Midwest gardeners face a variety of challenges. Cool, stormy springs bring flooding and the occasional tornado. Summers often see 90 degrees F or higher, with uncomfortably high humidity. Autumn means sunny days and cool nights. Sub-zero temperatures and, especially in the northern Midwest, significant snowfall, arrive in winter. Midwestern soils range from rich silt along floodplains to the thin rocky topping of the Ozarks. Gardeners treasure ornamental plants that perform in such conditions.
Yellow Wood Tree
Yellow wood tree (Cladrastis kentukea) is a Missouri Botanical garden Plant of Merit recommended for the southern Midwest. A deciduous tree standing 30 to 50 feet high, it's an effective shade tree for home landscapes. Hardy to temperatures of minus 30 degrees F, yellow wood tree has bright green summer leaves that bring yellow color to the fall garden. This tree peaks in May, when its branches are covered with fragrant, drooping 10-to-15-inch clusters of white flowers. Flat brown seedpods appear in September and October. Plant disease-and-insect resistant yellow wood tree in full sun and well-drained average soil. Prune it only in summer. Because it roots so deeply, this tree tolerates having other plants beneath it.
Sweet Pepperbush 'Ruby Spice'
Another Missouri Botanical Garden Plant of Merit, sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) is an ornamental shrub hardy to minus 30 degrees F. The 'Ruby Spice' sweet pepperbush cultivar stands 4 to 6 feet high and 3 to 5 feet wide. Its 4-inch oval dark green leaves become yellow to golden brown in autumn. In July and August, 'Ruby Spice' has fragrant, cylindrical rose-pink blooms. Attractive to butterflies and bees, they closely resemble bottlebrushes.
'Ruby Spice' blooms even in shade. Plant it in part shade and acidic, moist sandy soil for best performance. It will also tolerate clay and full shade. Remove suckers as they appear to keep the plant from spreading. The Missouri Botanical Garden suggests using sweet pepperbush as a foundation planting, in a shrub border, or as a group planting for lawns.
Cheddar Pink 'Bath's Pink'
Cheddar pink (Dianthus) 'Bath's Pink' a low growing perennial standing 9 to 12 inches high and up to 12 inches wide. Hardy to winter temperatures of minus 40 degrees, it spreads to form a spring-blooming mat of 1-inch, fragrant pale pink flowers above narrow, grassy blue-green leaves. It also blooms sporadically through the summer. Bath's Pink, says the Missouri Botanical Garden, handles the Midwest's summer heat and humidity better than other dianthus cultivars. Plant it in full sun and well-drained alkaline (pH above 7.0) soil. Massed plants will form a ground cover. The plants also work well in rock gardens and as border edging.