Native Plants in the Landscape

by Cindy Gilberg

Gardening with native plants is becoming the norm rather than the exception around the country as well as right here in Missouri. The benefits of native landscaping is fueling a gardening movement that says no to pesticides, fertilizers and excessive water use and yes to biodiversity and more sustainable landscapes. Native plants can be used in every design style, from formal gardens to conventional or naturalistic landscapes.

Missouri’s natural plant communities offer a rich palette of plants that are hardy, reliable and resilient. Many of these are great candidates for our gardens and logical choices for problem-solving in the landscape. There are many reasons for delving into using native plants as a viable alternative or complement to the conventional landscape plant palette.

Our regionally native plants evolved here and are well-adapted to our varied and sometimes difficult climate and soil types. There is a list of attractive native plants that can thrive for every situation you run into in the landscape. Knowing your landscape’s specific conditions such sunlight, soil type and soil moisture goes a long in properly selecting plants you’re your list. Do you have a boggy, wet area or want a rain garden? No problem! Try some of the native wetland plant species. Perhaps there is a dry site or you want to create a rock garden. Missouri’s glade plants flourish in those conditions. When referring to a field guide such as “Missouri Wildflowers” by Edgar Denison or “Ozark Wildflowers” by Don Kurz, always pay attention to the habitat description where the plants naturally occur. This will give you an idea as to where in your landscape these plants will work.
When properly sited (“right plant, right place”), the need for irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide use is greatly reduced and can be eliminated altogether. This provides a landscape that promotes a healthier environment and can be a low maintenance landscape as well. Once established, native plant gardens offer the additional benefits of being both time and money saving solutions.

Integrating native plants into your landscape increases biodiversity and helps replace natural habitat that has been lost to development. Landscapes that include more native plants are beneficial to wildlife. Include a diversity of native flowering perennials and grasses, shrubs and trees to provide year-round food, shelter and nesting sites for wildlife. You may choose species that attract birds, however you will soon discover that many others, such as butterflies and pollinators, come to visit.
Whether you want to plant all native plants, add natives to your existing gardens or just learn what to plant after the invasive honeysuckle is removed, a great place to start is the Native Plant School at Shaw Nature Reserve (a division of Missouri Botanical Garden). Now in its 5th year, classes are informal with part of each class taught in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden. The class schedule, registration as well as the Native Landscaping and a comprehensive plant database are available online at www.shawnature.org. Another source of information is the local chapter of Wild Ones, a great group that promotes the use of and educates on native plants (www.wildones.org).
For information on where to buy native plants, sample designs and pictures of native plants try www.grownative.org. You can contact Cindy Gilberg at 314-630-1004 or by email at cindy.gilberg@gmail.com.

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