Environmental Stewardship: Growing Native

by John Berge
Thanks to those who pulled alien, invasive, plant species at the recent Garlic Pickin’ Party in Colonial Woods. We pulled 94 big, black bags of garlic mustard and other invasive plants that morning and had a grand time doing it. 
There is a flip side to removing invasive alien plants and that is planting native species in our yards, parks and church yards. Mark Jannot, in the Spring 2017 Audubon magazine, cited fantastic numbers that help to explain the importance of using native plants. “A native oak tree supports at least 557 different varieties of butterflies and moths. A non-native ginkgo? Five. For all the benefit that ginkgo provides birds, you might as well just decorate your yard with plastic flamingos.” (I am not positive, but I believe those numbers include all insects, not just moths and butterflies.)
But now that you have decided to “go native” in your plantings, where do you find out what plants will do well in your area? Audubon has launched a “Plants for Birds” tool at audubon.org/nativeplants. By entering your zip code, and picking what type of plant you are looking for (annuals, grasses, shrubs, trees, etc.), you will bring up some beautiful pictures of plants appropriate to our area and an indication of what birds will enjoy them. Unfortunately, they don’t list the lighting, soil type, moisture or any other requirements. Those you will have to find elsewhere by searching for the plant in any one of many plant lists on line or in books.
Audubon lists only Milaeger’s as a source of native plants in our area, but there are more if you do your own search. The Root River Area Chapter of The Wild Ones has an annual sale of native plants (the date isn’t on their web site yet) and their web site  lists 39 specialized sources for native plants in Wisconsin. Most experts will tell you not to jump in feet first without plenty of planning and talking to those with experience. One of everything is definitely not the way to go. Clumps of compatible plants in areas that can take the probable expansion and lots of patience are the way to go. Why not check out a Wild Ones meeting? 
Some people prefer to have their entire lawn area switched to native plants. Others enjoy both natives and hybrids or selected cultivars. Ordinances against “lawns” taller than nine inches are on the books, but seldom enforced unless a neighbor complains. So, in your planning include your neighbors in the discussion and try not to give them any reason to complain.
At the time I am writing this, almost my entire front yard is filled with the little, pink spring beauties and no one has complained. We have enjoyed the compliments. Of course, they are much smaller than nine inches, but their seeds can wander into the neighbors’ lawns and I don’t mow the lawn until after the flowers have gone to seed … it is a little shaggy, but I can’t grow grass very well, anyway.
Some years ago I wrote of the little girls looking in vain for butterflies in the neighborhood. I pointed out to them all the “insecticides applied” signs and then took them to our backyard. I was enjoying the moths, butterflies, bees and birds in my yard just this afternoon as I dug out weeds by hand. A native garden needs no, or minimal, insecticides or herbicides.
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