Care and How-To Articles - Ornamental Plants and Flowers

Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Great gardens are colorful throughout the growing season. Many perennials can be grown in Iowa to provide flowers and interest year after year in late summer and fall. These perennials are great additions to the Iowa garden to get plenty of late-season blooms.

Amsonia with fall color

Usually, we don't think of herbaceous perennials as having fall color. However, there is a select group of perennials that might surprise you with their brilliant foliage colors in fall.

Those perennials listed below have notable yellows, reds, oranges, and purples in their late-season foliage providing at least a couple weeks of good fall color every year. 

Hardy Hibiscus Red

There are several Hibiscus species that grow well in Iowa. Growing hibiscus can be confusing to Iowa gardeners because the three most common species vary greatly in flower, habit, and cold hardiness. But all three are worthy of consideration in the outdoor or indoor landscape.

Rose of Sharon
Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)  Photo by Aaron Steil

picture of the back of stiff sunflower with imbricate involucre (overlapping bracts)

While annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are the species grown for edible seed and oil production, the majority of Helianthus species are perennials.  These native species can be wonderful additions to home landscapes. Learn more about perennial sunflowers below. 

Spike speedwell (Veronica)

The diversity of summer-blooming perennials is amazing and often attracts a diverse group of pollinators to the landscape.  Learn more about the many perennials that bloom in Iowa during the heat of the summer.

Hay Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

When selecting perennials, choosing plants that are suitable for the site is important. Garden sites can vary tremendously. Some areas are hot and dry. Others are wet. Wet sites can be challenging, but they also provide gardening opportunities. The following perennials perform well in moist to wet soils.

Fernleaf yarrow (Achillea filipendulina)

In addition to providing color in the garden, perennials can be used as solutions to problem spots in the home landscape. Many landscapes have hot, dry sites that are difficult for many perennials. Drought-tolerant perennials are the perfect solution for these dry sites. Below is a list of some perennials that, once established in the garden, will tolerate or even thrive in dry conditions.

Fernleaf Yarrow

Fernleaf yarrow (Achillea filipendulina)
Fernleaf yarrow (Achillea filipendulina)

Marigold (Tagetes)

Most annual flowers require consistent moisture throughout the growing season for adequate growth and bloom. However, there are a few annuals that perform well in dry weather. When other annuals suffer from a lack of moisture, these annuals will flower profusely without a significant rise in the water bill.

All of these drought-tolerant annuals will require water initially to establish a good root system. Once established, however, they require little watering. All perform best in full sun with well-drained soils.

Don't let dry weather stop you from having flowers in your garden. These annuals will tolerate the heat and drought better than we will.

Perennials for Wet Soil Conditions

Many plants grown in the home landscape require consistent moisture throughout the growing season without staying too wet. However, there are a few annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees that perform well in wet soil conditions.  This includes low-lying areas, water edges, or soils with poor drainage. Many of these plants will also tolerate periodic flooding.  

Perennials for Dry Conditions

Many plants grown in the home landscape require consistent moisture throughout the growing season.   However, there are a few annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees that perform well in dry weather or dry soil conditions. All of these drought-tolerant plants will require water initially to establish a good root system. Once established, however, they require little watering and will make it through the driest of years with little damage.

Japanese Beetle on Rose

Roses have a number of potential problems that can make them more difficult to grow.  Planting them in a good garden location and selecting a winter-hardy and naturally disease-resistant cultivar is the best way to avoid many problems.

Japanese Beetle on Rose
Japanese beetles are common insect pests on roses.

Learn more about the potential disease, insect, and animal pests, as well as the environmental conditions that can negatively affect roses and how to manage them below.

The first step in the successful culture of roses is correct planting. Roses can be purchased as container-grown or potted plants from the garden center or as bare-root plants from the garden center or mail-order source. 

Roses should be planted in their ideal growing conditions. Roses perform best in well-drained soils in full sun. Sites should receive at least 6 hours of sun. In poorly drained areas, plant roses in raised beds. Learn more about the best growing conditions for roses in this article: Growing Roses in Iowa.

Below is more information on successfully planting and transplanting roses in your garden.

Rose Opening Night

Most modern roses need protection to survive the cold winter months in Iowa.  Hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda, as well as some polyantha, miniature, and climbing roses, are not reliably winter hardy and must be protected. 

