Image: Liatris spicata "Kobold" aka Liatris, Blazing Star, Gayfeather. Liatris is a native Illinois plant.
Do you dream of turning a portion of your yard into a lush visa of native plants?
Do you want to see the Grand Prairie grasses swaying with the breeze?
Do you want to return a portion of your cultivated fields to a wildlife habitat?
Do you want to cut down on the maintenance and carbon footprint your current practices produce?
This doesn't happen by simply parking the lawn mower and throwing out some seeds.
Native plants are adapted to local conditions and are easier to grow and maintain. This low maintenance approach means savings in both time and money. Once established, native plants better withstand variations in local climate. Native wildflowers are mainly perennials or self-sowing biennials.
Native plants are better for the environment than exotic (non-native or introduced) plants, generally requiring less fertilizer and other additives, less water and less effort in pest control.
Native plant gardens benefit the environment in other ways:
They stabilize soil and reduce erosion; they more effectively filter storm water, thus improving water quality; and they promote biodiversity, offering the food, nectar, cover, and nesting areas that local birds, butterflies and other mammals need.
First, decide your objectives:
1. Do you want grasses, flowers, or both.
a. Planting a diversified selection means more pollinating insects.
2. Are there trees and bushes and do you want to keep them and/or plant native species?
a. You can't do a burn off near evergreens, bushes and structures.
b. If you can't burn, most will have to have a late fall/early spring cutting.
3. Do you want wildlife?
a. Inviting wildlife means all kinds of wildlife - you can't pick and choose only the cute ones.
4. Will there be a water source (stream, lake or pond)?
a. Natural water sources invite more wildlife and make it easier to establish plants.
5. Will the area be exposed to herbicide and pesticide drift and spray?
a. Some nature flora and wildlife are very sensitive to herbicides and pesticides.
6. Can you resist the urge to mow, trim, spray, make orderly and control?
a. Some people view many native plants as weeds.
b. It's alright to mow paths but complete mowing negates the advantages and will ruin the native plants.
7. Do you want a small patch or acres?
a. Planting acres requires farm machinery to till, plant and maintain.
Making a native plant and wildlife garden garden requires some careful planning, but the rewards are great. Get reputable instruction on preparation, care and plant selection. There are rules and laws to be considered. Doing it right makes the end result work right for you and your objectives.
Illinois Native Plant Society website: www.ill.inps.org
USDA Illinois Natural Conservation Services website: www.il.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/plants/npg/
Visit a prairie grass or wildflower garden or an established natural setting for ideas.