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Knowledge to Grow by Karen Weiland - Native Plants

Plants that have lived naturally in our area for hundreds of years are adapted to our climate and landscape. These plants are called natives and have existed for such a long time because of a complex set of checks and balances in our ecosystem.

Some of the plants we see in our landscapes are brought in from other areas where there are natural controls to keep them inbounds. When they are transplanted in our area, with no natural controls, they have the tendency to romp through our woodlands, shading and thus choking out our native plants. By planting natives in our gardens and landscapes we can help to protect and restore the habitats that are lost to human development.

Gardening with native plants is easier because they are not finicky about growing here. They do not need excessive watering or fertilization and they add to the resources that support our wildlife, such as no milkweed = no monarch butterflies. Using natives to plant a rain garden enables rainwater to percolate safely into the soil rather than running into rivers and streams and taking with it whatever pollutants it comes across on its way.

There are lists on the internet of well behaved, reliable native plants that can be used to attract wildlife, restore the balance of nature and decorate the landscape and garden. The Indiana Native Plants and Wildflowers Society – www.inpaws.org  – is a website I like to refer to which has tons of information. This website also lists what NOT to plant (invasives). The interpretive naturalists at Pokagon State Park are also a great resource for information. Their e-mail address is pokagoninterp@dnr.in. gov and phone number is 260-833-2012.

A few of the sun-loving native flowers are Yellow Coneflower(Ratibida pinnata), Black-eyed Susan(Rudbeckia hirta), Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) and Obedient Plant(Physostegia virginiana). Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), Black Chokeberry (Photinia melanocarpa) and Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) are a few native bushes that can be used for bird habitats. They offer dense cover for shelter and berries to feed our feathered friends.

If you are in need of some fall color in your garden, plant some Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) or Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum). To bring some winter interest to the landscape, Sideoats gramma(Bouteloua curtipendula), Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) are a few natives that can be used.

By the way I just saw some monarch butterflies flitting about the milkweed in my garden last week…love it! Go ahead and tuck some natives into your landscape and garden and make a bug happy.

As always, Happy Gardening!

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.