15 Plants to Grow in a Pocket Prairie

Are you ready to grow a miniature prairie habitat in your own yard? A pocket prairie is a great way to create a beautiful garden, incorporate native plants into your landscape, and support pollinators. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen will introduce 15 fabulous plants to include in a pocket prairie habitat.

The beautiful, feathery inflorescences of Pink Muhly Grass sway in the wind.


Prairies are valuable ecosystems that historically covered approximately one-third of the United States, from the central Canadian border south to Texas. Only small patches of this once widespread ecosystem still remain throughout the central plains states. Prairies comprised a vast diversity of plants, which hosted a diverse assemblage of birds, insects, and many other animals, both large and small. How can you help restore this valuable habitat? Grow your own pocket prairie!

A pocket prairie is a miniature prairie. It can range from a single raised bed to your entire yard. Growing a small recreation of the prairie landscape can help support native plants, pollinators, birds, and other small animals. Even a small section of your yard can support a beautiful and thriving pocket prairie.

Anyone with a sunny plot of land can grow a pocket prairie. This project works best in a location with full sun and dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. You’ll want to grow a variety of plants to represent the rich diversity of native prairie species. Include a variety of sizes, bloom times, flower colors, and plant types.

Why Grow a Pocket Prairie?

A pocket prairie will provide you with year-round enjoyment. In the springtime, you can see the first green growth emerging and await the first spring wildflowers. Your garden will be bustling with activity throughout the summer months as flowers bloom and the pollinators are especially active.

Enjoy another round of flowers and continued visits from birds and butterflies in the fall. Even during the winter months, after the vegetation has died back for the year, the standing vegetation and seedheads will continue to provide form, structure, and habitat for the winter birds.

Are you ready to dig in? Read on to learn more about 15 pocket prairie plants you can grow in your own landscape to create a unique native prairie habitat. Each species listed is native to the United States and naturally found growing in prairies and grasslands.

American Agave

Large plant with tall, thick, light bluish-green, spiky leaves with jagged edges.
American agave needs plenty of room to grow for the plant and its offsets.
botanical-name botanical name Agave americana
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3 – 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 8 – 10

Consider adding the beautiful American agave if you are growing prairie plants or a rock garden in a warmer climate. Be sure to allow this plant plenty of space to grow because mature agaves can spread six feet wide or more!

The American agave will help give your garden a southwestern look with its broad, flattened, leafy rosettes. You can grow agaves from seed, but buying a nursery-grown plant or dividing offsets from an existing garden-grown agave is easier.

These plants rarely flower; when they do, the parent plant dies after blooming. But don’t worry. The mother plant should have produced several offsets by the time it flowers, which will keep growing.

Black-Eyed Susan

Close up of bright yellow flowers that have long, skinny, yellow petals and a dark brown center. A bee is perched on one of the flowers collecting nectar.
These low-maintenance flowers are known to be resistant to deer.
botanical-name botanical name Rudbeckia hirta
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2 – 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 7

Black-eyed Susan is a very familiar prairie and landscape plant. The bright yellow flowers have distinctive dark brown centers and bloom from mid-summer until fall. The flowers are quite showy and abundant, attracting plenty of butterflies and pollinators

Black-eyed Susan is very easy to grow and low maintenance. Deer don’t bother these plants, although hungry rabbits sometimes sample them. Black-eyed Susans are short-lived perennials, living typically only two or three years. They readily self-seed, however, so you probably won’t ever lack their beautiful flowers. 

Blazing Star

Tall flower stalks with spiky, purple clusters of petals growing up each stalk.
These flashy flowers will attract butterflies and bees to your garden.
botanical-name botanical name Liatris spicata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2 – 4 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Blazing star is a superstar garden plant. This showy perennial wildflower has spectacular flowers that bloom at the peak of summer. The flowers develop in tall spikes of fluffy, bright pinkish-purple blossoms. The flowers are a favorite of butterflies and native bees. After flowering, the seedheads are long-lasting and showy, attracting seed-eating birds. 

This plant can grow up to four feet tall, although there are Liatris cultivars that stay more compact and some cultivars with white flowers. Liatris spicata is fairly easy to grow from seed but can take some time to germinate and become fully established. Plants will spread over time, forming attractive clusters.

Foxglove Penstemon

Tall reddish flower stalks with clusters of spiky tubular, white flowers with a light pink base.
Also known as beardtongue, these flowers have the perfect shape for hummingbirds and other pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Penstemon digitalis
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3 – 5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Foxglove penstemon, also known as beardtongue, is a spring-blooming wildflower that is showy and easy to grow. Loose spikes of tubular, white flowers attract pollinators and hummingbirds.

Give it dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. Once established, this plant tolerates drought and occasional wet soil conditions. Penstemon will slowly spread over time, forming attractive clusters. If the clusters eventually grow too large, they are easily divided and transplanted.

