ProblemSolver Plants for Shallow, Rocky Soil

Deciduous Shrubs

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Seward' SUMMER WINE
Ninebark

SUMMER WINE is noted for its deeply cut, wine-red foliage and its dense, free-branching, mounded growth habit. It typically grows 4-6’ tall and as wide. Foliage color tends to green up in hot summer climates. Exfoliating bark on mature branches provides winter interest.

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Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low'
Fragrant sumac

This fragrant sumac cultivar is a dense, low-growing, rambling shrub which spreads by root suckers and typically grows only to 1-2' tall but spreads to 8' wide. Medium green leaves turn attractive shades of orange and red in autumn. Leaves and twigs are aromatic when bruised. Small clusters of red berries, which are attractive to wildlife, may persist into winter.

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Staphylea trifolia
Bladdernut

American bladdernut is a fast-growing Missouri native large shrub or small tree that forms dense colonies in the wild and typically grows 10-15' tall. It requires some shade. White, bell-shaped flowers in drooping clusters appear in spring. Flowers give way to inflated, bladder-like, egg-shaped, papery seed capsules which mature in late summer and often persist into early winter. Seed capsules can be used in dried flower arrangements.

Ferns

Polystichum acrostichoides
Christmas fern

Christmas fern is a Missouri native fern which occurs in both dry and moist wooded slopes, banks and ravines. Typically grows in a fountain-like clump to 2' tall and features leathery, lance-shaped, evergreen fronds. Non-flowering.  Needs some shade.

Herbaceous Perennials

Asclepias tuberosa
Butterfly weed

A very tough plant once established. The bright yellow-orange flowers are not only eye-catching, they also attract monarch and other butterflies. Butterfly weed does not transplant well due to its deep taproot and is probably best left undisturbed once established. The species is native to Missouri.
Baptisia australis
Blue false indigo

Another plant native to Missouri, blue false indigo is spectacular in spring bloom. It prefers a deep, rich soil but is deep-rooted and once established can tolerate some dryness. Clumps will grow to 3-4 feet tall and wide.
Callirhoe involucrate
Purple poppy mallow

Purple poppy mallow is a mat-forming, Missouri native perennial which grows well in dryish, rocky soils in prairies, fields and along roadsides. Plants typically form a low foliage mound from 6-9" tall and spread to 3' wide. Flowers in May and June.
Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb'
Threadleaf coreopsis

'Zagreb' grows 1.5' tall and can spread by rhizomes and self-seeding. It thrives in poor, sandy or rocky soils with good drainage and full sun and is tolerant of heat, humidity and drought. It features soft, ferny foliage and bright yellow, daisy-like flowers that appear in a lengthy late spring to late summer bloom period which sometimes extends to the first frost.

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Echinacea pallida
Pale purple coneflower

A relative of the sun-loving purple coneflower, the pale purple coneflower has the distinct advantage over its cousin by being able to produce flowers in the shade. The pinkish purple blossoms are born on stems reaching two to three feet in height. Best flower display is in late June to late July, with sporadic continued bloom into autumn.If flowers heads are allowed to go to seed, they will attract American goldfinches.

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Echinacea purpurea
Purple coneflower

Purple coneflower is a Missouri native, typically growing to 3' tall which features large, daisy-like flowers with slightly drooping, rose purple petals and large, coppery-orange central cones. The best flower display is late June to late July, with sporadic bloom continuing into autumn. Good fresh cut or dried flower. Flower heads that are not removed in winter are often visited by goldfinches who feed on the seeds.

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Epimedium × versicolor 'Sulphureum'
Bishop's hat

'Sulphureum' is a clump-forming perennial that can tolerate dry conditions and is primarily used as a ground cover or edger in shady or woodland areas. It typically grows 8-12" tall and features short-spurred yellow flowers in April. Nice fall color.

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Glandularia canadensis
Verbena

This verbena (sometimes also called clump verbena or rose vervain) typically grows 6-8" tall. It features flat-topped clusters of rose-pink to rose-purple flowers in a long late spring to late summer bloom and deeply lobed, dark green leaves.

