Blooming time: In all prairie types there is a progression of blooms beginning in April and continuing until September. In planning the prairie garden plants should be selected that will provide continuous color throughout the growing season.
Flower color: The prairie garden will be greatly enhanced by selecting species that produce several different flower colors. Some of the more common colors are white, pink, blue, yellow, and lavender. Red and orange are not nearly as common, yet plants with these flower colors will greatly enhance your planting. There are also white-flowered forms of spiderwort and several of the blazing star species that, when placed with the normal colored form, will provide a striking contrast.
Leaf size and shape: The leaves of prairie dock contrast sharply with the highly dissected leaves of compass plant or the yucca like leaves of rattlesnake master. The leaves of Illinois bundle flower are filmy. Consider plants with a variety of leaf shapes and sizes in your planting.
Fragrance: The flowers of some prairie plants are extremely fragrant, like the pasture rose or other roses of the prairies. The seeds of prairie clover and northern dropseed are aromatic, as are the leaves of several of the goldenrods and rosinweed. Bee balm, a mint, has especially aromatic leaves. Plants that have these fragrances and pleasing aromas contribute significantly to the total experience of the planting.
Fall color: The most impressive display of fall colors occurs in the grasses, including big and little bluestem, Indian grass, cord grass, and gama grass. Shrubs such as black choke cherry, smooth and winged sumac, and hazelnut all have outstanding fall color. Plants having these features should be included in your planting.
Stem color: Certain shrubs, particularly hazelnut with its gray stems and red osier dogwood with its red stems, have colors that are not easily seen until the dormant season. Yet, these colors will add significantly to the planting during the winter as the grasses will retain much of their color throughout the winter months.
Fruit color and shape: The fruits of black chokeberry are a deep purple while rose fruits are mostly red. Red osier dogwood has white fruits in clusters while the fruits of Illinois bundle flower are like crinkled potato chips. Consider the fruit when selecting plants and include as much variety as possible.
Attractiveness to insects: One common interest of many homeowners is plants that will attract butterflies and other insects. If this is an interest of yours, include the coneflowers, blazing stars, and goldenrods in your planting.
Flower color variations: Some prairie wildflowers show considerable variation in flower color throughout the state. One very good example of this is butterfly weed which varies from a butter-yellow color to deep orange. Some of the ray flowers of pale purple coneflower are nearly white, and white-flowered forms of spiderwort and blazing stars are available. These flower forms will add considerable variety and contrast to your prairie planting.
Leaf textures: The surfaces of the leaves of some prairie plants are rough, like wild quinine, rosin weed, or prairie dock. Others are delicate, like Illinois bundle flower and the prairie clovers. Others have sharp or toothed margins, like rattlesnake master or slough grass. Adding plants with these features will create greater diversity, but they will also enable visually handicapped people to learn about prairie plants.