Most shrub, landscape, species, and old garden roses, as well as some miniature, polyantha, and climbing roses, are reliably winter hardy and do not require extensive preparation for winter. 

The process for preparing roses for winter is outlined below.

All roses benefit from pruning to improve their appearance and encourage better flowering. Pruning also helps reduce disease issues by increasing airflow and light penetration.  In general, pruning is done in the early spring and starts by removing dead tissue from disease or winter kill.  Then canes can be selectively removed to encourage vigorous growth and open up the plant to promote good air circulation and light penetration to reduce disease issues and improve bloom.  Specific information on how to prune different types of roses is below.

Rosa 'Henry Hudson'

There are several ways roses can be propagated.  The best method depends on the type of rose and what is most comfortable for the gardener.  

The most effective form of propagating roses for home gardens is by cuttings.  Roses can also be propagated by layering, division, and seed.  Each type of propagation has its advantages and disadvantages.

Cuttings  |  Layering  |  Division  |  Seed  |  More Information

Carefree Beauty Rose (Rosa 'Buckbi') are grown by millions of gardeners throughout the world for their beautiful flowers. To reduce the confusion of selecting between thousands of rose varieties, roses are classified into various groups.  In Iowa, the major groups of roses that can be grown include shrub roses, hybrid teas, miniatures, and others.

Each of these types varies in their season of bloom, winter hardiness, and maintenance requirements.  Use the information below about each type of rose to select the best rose for your landscape.

Rosa Knock Out Series Pink Knock Out 'RADcon'

Roses (Rosa sp.) are the quintessential garden plant.  Their beautiful blooms come in many shades of pink, red, yellow, cream, white, and all the colors in between.  Many are wonderfully fragrant and bloom from early summer to frost, forming colorful hips (fruit pods) in the fall.  They make excellent cut flowers.  The blooms make beautiful edible garnishes, can be dried for things like potpourri, and the hips are used to brew aromatic tea. 

It's easy to see why we love roses.  Learn more about the types of roses best suited for your garden and how to grow and care for them to keep them healthy and colorful all season.

A picture illustrating a purple-hued Geranium sanguineum

There are about 300 species of geraniums.  There is even a species of Geranium (Geranium maculatum) that is native to Iowa woodlands. Perennial or hardy geraniums are the “true geraniums” -- unlike the common “annual geraniums” (Pelargonium), which are often grown in outdoor containers.  Perennial geraniums are also called cranesbills because their long, slender fruit resembles the beak or bill of a crane.

Deadheading Iris

Deadheading is the removal of spent flowers.  For many annuals, perennials, and roses, it is an important gardening chore. Deadheading improves the appearance of many plants, encourages the formation of additional blooms, and prevents the development of unwanted fruits or seed pods.

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Coneflower is the common name of several genera of plants in the daisy family (Asteraceae) including Echinacea, Ratibida , and Rudbeckia.  They make excellent garden plants and are native to North America, including several species in Iowa.  In general, they grow in full sun, prefer dry to medium soils, and tolerate drought conditions well.  Coneflowers often freely reseed in the garden.  They are wonderful additions to pollinator gardens and are highly attractive to butterflies.  Learn more about some of the coneflowers you can grow in your garden.

Baptisia flower

Peonies, daylilies, phlox and coneflowers are common perennials in home landscapes.  Though not as widely planted as some perennials, Baptisias, or false indigos, are excellent plants for home gardens. The common name of false indigo refers to the fact that Baptisia australis and Baptisia tinctoria were used by Native Americans and European settlers to make a blue dye similar to that obtained from true indigo, Indigofera tinctoria. Baptisias are easy-to-grow, tough, long-lived perennials. They require little care and have no serious insect or disease pests. 

Impatiens walleriana

Annuals are indispensable additions to the home landscape because of their colorful flowers and long bloom period. Popular annuals for sunny sites include marigolds, petunias, and geraniums. Impatiens are the perfect choice for locations in partial shade.

Impatiens  |  New Guinea Impatiens  |  Rose Balsam  |  Growing from Seed  |  Impatiens Downy Mildew  |  More Information

Double Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)

With the arrival of spring, herbaceous perennials have popped up throughout the landscape!  However, as you tour the garden in early spring you may notice that certain perennials are noticeably absent.  Don’t worry.  Several perennials are tardy every year. These perennials require several weeks of warm soils and air temperatures before they begin to grow in spring.  Sometimes they do not emerge from the soil until June! 