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Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra 'Sommersonne' SUMMER SUN
Ox eye

This bright yellow sunflower-like plant will shine in the sun. It prefers even moisture but will tolerate some drought. This cultivar grows only 2-3 feet tall and spreads to about 2 feet. Flowers June to August and attracts butterflies.

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Helleborus orientalis
Hellebore

Hellebore or lenten rose is a clump-forming perennial which typically grows 1-1.5' tall. It features large, cup-shaped, rose-like, usually nodding flowers that appear in late winter (sometimes when snow is still present) and continues into spring, with a long, 8-10 week bloom period. Needs some shade. In the St. Louis area, plants will remain evergreen in moderate winters, but may become scorched and tattered in extremely cold weather, particularly if not insulated by snow cover.

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Hylotelephium 'Herbstfreude' AUTUMN JOY
Stonecrop

Stonecrops, both the sedums and hylotelephiums, are very tolerant of hot, dry locations in full sun. AUTUMN JOY is an older cultivar but it is still a good choice for its rosy pink buds that turn to red on 2 foot mounds of green foliage. Other cultivars now expand the color range.

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Lavandula angustifolia 'Munstead'
English lavender

'Munstead’ was first introduced into commerce in 1916 and is still a good lavender to try. Lavender needs excellent drainage, especially in winter, and does well in full sun. It is a semi-woody perennial that typically grows 12-18” tall and wide. Lavender blue flowers appear in terminal spikes in late spring well into summer.

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Lychnis coronaria
Rose campion

Rose campion has woolly, silver-gray leaves (to 5" long) and vivid rose magenta flowers (to 1" diameter). Blooms profusely on smaller-leafed, gray stems rising 2-3' tall in late spring to early summer.
Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'
Creeping Jenny

This low trailing yellow-foliaged groundcover lights up the area. It is a great vigorous groundcover that will creep under most perennials but spreading can easily be controlled. Best grown with some shade.
Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low'
Catmint

'Walker's Low' is a great plant for dry sun. It tolerates drought and grows 24-30 inches tall. It blooms in spring with almost continuous rebloom into fall under optimum growing conditions and proper shearing of spent flower spikes.

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Oenothera macrocarpa
Missouri evening primrose

Missouri evening primrose is a sprawling Missouri native. It typically grows 6-12" tall and features very large (3-5" across), mildly fragrant, bright yellow flowers which open for only one day (usually open late afternoon and remain open until the following morning). Flowers are generally upward-facing, but sometimes rest on or touch the ground. Long spring to summer bloom period.
Origanum vulgare subsp. gracile
Russian oregano

This common oregano typically grows to 18" tall with a similar spread. The pungently aromatic, flavorful dark green leaves  are commonly used in cooking as a seasoning. Leaves may be clipped fresh as needed or dried for year-round use. Best leaf flavor usually occurs just prior to flowering. Tiny, white to rosy pink flowers appear throughout the summer.
Rudbeckia fulgida
Black-eyed Susan

This coneflower is a Missouri native which occurs in both dry and moist soils in open woods, glades and thickets. An upright clump-forming, free-blooming coneflower, it typically grows to 3' tall. Features daisy-like flowers with yellow petals and brownish-purple centers. Prolific bloom production over a long mid-summer to fall bloom period. Attracts butterflies and is a good cut flower.

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Salvia officinalis
Common sage

This is the culinary sage familiar to most cooks. It also has excellent ornamental qualities. This woody-stemmed, semi-shrubby perennial typically grows 1.5-2.5' tall and features whorls of lavender-blue flowers in late spring. Wrinkled, gray-green leaves (to 4" long) are strongly aromatic and are frequently used fresh or dried in cooking as a seasoning. A mint family member that is attractive to bees and butterflies.
Sedum kamtschaticum var. ellacombeanum
Orange stonecrop

Growing only 6 inches tall, this stonecrop is a compact, spreading perennial that makes a good ground cover for dry sun. Pale lime-green leaves form a loose, open mat of foliage.  Clusters of star-shaped yellow flowers appear in late spring and attract butterflies.

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Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'
Stonecrop

‘Angelina’ is a low-growing, mat-forming stonecrop that grows to only 4” tall but quickly spreads to 24”. It features spiky yellow leaves that often have ginger brown tips. The leaves of this cultivar are the main ornamental interest. In cold winter climates, the leaves usually turn reddish-orange in autumn.

