by Liz Potasek
As we look out on our soggy landscapes, slowly materializing under a layer of snow, it’s pretty much impossible to keep the dreams and schemes for our gardens realistic. This is the time for brainstorming, planning, seed starting and strategizing your plant sale game plan.
With an eye toward creating something beautiful and with a deep appreciation for supporting our environment, we invite you to consider landscaping with native plants. The Arboretum’s Plant Conservation Program, which focuses on preservation and restoration of select native plants and all of the native Minnesota orchids, has supplied native plants to the annual Arboretum Auxiliary Plant Sale since 2016.
We chatted with Kim Drewiske, research technician in the Arboretum’s Plant Conservation Program, about the important role that native plants can play in our garden, as well as which plants the conservation program will offer at this year’s sale.
Why are native plants important?
Over time, native plants have adapted to their local climate and soil conditions and have developed important relationships with the native animals, fungi and soil microbes around them. Because of this, native plants play an essential part in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Protecting native plant diversity benefits humans, because healthy and diverse ecosystems provide many “services” to us, such as forming healthy soil, maintaining pollinator populations and absorbing excess rainwater.
Native plants also have cultural value. Preserving the native plants around us helps to preserve the cultural history of the many groups of people who have lived on this land, and all the ways they used, and still use, the plants around them to survive.
What are some of the benefits of planting native plants in one’s landscape?
Adding native plants to a yard or garden provides food and habitat for local wildlife. Private yards and gardens often make up a sizeable portion of the green space in cities and suburbs, so planting native species is a great way to help out the animals in your neighborhood.
Gardening with native plants can benefit the gardener by reducing the amount of labor and resources required for garden upkeep. Once established, native plants need little water, fertilizer and pesticides to stay healthy, as long as the garden’s soil conditions and sunlight levels are taken into account.
Can you highlight a few native plants that gardeners might want to consider?
Perennial wildflower; Grows to an average of 2 feet tall; Narrow leaves are closely spaced along the stem; Delicate white flowers are arranged in clusters, and bloom between July and September. Prefers sun; average to dry soil.
Attracts a variety of insect pollinators.
Perennial wildflower; Grows to an average of 8 inches tall; Leaves grow in a rosette at the base of the plant; Reddish-pink, nodding flowers arise on a tall stem between April and June. After flowering, the long, silky fruit structures that develop are just as beautiful as the flowers. Prefers full to partial sun; medium-wet, average, or dry soil
Prairie Smoke provides a nectar source for pollinators in the spring and early summer, before many other plants have flowered. After seed set, a stand of Prairie Smoke can create a lovely, light pink, gauzy effect in the landscape.
Perennial grass; Grows to an average of 3 feet tall; Grows in clumps, rather than forming a mat; Blue-green foliage in the summer turns to golden browns and reds in autumn; Fluffy white seed structures develop around September to October. Prefers full to partial sun; average to dry soil.
Little Bluestem offers a wealth of benefits for wildlife. Several skipper species use it as a host plant. Other insects, along with birds, use it as a food source or shelter, especially during the winter.
Perennial wildflower; Grows to an average of 3 feet tall; The tall leafy stem is topped by an elongated cluster of violet-blue flowers, which bloom between July and October. Prefers full sun to partial shade; wet to average soil.
Blue Lobelia is a great pollinator plant, and can grow in the wetter or more poorly-drained areas of a yard or garden.
What is the Plant Conservation Program planning to contribute to the sale this year?
In 2021, we are planning to offer a variety of perennial wildflowers and grasses, including milkweeds, blazing stars, Big and Little Bluestem, and others. Here’s the list of species we plan to contribute:
· Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
· Leadplant (Amorpha canescens)
· Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
· Thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica)
· Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
· Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
· Butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
· Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
· Prairie Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata)
· White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)
· Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
· Rough Avens (Geum laciniatum)
· Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
· Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera)
· Northern Plains Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis)
· Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
· Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)
· Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
· Upland White Goldenrod (Solidago ptarmicoides)
· Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
· Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)