Old-fashioned bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

April showers truly bring May flowers.  May is often the peak bloom time for spring-blooming plants in Iowa.  While crabapple and lilac flowers often garner considerable attention in May, there are several perennials that produce an equally impressive display of spring blooms.

Peony with powdery mildew

Peonies are easy-to-grow, long-lived, and reliable performers in the garden.  But they occasionally have issues.  The most common issues with peonies, such as failure to bloom, powdery mildew, and flopping over, are listed below.

Picture of a cell phone taking a picture of a plant

Your smartphones can be wonderful tools, and several apps on our phones can help with plant identification. These apps are best utilized to aid in identification rather than as a tool to definitively identify the plant. Learn more about how to best utilize these convenient tools for plant identification. 

tulips with deer damage

While easy to grow, tulips do occasionally develop problems.  Early emerging foliage, browsing from deer and rabbits, and bulb rot are a few common ones.  Below are potential problems encountered when growing tulips in the landscape and how to manage them.

species tulips

Most modern tulip cultivars bloom well for only 3 or 4 years. Their vigor declines each year, eventually leading to plants with leaves and no blooms.  For this reason, these tulip types are often treated as annuals.  

However, some tulip types (classes) bloom well over a longer period.  These varieties make better long-term additions to the garden and will bloom each season reliably.  Choose from the following types if you want perennial-type tulips. 

Mix of Tulips

Tulips are favorites of Midwest gardeners, but we often fail to appreciate the diversity of these spring-flowering bulbs.  Tulips vary tremendously in flower and plant size, bloom period, shape, and color. 

Tulips are grouped into 15 divisions based on shape and origin.  Tulips can also be grouped by bloom time.  In Iowa, tulips typically bloom from mid-April through May.  Divisions can be classified as early, mid-season, or late based on when in that time frame they bloom. 

Large planting of diverse tulips

Tulips (Tulipa spp.) are the quintessential spring blooming bulb.  The wide range of colors, sizes, and patterns make them a spring favorite for Iowa gardeners.  Learn more about these fascinating plants including information on planting, caring, transplanting, dividing, and forcing as well as information on how to select the best kind of tulip for your garden, how to deal with problems that may arise, how to use them as cut flowers, and the unique history and cultural impact this bloom from the mountains of central Asia has on gardeners.

pink peony

Peonies are staples in Midwest landscapes. They are easy-to-grow, long-lived, and reliable performers in the garden. However, when they do not bloom well, those of us in extension are often inundated with calls, emails, etc. There are several possible causes for failure to bloom.

red peony flower with yellow center

Peonies are popular garden perennials.  There are several species of peonies that perform well in Iowa and across the Midwest.


The beautiful blooms of tulips, daffodils, and other spring-flowering bulbs bring joy to the gardener in March, April, and May.  Proper care through the remainder of the spring will help to insure excellent flower displays in succeeding years.

Peony pink

The garden peony is a popular, long-lived perennial that provides beautiful flowers in spring and handsome foliage throughout the growing season. If left undisturbed, a peony plant may flower for 50 or more years. Below is information on growing peonies in Iowa, including care, propagation, planting, types, and recommended cultivars.

Hanging baskets are a great way to decorate porches, decks, and other outdoor areas of the home. They make great gifts and are readily available in garden centers every spring.  Whether your hanging basket has just one or many blooming plants, care is required for the best blooms throughout the growing season. Below are some tips for growing and maintaining hanging baskets.

The weather can be erratic as it transitions from autumn to winter and again from winter to spring.  It is common to have below freezing temperatures in late September or early October followed by a stretch of a week or more of warmer temperatures.  When this temperature dip happens, protecting plants can be beneficial, allowing to continue harvest and enjoy them in your garden longer. 

It is also common to have a period of warmer temperatures in late March or early April that can bring plants out of dormancy followed by below freezing temperatures that can potentially damage the new growth or emerging flowers.  

bearded iris

Recommendations for when to divide irises depend on the species. Follow these tips to maintain a colorful, attractive iris planting.

