. Instead think about daffodils, ornamental onions, and lilies.

These are some of the best low maintenance perennials in the landscape. Plant them in the right spots in fall and watch them bloom next year. Your only maintenance chore is cutting back the flowers when they fade and cutting back the foliage when it yellows. These bulbs don’t need fertilizer, especially if they are planted in decent soil. That’s it! And these bulbs are big enough that a few here or there can make quite an effective show – so you don’t need to plant them by the hundreds or the thousands.

The cheery blooms of daffodils begin to appear in early April. They range in height from a few inches to about 1 ½ feet tall. The flowers are usually a bright yellow, but are also available in white and orange. Sometimes the flowers are fragrant. They are best planted in sites with well-drained soils that receive plenty of sun in spring. Daffodils are not bothered by deer or other animals.

Ornamental onions have globe-shaped flowers in late May and June. Flowers may be lavender, bluish-purple, white, or yellow. Because the flowers are not as bright as daffodils, they won’t be noticed as readily from a distance. But what they lack in striking color, they can make up in size. The flower clusters, or inflorescences, of some species of ornamental onions can be more than 10 inches across and can vary greatly in height from a few inches to three feet tall, depending on species. Onions will bloom best in sunny sites with well-drained soils. Because the foliage of many species of ornamental onions begins to fade and brown when they are blooming, plant the bulbs between shorter plants. This will help hide any unsightly foliage.

There are several different groups of lilies with flamboyant flowers in July. Flower colors range from brilliant oranges, reds, and golden hues to more muted pastel pinks, lavenders, and whites. Look for Oriental or Trumpet (or the hybrid Orienpet) lilies for fragrant flowers in a wide variety of colors. Only a few bulbs in areas near building entrances/exits are needed to fully appreciate their fragrance. Most lily species insist on sunny sites with well-drained soils. Some of the taller cultivars might require staking – so select shorter cultivars to limit maintenance needs.





And finally for late summer bloom, consider the Magic or Surprise lily. The pale pink flowers appear in mid to late August without foliage. The foliage emerges in spring and disappears before the onset of hot weather. A couple of months later –several 2 foot flower stalks emerge, as if by magic (hence the common name). Plants prefer full sun to part shade and well-drained soils.

Try one of these bulbs – or try all four. Either way, I don’t think you will be disappointed with the flower displays next year.

Cindy Haynes
Iowa State University


Tried and True Perennials - and Some New Ones Too

March 21, 2011
Purple coneflower is well suited for full sun areas while providing interest to your landscape. Check out the rest of the recommendations below.

Perennials are often the backbone of beautiful and long-lasting ornamental plantings. As a group they provide colorful flowers and foliage, a variety of shapes and forms, and a mix of textures from the fine, delicate leaves of ornamental grasses to the bold, coarse texture of large leafed hostas. Perennials can also grow in a variety of light and soil conditions. This means there is a perennial, or two or three or more, for just about any location in the landscape.

Compared to annuals, perennials are less expensive in the long-run because they don’t need to be replanted each year and most tend to bloom well with minimal to no additional fertilizer, provided they are planted in good soil to start with. And, they only need a little attention in the spring to cut back the previous year’s foliage before they start growing again.

Spring is a great time to think about designing and installing a new perennial bed. Maybe you want to draw attention to the clubhouse, a tee box or the entry to your facility. Or maybe you have an existing bed that needs to be reworked to give it a little more pizzazz. Regardless of your situation, matching the right perennial to the growing conditions is important for the planting to be a success.

Below is a short list of tried and true perennials that thrive in our Midwestern climate. Many of these plants are familiar and used frequently in the landscape because they are easy to find in the trade and easy to grow.

Black-eyed Susan

Perennials for Sun

  • Rudbeckia fulgida; Black-eyed Susan
  • Echinacea purpurea; Purple coneflower
  • Achillea; Yarrow
  • Asclepias tuberosa; Butterfly Weed

Perennials for Shade

  • Astilbe;
  • Hosta;
  • Heuchera; Coralbells
  • Mertensia virginica; Virginia Bluebells

Here are some lesser know perennials that also do great in the Midwest. These plants may be a little harder to find, but they are well worth including. Most of these provide summer long interest either because of their unique foliage or because of their one to two month flowering period. Including any of these plants will give your planting a fresh look and be a nice change from the ordinary.

Lesser-Known Perennials for Sun

  • Amsonia hubrichtii; Narrow Leaf Blue Star, Arkansas Amsonia
  • Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’; Wood Betony
  • Stachys grandiflora 'Rosea'; Big Pink Betony
  • Allium 'Summer Beauty'; Summer Beauty Allium


Ann Marie ZanDerZanden

Professor & Associate Director for ISU Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
Iowa State University



July 14, 2012

I have received some question lately on the yellow flower that is showing up in lawns in midsummer.  The plant is Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).  In past years, it has been included in roadside mixtures in Iowa and has spread to lawn areas.  It is not unusual to see it along curb sides as in the picture below.  It is a perennial, but most people do not notice it until late June when it begins to flower.

It is a legume and has a flower similar in shape to the Pea.  Personally, I think it is very attractive.  According to an article in Wikipedia, the fresh tissue contains cyanogenic glycosides, which are toxic to humans. I have never tried to eat it, but I don’t think that it presents any danger to humans.  It is a forage,  and cattle often graze on it.

Being a clover-like broadleaf, it is controlled by most of the same broadleaf herbicides that control clover.  It is generally observed in lawns that have not been treated with broadleaf controls.  If you want to get rid of it, I would wait until fall and treat with broadleaf herbicides.  It will be gone next year.  The reason for waiting, is that these herbicides will easily damage other landscape plants at this time of year.


Bird's-foot trefoil in a curb area in central Iowa.