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Making a Difference One Native Plant at a Time

Making a Difference One Native Plant at a Time

By Melinda Myers for Milorganite
Photographs courtesy of Melinda Myers, LLC

Whether you live on a small city lot, a large expanse of land or something in between, you can find opportunities to add pollinator-friendly native plants. You may be surprised to find you already have a few like purple coneflower, bee balm and New England aster growing in your gardens. Now is the time to look for a few more spaces to add these valuable plants to your landscape.

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Native plants have evolved with our native insects, birds and wildlife, making them the most effective at attracting and supporting the pollinators we depend upon. These important members of our community are not only responsible for pollinating one third of the plants we eat, but also those used for fibers, edible oils, medicines, and many other products.

These natural beauties also improve our environment by keeping water where it falls. The stems slow and capture water moving across the landscape, helping to direct it into the pathways created by their deep roots. As water moves through the soil past the plant roots, many of the impurities are removed before it reaches the groundwater below.

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As always, match the plant to the available space, growing conditions, and your garden design. With proper selection and soil preparation you will spend less time maintaining these plants. Just incorporate compost or other organic matter and Milorganite into the soil before planting. Milorganite is a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer providing small amounts of nutrients over a long period of time. It contains 85% organic matter that also helps improve the soil.

Many native plants are drought tolerant, requiring less water once they develop a robust, drought-tolerant root system. Others tolerate fluctuating soil moisture, making them suitable for areas subject to wet and dry periods as well as for rain gardens. 

These plants have fewer pests helping to reduce time and money spent maintaining a healthy garden. Reducing the need for pesticides is good for pollinators, the environment, and us. Plus many native plants are resistant to deer and rabbits.

You don’t need to convert your whole landscape into a prairie to a make positive impact. Every native plant and garden added helps increase the habitat for birds and pollinators.

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As with any garden project it is often wise to start small. Try adding a few native plants to existing gardens. Replace a failing plant or fill a void with a native plant suited to the location. Select the best plant for the growing conditions, one that won’t quickly outgrow the space, provides seasonal color, and winter interest.

Check the catalog descriptions, plant tags and other reliable sources for details on plant size, spread, and preferred growing conditions. Some plants grow in clumps and spread slowly while others produce underground rhizomes that spread in multiple directions. These need lots of space to grow or more regular division to keep them contained. Others may reseed readily, producing lots of offspring for starting new gardens or require thinning to prevent them from overtaking neighboring plants.

Once you gain experience with growing these plants you will be looking for more opportunities to include them in the landscape. The next step may be creating a garden filled with only native plants.

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Take some inspiration from nature when looking for attractive combinations and plants that grow well together. Consider the color, texture, mature size and bloom time when designing the garden. Include plants with different bloom times to ensure you have flowers throughout the growing season for you, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators to enjoy. And don’t forget the birds. Seed heads of many native plants provide food for songbirds and winter interest in the landscape.

If you decide to go all out and create a prairie in your front or back yard, take the time to manage weeds and prepare the soil before you start planting. Check with your local municipality or homeowners association to make sure this type of planting is allowed. Increase acceptance for this nontraditional landscape by including signs of intent. A strip of mowed grass around the prairie, a fence or birdhouse lets people know this is a planned addition to the landscape. As your gardens grow and mature you just might find neighbors starting to do the same.

The beauty and benefits of native plants are great for you, songbirds and our important pollinators. The more people add native plants to their landscapes, the better for us all.

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