Elevate Your Iowa Garden: Top Landscaping Plants for the Hawkeye State

Iowa’s landscape is a tapestry of fertile plains, rolling hills, and vibrant prairies. Gardening and landscaping in this part of the Midwest means embracing the challenges and triumphs of the seasons. Whether you are a green thumb or a novice planning to revamp your outdoor space, selecting the best landscaping plants for Iowa is crucial for a flourishing garden.

Celebrating Native Perennials

Native perennials are the gems of Iowa’s landscape, deeply rooted in the fabric of the local ecosystem. The Prairie Blazing Star and Wild Bergamot are exemplary, yet they represent just a sliver of the native diversity. These plants have evolved to survive and thrive in the Iowan climate, withstanding its fluctuating temperatures, and often erratic precipitation patterns. They play a pivotal role in the ecosystem by providing nectar and pollen for native insects, which in turn support birds and other wildlife.

  • The Prairie Blazing Star is notable not only for its height, reaching up to 5 feet tall, but also for its role in supporting the life cycle of the endangered Regal Fritillary butterfly;
  • Wild Bergamot, on the other hand, exudes a fragrance reminiscent of earl grey tea, and its lavender flowers are a feast for the eyes and a banquet for pollinators.

These perennials have another significant advantage: they require less maintenance. Being native, they are adapted to the local soil fertility and moisture levels, which means less watering, less supplementing of nutrients, and more time enjoying the beauty of a self-sustaining garden.

Trees as Landscape Anchors

Iowa’s trees do more than provide shade and aesthetic appeal; they are cornerstones of the environment, acting as crucial habitats and offering essential services to the ecosystem.

  • The Bur Oak is a stalwart, capable of living for centuries. It provides not only shade but also acorns, a vital food source for wildlife. Its thick bark makes it resistant to fire, an important attribute in the prairie landscape;
  • The Red Maple is a visual spectacle, with a color display that transitions from green to a vibrant red with the seasons. This tree is also important for its ability to thrive in a range of soil types, from the dry uplands to wetter lowlands.

In an Iowa garden, these trees can serve multiple roles, from acting as windbreaks to creating microclimates that can influence the garden’s overall temperature and moisture levels.

Shrubs for Year-Round Interest

The Red Twig Dogwood

Shrubs are incredibly versatile, and their inclusion in the landscape offers more than just a visual buffer or decorative hedge.

  • The Red Twig Dogwood offers a stark contrast to the often monochromatic winter landscape of Iowa with its fiery red branches. This shrub is not only decorative but also provides cover for wildlife during the harsh winter months;
  • Hydrangeas, with their large, lavish blooms, serve as a focal point in any garden. These blooms can also be dried and preserved, allowing their beauty to be enjoyed long after the growing season has passed.

The role of shrubs extends to soil stabilization with their extensive root systems, and they provide an understory habitat that is essential for certain bird species.

Perennials: The Backbone of Garden Color

A garden’s longevity and sustainability are often anchored by its perennials. These plants, returning each year, create a legacy in the garden, becoming more robust with each passing season.

  • The Coneflower, with its variety of colors, not only adds visual depth to the garden but is also known for its medicinal properties, particularly its immune-boosting benefits;
  • Black-Eyed Susans are almost synonymous with the Iowa countryside, their black and gold blooms dancing in the prairie wind, offering a display that lasts from early summer to fall.

Their long-lasting blooms provide sustenance to pollinators at critical times during their life cycles and their presence ensures that the garden is a hub of activity and life throughout the growing season.

Annuals: Seasonal Color Highlights

While perennials may be the garden’s backbone, annuals are its changing expression, bringing an annual renewal of color and form.

  • Petunias are not just vibrant; they are versatile, suitable for containers, hanging baskets, and ground cover. Their care is straightforward, involving regular watering and occasional fertilization, making them accessible even to the novice gardener;
  • Marigolds offer a dual benefit; their cheerful colors brighten the landscape, and their scent is known to deter pests, making them a natural choice for companion planting.

These annuals can be strategically placed to fill gaps between perennials, ensuring that the garden is a kaleidoscope of color from spring until frost.

Ground Covers: Functional and Aesthetic

Creeping Phlox

Ground covers are the unsung heroes of the garden. They are the final touch that completes the landscape, creating a cohesive look while also providing essential soil protection.

  • Creeping Phlox is a carpet of color in the spring, often used to soften the hard edges of a path or to cascade over a wall, offering a waterfall of blooms;
  • Stonecrop is a hardy succulent, requiring minimal care, and its late summer flowers are a last hurrah of color as the season transitions to fall.

Not only do these plants offer erosion control, but they also suppress weeds, reducing garden maintenance and creating a low-growing tapestry that complements the taller elements of the garden.

Tips for Planting and Maintenance

When integrating the best landscaping plants for Iowa into your outdoor space, consider these tips:

  • Sunlight: Match the plant’s sunlight requirements with the right location;
  • Soil Quality: Iowa’s soil can be rich, but amending it can ensure optimal plant health;
  • Watering Needs: While many natives are drought-tolerant, newly planted landscaping plants will need regular watering until established.
Seasonal ConsiderationsPests and DiseasesPersonal Style and Functionality
Spring bulbs, summer perennials, fall foliage, and winter interest are all crucial for a year-round beautiful garden.Be aware of common Iowa pests and diseases. Choose resistant varieties of the best landscaping plants for Iowa and monitor your garden regularly to manage any issues early on.Your choice of plants should reflect your personal style, whether it’s formal, cottage, or naturalized. Additionally, consider the functionality of the plants, such as creating privacy or reducing noise pollution.


Choosing the best landscaping plants for Iowa is about more than just aesthetics. It’s about creating a healthy, sustainable environment that will thrive through the seasons. Embrace the diversity of Iowa’s native plants, along with carefully selected trees, shrubs, and perennials, to create a landscape that is not only beautiful but also resilient.

Remember that the best gardens evolve over time. Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn as you grow. Iowa’s gardening community is robust and full of resources, from local nurseries to cooperative extensions. Use these resources, and you’ll find that the best landscaping plants for Iowa are those that bring you joy and suit your lifestyle while contributing positively to the local ecosystem.

Whether you’re creating a serene retreat or a vibrant space for entertaining, the right plants will bring your vision to life. Get your hands dirty, let your creativity bloom, and watch as your Iowa landscape transforms into a living work of art that celebrates the beauty of nature, right in your backyard.


Q: What are some low-maintenance landscaping plants for Iowa?

A: Consider native grasses like Little Bluestem or perennials such as Daylilies and Sedum, which require minimal upkeep.

Q: Can I have a colorful garden year-round in Iowa?

A: Absolutely! By choosing plants with different blooming times and considering fall foliage and winter interest, you can create a garden with year-round appeal.

Q: How do I protect my landscaping plants from Iowa’s harsh winters?

A: Select hardy plants and provide winter protection with mulch. Some plants may benefit from burlap wraps or wind barriers.

Q: What are the best shade-loving plants for Iowa landscapes?

A: Hostas, Ferns, and Coral Bells thrive in Iowa’s shaded areas.

Q: How often should I water my landscaping plants in Iowa?

A: Watering needs vary, but generally, a deep watering once a week is sufficient for established plants, unless conditions are exceptionally dry.

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