Plant this: ironweed

Douglas Hunt
by Douglas Hunt
Whether you garden in the mountains or on the prairie, in sand or in clay, there is probably an ironweed (Vernonia species) that belongs in your garden.
Blooming from mid-summer to fall, depending on species, these easy-care natives are beloved of pollinators and their clouds of vivid purple flowers bring a fresh touch to the garden at a time when it can start to look tired. Many of them soar to great heights (8 feet or so), so they make great back-of-the-border plants, but this can be kept in check with a couple of early season prunings. Some tend to self-sow a good amount, so if you’re concerned about that it may be advisable to deadhead them before they set seed.
Seventeen species of ironweed are native to the U.S. I grow two in my Florida garden, Vernonia gigantea, which has a huge range that covers much of the eastern half of the country (and into Ontario, Canada) and Vernonia angustifolia, which has narrower leaves and is native to the southeast. For those of you in more northern climes, New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) would be a good option, and prairie ironweed, Vernonia fasciculata, is found as far west as Montana.
If ironweed isn’t a part of your garden, it should be.
Vernonia gigantea, giant ironweed (zones 5 to 9), started blooming about a week ago in my Florida garden.
Vernonia fasciculata, prairie ironweed (zones 4 to 8). (Photo by Sally and Andy Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)
Vernonia angustifolia, tall ironweed (zones 5 to 9), just coming into bloom in my front garden.
Vernonia noveboracensis, New York ironweed (zones 5 to 9). (Photo by Alfred F.W. Vick, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
Join the conversation
4 of 10 comments
  • Liliana Wells Liliana Wells on Aug 26, 2014
    You are bad a influence on me, Douglas. You always give me new ideas of what to plant. I am relatively new to gardening, so I am always looking for new and lovely plants. Thanks for the show.

    • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Aug 26, 2014
      @Liliana Wells In this case, Liliana, I am happy to be an enabler. Go out and get some ironweed!

  • Lee Cunningham Green Lee Cunningham Green on Sep 21, 2014
    @Douglas Hunt I am very pleased with these suggestions thank you again, They are very good examples of the purples I am searching for

    • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Sep 22, 2014
      @Lee Cunningham Green Good, I'm glad. In addition to being pretty, they are also great plants for pollinators.