Thursday, May 05, 2005

Native Plants at Home

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Have you ever heard people talk about the ecological importance of using native plants in home gardens and felt out of the loop—like maybe everybody else got the native plant memo when you were out sick? Or maybe you got the message, but you’re concerned the neighbors might think you’re cultivating weeds? If so, I’ve got a couple of suggestions for you.

First, check out the book published by University of Illinois Extension in 2004 called, Native Plants in the Home Landscape for the Upper Midwest, written by Keith Nowakowski. This book gives you everything you need to know to make good use of native plants without bogging down anywhere. It’s the kind of resource my wife wishes I’d had when I started replacing turf with Prairie Dropseed and Yellow Coneflowers seven years ago.

Of course this book makes the case for using native plants that you may be familiar with from other sources: that they require little or no irrigation once they’re established, that they need neither fertilizers nor pesticides, that they provide visual attractions year round, and that they are beneficial to insects, birds, and other wildlife.

Perhaps more importantly, Native Plants for the Home Landscape offers specific plans for how to incorporate native plants into a variety of settings. Are you ready to try something different where the turfgrass just won’t grow under a shade tree? There’s a woodland garden plan featuring plants that put on a spectacular show in spring and early summer, and that offer something of interest to the eye year round. Have you got a sunny spot that cries out for a prairie garden? Nowakowski emphasizes that you can put in a prairie garden that’s attractive to both wildlife and neighbors by complementing the use of flowers, such as Butterfly Milkweed and Pale Purple Coneflowers, with grasses and sedges.

Nowakoski’s book is also notable for showcasing the variety of native plants that possess the characteristics prized in home landscapes, with specific entries on more than eighty different plants. On top of that, it features some photographs of flowers you might be tempted to cut out and frame.

Now that you know of a resource that helps you plan how to use native plants, you may be wondering where to get them. The book provides specific information for a number of sources in the Midwest, but the best opportunity for buying native plants in the Champaign-Urbana area takes place this Saturday, May 7th, at Lincoln Square Village in Urbana. It’s the annual Native Prairie Plant and Woodland Wildflower Sale conducted by the Grand Prairie Friends, a local group that works to conserve prairies and other natural areas.

At the sale you can purchase some forty species of plants, from easy-to-grow staples like Little Bluestem and Orange Butterfly Weed to less widely know plants like New Jersey Tea and Cream Wild Indigo. The plants available at the sale are grown by volunteers from seed collected locally, or they are donated by individuals who grow native species in their gardens.

Beyond offering you the opportunity to buy interesting plants at reasonable prices, the sale provides a way for you to support native plant conservation and restoration in our area. Proceeds from it are used to fund summer internships for college age students to do hands-on natural areas management, and to buy equipment that the Grand Prairie Friends use to maintain natural areas.

So, if you’ve been thinking maybe you’re ready for some native plants in your yard, now really is the time to grow a little wild.