By Jay Betts

Your garden has something in common with George Washington’s army: The Pennsylvania winter can make or break it. And while the conditions in your yard are probably not as dire as Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778, the flowers you use at home will need to be able to tolerate the cold and come back in the spring. That’s why wildflowers—native wildflowers in particular—are a great choice. This guide will help bring native wildflowers in your landscaping.

Know Your Native Plants

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources encourages us to choose plants that grow naturally in the Northeastern U.S. Plants and flowers native to Pennsylvania are adapted to the local climate and attract bees and other pollinators crucial to our food supply. Wildflowers also help maintain the natural biodiversity of your neighborhood in an eye-catching way.

Know Your Favorites

The DCNR has a database of wildflowers, but we’ve listed some of the favorites to get you started.

  • Beebalm (Monarda) - This wildflower is native to a wide swath of the United States, and comes in pale to deep pink or purple, depending on the variety. There is also a striking red variety, scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma), which will add a punch of color to your yard. 
  • Beardtongue (Penstemon) - The beardtongue is lovely in lavender, popular in pink and winsome in white. These can grow tall—up to 4 feet—and love full or partial sun.
  • Summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) - Use these as a ground cover, or grow them to medium height, depending on the variety you choose. This easy grower comes in a rainbow of colors, so whether you want a violet-blue or a flashy white with deep pink centers, the phlox is a good choice.
  • Wild onions/allium (Allium) - This native plant is a twofer. Not only is it ornamental with white or pale lavender blossoms, it’s also edible. You’ll know if it’s wild onion by its distinctive odor. You may already have some growing in your yard. It resembles super long patches of “grass” in your lawn. Break off a leaf and sniff it. If it smells like onion, you can transplant it to your flower beds and wait for the globes of flowers to appear.
  • Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) - Columbines are enthusiastic growers. Not only are they perennial, they are also self-seeders, so you can expect the patch of eastern red columbine you plant will expand in the years ahead. Give it plenty of room to grow! If you prefer to keep it contained, this is an excellent wildflower to use in a potted garden. The native eastern red columbine loves shade or partial shade, so it's perfect if you have lots of trees in your yard.

Know Your Climate

Even though a Philadelphia winter can be frigid, it’s not quite as cold as it was in Washington’s time. In 2012, the USDA re-drew the hardiness zones that divide the temperature and climate variables important to gardeners. You’ll want to ask what your neighborhood’s hardiness zone is at your local nursery, or you can search the USDA website. It is significant enough of a change that plants that do well on the north side of Philly may struggle on the south end.

Finally, if you coordinate the wildflowers in your landscaping to bloom at different times, not only will you get a low-maintenance, eco-friendly yard, you’ll get a show of color all season long. You can’t go wrong with wildflowers!


Jay Betts is a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, a research analyst for
LawnStarter, a creative entrepreneur and an avid gardener. He enjoys hiking in nature and following a minimalistic lifestyle.