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Silene regia
Royal catchfly

Royal catchfly is a Missouri native wildflower. It is a clump-forming perennial which grows 3-4' tall and features small clusters of scarlet red flowers in summer. Let this plant grow and reseed where it will. It can be hard to grow it as a single stand.
Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears'
Lamb's ears

Noted for its silver-green foliage 'Big Ears' forms an attractive ground cover. Dense rosettes of thick, soft, velvety, silver-green leaves form a mat approximately 8" off the ground. Flowering stems are rare. Leaves are evergreen in warm climates, but will depreciate considerably in harsh winters.

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Symphyotrichum ericoides
Heath aster

Heath aster is a Missouri native plant that typically grows 1' to 3' tall. Small, daisy-like flowers (1/2" across) are borne in profusion in late summer to early fall. Good cut flower. Attractive to butterflies.
Thymus serpyllum 'Pink Chintz'
English thyme

For a very low-growing ground cover try thyme. 'Pink Chintz' has more attractive flowers than the species but giving several thymes a try might be in order. Blooms June - July. Flowers are attractive to bees. Leaves may be used for culinary purposes, however strength and taste will vary according to habitat and season.

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Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'
Adam's needle

Commonly called Spanish bayonet, yucca is an evergreen shrub (though it looks more like a perennial than a shrub).‘Color Guard’ is a gold-centered variegated form that is 2-3’ tall and as wide. The sword-shaped leaves have  green margins and striking creamy gold centers. In late spring, a 5-6 foot tall flowering stalk rises from the center typically bearing bell-shaped, fragrant, creamy white flowers.

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Needled Evergreens

Juniperus chinensis 'Keteleeri'
Chinese juniper

This Chinese juniper cultivar is a dense, evergreen, small tree with a pyramidal habit. Typically grows 15-20' tall. Features light to medium green foliage that is attractive year-round. A female cultivar that produces profuse grayish-green, berry-like cones. Tolerant of a wide variety of soils, many city air pollutants and some drought.

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Juniperus horizontalis 'Mother Lode'
Creeping juniper

A creeping, flat, low-growing evergreen shrub that  features brilliant gold foliage changing to a golden bronze in winter. Grown primarily as a groundcover, the soft, featheryfoliage of this unique cultivar will eventually spread 8-10' but will only rise 4" off the ground. Creeping branches root as they grow along the ground. Adaptable to a wide range of soils, but prefers a dryish, sandy soil. Tolerant of hot, dry conditions.

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Juniperus procumbens 'Nana'
Japanese garden juniper

This juniper is a handsome choice for cascading over the edge of a large boulder or a retaining wall. Its apple green needles offer a nice contrast to the darker green foliage of adjacent plants. It will spread 4-5 feet, with a mature height of less than 18 inches. Adapts to a wide range of soils, but prefers a dryish, sandy soil. Tolerates hot, dry growing conditions, somewhat poor soils and many city air pollutants.

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Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl'
Red cedar

This eastern red cedar cultivar is a versatile, sprawling evergreen groundcover that tolerates hot, dry locations in full sun. It grows up to 3' tall and to 6' wide and features silver gray foliage. It is a female form that produces profuse berry-like cones which are attractive to birds.

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Ornamental Grasses

Schizachyrium scoparium
Little bluestem

Little bluestem is one of the dominant grasses  of the tallgrass prairie. It is a Missouri native grass which typically grows 2-4' tall and forms upright clumps of slender green leaves with a tinge of blue at the base. Purplish-bronze flowers rise above the foliage in August. Resulting clusters of fluffy, silvery-white seed heads are attractive and may persist into winter. Most outstanding feature of this grass may be the bronze-orange fall foliage color.

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Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie dropseed

Prairie dropseed features fine-textured medium green leaves that typically form an arching foliage mound to 15" tall and 18" wide. Foliage turns golden with orange hues in fall, fading to light bronze in winter. Open, branching flower panicles appear on slender stems which rise well above the foliage clump in late summer to 30-36" tall. Flowers have pink and brown tints, but are perhaps most noted for their unique fragrance (hints of coriander).