Spring has Sprung

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s hard to say whether I like Spring, Summer, or Autumn more, but Spring is certainly the most relieving season after exiting another Winter. It’s also an exciting time for native gardening. There isn’t much happening just yet. I’ve seen signs of life from my Wild Columbine, Gaillardia, Spiderwort, Wild Bergamot, and even Grey-headed Coneflowers, but when you look at the garden from a distance, there’s not much to see.

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As Spring progresses, there is going to be dramatic changes. I don’t have many native plants that will bloom before June, but even so, the garden will begin to look much different as the plants grow and fill in. Along with the excitement of seeing last year’s plants bloom again, I’m also looking forward to many new blooms. This may be the year my Purple Coneflowers, Wild Bergamot, Grey-headed Coneflowers, Lanceleaf Tickseed, and a few others bloom for the first time. The garden should look much different from last year. Along with new blooms, my newest native garden sections will have first-year growth, including Brown-eyed Susans, Smooth Oxeye, and New England Aster.

Beyond my main native garden, I’m also working to replace more non-natives around my pond garden with native plants, particularly Orange Milkweed and Purple Prairie Clover. Not all non-natives will be removed this year, but it’s one step closer to my goal of only growing species that are native to North America, with most species being native specifically to my area.

That is why I love Spring. There are a lot of things to plan and a lot of things to look forward to. I have visions of Monarch Butterflies, Sweat Bees, Bumble Bees, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Swallowtail Butterflies, Tree Swallows, Leopard Frogs, American Toads, and all sorts of other insects and animals that will come to my yard to take advantage of the habitat I created for them. Even my small habitat makes a world of difference for the species that rely on it.

This Spring, add a native garden to your property. Every native plant helps.

Native “Gardening”

Family members have occasionally mentioned that I must’ve gotten my love for gardening from this relative or that relative. I’m usually quick to respond that I don’t love gardening at all. They’re missing the point. I don’t like gardening, I like creating habitat. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what I put my time and effort into.

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I’m just not that into gardening. It generally doesn’t coincide with the things I like doing. When I plant a new plant, it’s not the act of planting it that I enjoy. What I enjoy is getting it in the ground as quick as possible so insects and animals can soon benefit from it. I don’t spend much time working in my “garden”. I don’t waste money on annuals that have to be replaced year after year, and other than removing invasive species, I don’t really do anything to maintain it. For the most part, it lives and breathes all on its own. I don’t even consider what I do to be a hobby. I don’t do enough for it to be called a hobby.

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The only hobby I enjoy in relation to my garden is photography. My camera is a tool that helps me show others how important native plants are as well as how great they look, and how easy they are to maintain. I hope that someone, somewhere, will look at my photos and decide to plant a native garden of their own.

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I dream of a future where “gardening” is a term that means “to restore habitat in one’s yard”. When that day comes, I’ll like gardening.

Non-native Butterfly Gardens?

I hear the term “butterfly garden” used quite often. As you know, it’s meant to describe a garden with a butterfly-friendly theme. It’s intended to attract butterflies. Unfortunately, I often see that many of the plants used are not native. In some cases, none of them were. To me, that’s confusing. You aren’t going to see nearly as many native butterflies if you don’t use native plants. They go hand in hand. Sure, you’ll see some butterflies here and there, but just because they might fly over to it, doesn’t mean it’s beneficial to them. People see the butterflies, so they believe they’ve created a butterfly garden, but the butterflies might have flown over simply because of the color of a flower, whether or not it was a real food source.

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Silver-spotted Skipper on non-native Cornflower. Silver-Spotted Skippers are often attracted to the color blue. A native blue plant would be an ideal choice over this Cornflower.

There are certain native plants that are better attractors for certain species of butterflies, and that is something that can be researched, but native nectar plants are always the ideal way to go, no matter what. I recently saw a video of a school planting a Monarch Waystation. Sure enough, some of the nectar plants were not native to that area. That seems ironic to me. Sure, the nectar plants will help the Monarchs, but it’s much deeper than that. The Monarch Butterfly is a native insect that needs help, but it’s only one of many insect and animal species that are in decline. Even though it’s the insect people mostly talk about, it’s far from the only one in trouble. When you plant a variety of native plants, you also help many other declining species. You give them host plants to lay eggs on. You give them familiar nectar sources. That’s the habitat that these insects originated from. It’s the habitat best suited for them. I greatly believe that butterfly gardens need to be exclusively native to truly be a successful butterfly garden.

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Monarch Butterfly on native Orange Milkweed. Milkweed is both a nectar source and a host plant for Monarchs. Milkweed is required for certified Monarch Waystations

Certain plants grow in certain areas for specific reasons. Those same reasons are why certain insects live in those areas, and certain amphibians and reptiles live in those areas, and certain mammals and birds live in those areas. Everything in nature evolved together. A plant from Europe may feed native insects in North America, but it can’t replace the habitat native plants create. A plant from North America may feed native insects in Europe, but again, it’s not a reliable substitute for the habitat that the native insects of Europe rely on.

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Red Admiral on native Liatris. Red Admirals use nectar as a food source only when their main food sources, such as tree sap, can’t be found.

When you plant a butterfly garden, please only use native plants. The same goes for wildlife gardens and pollinator gardens, too. When you start a garden for nature, make sure you provide the same things that nature does. Plants that are native to your country are good, and plants that are native to your exact area are perfect!