Lanceleaf Coreopsis

Close up of a bright yellow flower with fan shaped, overlapping petals that have jagged edges. The center of the flower is a darker shade of yellow.
While occasionally nibbled by rabbits, these flowers are not bothered by deer and will attract many pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Coreopsis lanceolata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 1 – 2 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 9

Lanceleaf coreopsis is a cheerful perennial wildflower that is easy to grow in the home garden. The bright yellow flowers attract many butterflies and bees as they bloom from late spring to early summer. These plants are generally not bothered by deer, although they are sometimes nibbled by hungry rabbits. 

Choose a sunny spot with dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. Lanceleaf coreopsis doesn’t become particularly large and bushy and would make a good plant for borders, edges, and raised beds. These plants are easily grown from seed and will self-seed in optimal conditions. Simply pull any extra unwanted seedlings that sprout in the spring.

Narrow-Leaf Mountain Mint

Close up of a black and yellow bee perched on a a flower with clusters of tiny light yellow and white flowers.
These flowers have a wonderful fragrance and attract many pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2 – 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 8

This native member of the mint family is easy to grow and has a pleasant fragrance. Mountain mint blooms from mid-to-late summer. The clusters of small white flowers attract many bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to your garden. The leaves are soft, slightly fuzzy, and not bothered by deer or rabbits.

Like many mint plants, mountain mint can spread aggressively by rhizomes. You can pull any unwanted growths, divide plants regularly, deadhead spent flowers, or grow this mint in a large container to help control growth unless you want a large naturalized patch of this attractive mountain mint. 

Nodding Onion

Tall green flower stalks with a nodding loose cluster of small pink flowers on top.
This allium thrives best in direct sun in cooler climates.
botanical-name botanical name Allium cernuum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 1 – 1.5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 8

Nodding onion is well-suited for growing along a border or edge or somewhere it can be easily seen and appreciated. This plant is a bulb that develops a sparse cluster of long, grass-like, onion-scented leaves. In the summertime, it sends up a flowering stalk with a nodding loose cluster of small pink flowers. The flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators

Nodding onion grows best in plenty of sun in cooler climates, but in warmer climates, it appreciates a bit of afternoon shade. This plant needs dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. Wet soil will quickly cause root rot. After nodding onion blooms, the foliage will die back, often turning brown by early to mid-fall. Plants will self-seed in ideal conditions and slowly spread by bulb division.

Pink Muhly Grass

Tall pink grass in a field with thick rounded clumps of thin green blades at the base of the bush.
This unique pink grass is self-seeding but isn’t an aggressive spreader.
botanical-name botanical name Muhlenbergia capillaris
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2 – 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 9

Pink muhly grass is a very well-behaved and extremely ornamental grass. This bunch-forming native grass develops thick, rounded clumps of thin green blades. The green clumps are attractive throughout the summer, but the real show begins in late summer and fall. Plants grown with six to eight hours of direct sun will display the best flowering, where the entire top of the plant appears shrouded by a thick pink haze. The seed heads are long-standing and continue to provide ornamental interest into the winter months.

Grow pink muhly grass in single clumps or plant several side-by-side for dramatic effect. Unlike many grasses, pink muhly doesn’t spread quickly. Clumps will get larger and thicker over time and can be divided if needed or desired. This plant is easy to start from seed and occasionally reseeds itself in the garden, though it does not spread aggressively.

Purple Coneflower

Close up of large flowers with showy, pinkish purple petals, with prominent, dome shaped reddish-orange centers.
Echinacea is very low maintenance and will give your garden that perfect prairie look.
botanical-name botanical name Echinacea purpurea
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 1.5 – 2 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Purple coneflower is one of the easiest prairie plants to grow. It is also very low maintenance and has a place in any wildflower garden, pollinator garden, or prairie landscape. Purple coneflower tolerates partial shade. Give it average-quality, dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. 

Purple coneflower blooms from early to late summer, often reblooming more sparsely in the fall. The flowers are large, showy, and pinkish purple, with prominent reddish-orange centers. Coneflowers are a magnet for butterflies and other pollinators, and after flowering, the spiky seedheads are showy and attract seed-eating birds. 

Rough Sunflower

Close up of several bright yellow flowers with long, pointed, spaced apart petals with a light yellow center.
This is the host plant for the silvery checkerspot butterfly and a variety of other pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Helianthus divaricatus
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 2 – 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Rough sunflower, also known as the woodland sunflower, is a showy native sunflower that grows up to 6 feet tall and is well adapted to a partially shaded site. Grow it in average-quality, well-drained soil. When starting your pocket prairie near a woodland edge, this would be a great addition to that shaded spot near the trees.

Rough sunflower blooms in mid to late summer. The bright yellow flowers are two to three inches wide and grow in showy clusters. Rough sunflower, like all the native sunflowers, attracts plenty of pollinators. These plants are also the host plants for the silvery checkerspot butterfly. 