Bearded Iris  |  Siberian Iris  |  More Information

Bearded Iris

Bearded irises are one of the most popular and widely grown perennials in the home landscape. While bearded irises are beautiful, they do require moderate levels of maintenance. One important chore is to divide bearded irises. If not divided, the plants become overcrowded and flower production decreases. Crowded plants are also more prone to foliar diseases. 

perennial divided into several pieces

One of the easiest ways to propagate a prized perennial is to divide the plant into two or more smaller plants. Below are tips and recommendations for dividing perennials in your garden including information on why, how, when, and how frequently to divide.  Included are guidelines for specific perennial species common in Iowa gardens.

bare root tree in planting hole

Trees, shrubs, roses, and perennials are available bare root.  That is, they come to you from the garden center or mail-order retailer with no soil around their roots. Extra care is required to make bare root plants survive and thrive.

Spring Garden with Redbud in bloom

As winter fades and spring arrives, several things can be done to prepare the garden for the upcoming growing season.

Below are tips for the perennial garden, vegetable garden, annual containers, trees & shrubs, and lawns.

Composted Manure in Wheelbarrow Photo by gabort.

Manure is the oldest fertilizer known to civilization and can be a cost-effective soil amendment with many beneficial qualities. Many gardeners feel manure is superior to synthetic products. Careful and appropriate use of manure, especially in vegetable gardens, is important. 

Petunias have been one of the most popular flowering annuals for years. Their popularity can be attributed to several desirable traits. Petunias are easy to grow, bloom reliably all summer, and are available in a wide range of colors, flower forms, and growth habits. 

Most gardeners buy petunias at their local garden center or greenhouse in spring. However, petunias can also be started indoors in late winter. 


Sow petunia seeds indoors about 10 weeks before the intended outdoor planting date. (Petunias should be planted outdoors after the danger of frost is past.) Late February or early March is an appropriate sowing date in Iowa. 

Impatiens are excellent plants for shady areas in the home landscape. Impatiens are ideal for flower beds, planters, and hanging baskets. Their versatility and adaptability to shade have made impatiens one of the most popular annual bedding plants in the United States. Impatiens are relatively easy to grow from seeds.


Impatiens are slow growing. Home gardeners should sow seeds in early to mid-February to produce stocky transplants by spring. 

Used plant containers

Reusing plastic, clay, and other containers is a great way to save money and reduce the amount of plastic waste that goes into landfill.  Plastic containers cannot be recycled in traditional single-stream home recycling programs and, unfortunately, programs to collect and recycle plastic pots are not common.

Proper cleaning and disinfecting of pots requires just a minimum amount of effort, yet can mean the difference between the success or failure of containerized plants, plus it allows you to reuse containers and reduce plastic waste. Follow the steps below to clean and disinfect used containers.

Blueberries Photo by Andris Tkachenko AdobeStock

Iowa soils are very diverse and so are the chemical characteristics that make up these soils.  Soil pH is one property that can vary widely across the state both naturally and due to how we manage the field or garden.  It is also one of the most cost effective and easy to manage soil properties that can be modified to improve plant health and crop production.

Learn about how to decrease and increase your soil pH below.

Shrub Rose Carefree Beauty

Roses have been cultivated in gardens for centuries.  Gardeners have a long history of loving and growing this thorny perennial. Its sentimental appeal as a cut flower and in the garden has never wavered.

Roses in the Fossil Record

Our love of roses is rooted in several thousand years of admiration, cultivation, and hybridization. Fossil records show roses existed 30 million years ago in Europe, Asia, and North America. While these predecessors to today's Valentine's roses were less showy and floriferous, they were equally appreciated in many cultures through their long history.


Geraniums have been a popular bedding plant for many years.  Most gardeners purchase plants from garden centers and greenhouses.  However, geraniums can also be grown from seeds.  Se

red anthurium flower with yellow spadex (rod in middle)

Aroids or arums are members of the Araceae family.  The Araceae family is large, with more than 100 genera and 3700 species of mostly sub-tropical monocots.  Many species are popular as houseplants, and a few are distinctive landscape plants. 

cut flowers

Cut flowers are a welcome gift in any home, whether you receive a bouquet for Valentine's Day, a Birthday, Mother's Day, or you just decided to treat yourself to something beautiful.

When buying them from a florist, there are several things you can do to prolong the life of cut flowers. 

Cut flower garden

Spring, summer, and fall are a great time to bring the garden indoors with cut flowers.  No prior experience is necessary to harvest flowers for bouquets.   
If you cut flowers from your own garden, there are several things that can be done to condition those flowers to ensure they stay fresh, colorful, and vibrant for as long as possible.