Showy Goldenrod

Tall flower stalks with erect stems topped with plumes of tiny bright, fluffy looking yellow flowers.
Showy goldenrod prefers well-drained soil.
botanical-name botanical name Solidago speciosa
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2 – 4 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

There are several varieties of goldenrod you can choose from. All are showy and easy to grow. The showy goldenrod grows up to four feet tall with erect stems topped with plumes of tiny bright yellow flowers. The flowers bloom in mid-summer and early fall, attracting many butterflies and other pollinators. 

These plants are resistant to deer and rabbits. Goldenrods spread over time and can be divided every few years as needed. Many people assume that goldenrod causes hay fever, but that is generally caused by other non-showy plants, such as ragweed, that bloom around the same time. 

Smooth Aster

Close up of several flowers with long, skinny, spaced apart, light purple petals and a bright yellow center. A large bumble bee is perched on top of a flower collecting nectar.
This plant is a fast spreader.
botanical-name botanical name Symphyotrichum laeve
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun 
height height 2 – 4 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Smooth aster is one of many fall-blooming perennial asters. This low-maintenance plant attracts many butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. The pale purple flowers of the smooth aster have distinct yellow centers and have a long fall blooming period, often coming into full bloom after other perennials have stopped. Flowering continues until the first frost. 

Aster plants spread rapidly by rhizomes and will form dense clusters. Prune them to maintain an attractive size and shape or stake them if they become too tall and top-heavy and flop over. Asters are resistant to deer and rabbits.


Close up of a small, bright yellow flower with four heart shaped petals and long yellow stamen in the center.
These bright little flowers are perfect for borders and pathways.
botanical-name botanical name Oenothera fruticosa ssp. glauca
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 1.5 – 2.5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Sundrops have very showy, bright yellow flowers that bloom from mid-summer into early fall. The flowers are yellow, approximately two inches across, and attract pollinators. Deer and rabbits will nibble the plants, but aren’t too much of a problem. 

Grow sundrops in well-drained, medium-moisture soil. These plants don’t grow as tall as many other prairie plants, so you can place them along borders and edges where they can be more easily appreciated. Plants spread by rhizomes and can be thinned every few years to keep their clusters looking nice. Sundrops are moderately drought-tolerant and grow well in containers and raised beds. 


Field of grass with tall tick, green blades and a fluffy wheat like top.
This drought-tolerant grass can also withstand occasional wet soil conditions.
botanical-name botanical name Panicum virgatum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3 – 4 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 9

Switchgrass is a low-maintenance native ornamental grass. It grows best in dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. It is tolerant of periodic drought as well as occasional wet soil conditions. Switchgrass spreads by rhizomes, and you may want to divide it every few years to help keep it contained or allow it to spread naturally for excellent erosion control. 

Switchgrass is a common prairie grass that has appeal in the home landscape. During the growing season, it develops thick clumps of thin grassy vegetation. The leaves are green with reddish edges, giving it a bluish hue when viewed at a distance. Switchgrass blooms in late summer into early fall, creating a thick, reddish-brown haze over the plants. If allowed to stand, this grass provides some interesting structure into the winter months. 

Whorled Milkweed

Close up of a tall stem with clusters of tiny light yellow flowers on top.
Whorled milkweed is a host plant for the beautiful monarch butterfly caterpillar.
botanical-name botanical name Asclepias verticillata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 1 – 2.5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 9

Every prairie should have plenty of pollinator-friendly plants, and milkweeds are one of the best pollinator plants available. Milkweeds are the host plants for the monarch butterfly caterpillar. Each variety of milkweed has showy flowers that attract mid-summer pollinators, including plenty of butterflies, native bees, and even hummingbirds.

The whorled milkweed has loose clusters of small white flowers and blooms from mid through late summer. It will grow and bloom best in a sunny site, although it tolerates partial shade. Whorled milkweed prefers dry to medium-moisture well-drained soil. This plant will naturalize easily, slowly spreading over time by rhizomes and self-seeding, and clusters can be divided if they become too large.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will it take for my prairie plants to bloom?

If you are growing perennial wildflowers from seed, you will notice that some varieties don’t bloom in their first year. Many of these plants will spend their first year becoming well-established, developing deep, drought-tolerant root systems and mature foliage. These plants typically bloom in their second year, although some may even wait until their third year. Other perennial wildflowers, however, if sown in the spring, will have their first flowers by mid to late summer.

When should I plant my pocket prairie?

If you start your plants from seed, many native perennials will germinate best if directly sown in the garden in late fall. This allows them to experience a natural cycle of cold moisture during the winter months, and they will start germinating the following spring. If you are transplanting nursery-grown plants, do this in the early spring or fall season. Avoid trying to transplant your prairie plants during the warmest summer months.

Final Thoughts

Growing your own pocket prairie is a fun and rewarding project. There are so many beautiful and colorful plants to grow, attracting an amazing diversity of pollinators and beneficial insects to your yard. It may take a little while for all your plants to reach their full size and blooming potential, but once they do, you will have a spectacular miniature prairie!

A bee forages for nectar and pollen in a cluster of pink and white flowers.


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