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Monarch Caterpillar eating a milkweed seedpod. (As far as this butterfly specie is concerned, there is no substitute for milkweed. Milkweed is necessary for it to survive.) Surrounded the milkweed is Gaillardia, which is a fantastic nectar source for many insects.

New Year’s Resolutions (for Gardening)

Having New Year’s resolutions is a tradition. The start of the new year is a good time to stop and think about what we want to do better in our lives. There are many typical resolutions which people often give up on, such as eating healthier or exercising more, but what about in the garden?

We can make New Year’s resolutions for our own garden and become better for it. Many of you know how I feel about using only native plants, and that would be a great choice for a resolution, but you can always start smaller.

A great New Year’s resolution is to start adding native plants in your current garden. If you aren’t ready to completely switch over to a native garden, adding just one or two native plants may change your mind in the long run. Start with some of the more commonly grown native plant species in your area. In the US, Orange Milkweed is a phenomenal way to make your entrance into native gardening. It can be found at many garden centers, and seed packets are even easier to find. It’s a plant that will look good in most gardening styles, as long as it has sun.

Now that I think about it, I gave both my mom and my grandma one this past Spring. They, as many people are, were unsure of it because of the name “milkweed”. I told them to just wait and see, and if they didn’t like it, I’d remove it for them. By late summer, the plants started to bloom and both my mom and my grandma instantly realized how much they love it. Since then, one of my Grandma’s friends and my aunt both want some for their own gardens after seeing it in hers.

It doesn’t surprise me. It’s a beautiful plant, as are many native species, but people have such a hard time changing their mind until they see it in person, and often times people refuse to see something in person if they’ve already made their own opinion about it. Had I not planted those milkweeds with the promise to remove them if they didn’t like them, my mom and my grandma would’ve never even considered adding something called “milkweed” to their gardens. Now they both have a plant that they each consider to be their favorite.

Orange Milkweed is only the tip of the iceberg. If you give native plants a chance, you may open up what seems to be a whole new world of gardening. You may see gardening in a completely new way. There’s a deeper meaning to native gardening that you can’t quite understand until you start it, and until you learn about it.

With a new year right around the corner, think about making a difference in your garden. I’m personally asking you to make your New Year’s resolution be about native gardening. The best possible time to start is now. In 2016, I hope to make many more posts about native gardening. I want to share my experiences. I want to share what I’ve learned. I want to share the interesting creatures that rely on them, and I want to share photos I take of my own native plants to show that native plants are truly beautiful.

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Happy New Year, everyone.



Diversity is Bad for Monarchs?

Today, I was told that the diversity of my garden was bad for Monarch caterpillars. By planting more than just milkweed, I was attracting predators of the Monarch Caterpillar.

This person wasn’t wrong. Predators of Monarch Caterpillars are more likely to come if you have more plant species that attract them, but what happens if we only focus on saving Monarch Butterflies? What if we only plant milkweed and nothing but milkweed?

Imagine there’s a group of people lost in a forest. One of them shoots a flare in hopes that the search team will see it. When the search team sees the flare and finds the group, do they help just the person that shot the flare, or the entire group? In this case, the Monarch Butterfly is the one who shot the flare. It made us realize that there was something wrong. It made us want to save it. However, it actually told us that it was one of many species in need of help. It symbolizes a much bigger problem.

While planting milkweed will help the Monarch Butterfly population, it’s important that we don’t focus solely on Monarch Caterpillars, or many other species will slip away. We need to help all species. We need to restore the habitat, not just one or two species. Yes, there are predators of Monarch Caterpillars, that’s what nature is. In a prairie, caterpillars die. It can be cruel, but we shouldn’t try to create our own version of nature, where only the things we like survive. The reason Monarchs are declining isn’t because of predators, it’s because we’ve done unnatural things, specifically, destroying its habitat.

By planting a diverse native garden, you’re helping to re-create the habitat that many animals and insects need. That’s the key to fixing the bigger issue.





Change the World

Last night, I watched “Racing Extinction” on Discovery Channel. It got me thinking and inspired me to write this. It told me a lot of what I already knew, but a lot of what most people ignore. It talked about the countless sharks that have their fins cut off while they’re still alive. The sharks sink to the bottom of the ocean, and suffer until they die. It talked about the Manta Ray hunting that is nearly wiping them out. It talked about some species that are down to the last one or two animals – there is no future, when it dies, it’s gone. It talked about a specie of dolphin that was disappearing. The population was getting lower and lower. The man talking said he thought someone would do something. They see the numbers going down and someone somewhere will step in to save them. No one did. That dolphin doesn’t exist anymore. At the end of the show, it sends a powerful message. It says “Start with one thing.” “Find your thing.”

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I already know what my “thing” is. I started it two years ago. I wanted to make a difference. I knew this was something that would make a real impact, even if only a little. I also knew if I could show others how easy it is, maybe they would do it, too. I’m talking about native gardening. Native gardening is gardening with plant species that are native to your area. You might think that there aren’t many beautiful plants native to your area, but you’d be wrong. There are brightly colored and interesting plants everywhere! I believe many people subconsciously see gardens as a museum of plants. That’s not an inaccurate way to describe a garden by any means, but that definition sets limits to what we expect from it. A garden can be so much more than a display of plants. A garden is a gift. It’s a piece of our property that we can use to change the world, literally. Our garden can make a difference. In a time where habitat loss is at an all-time high, it’s amazing to think that we have the power to create habitat just by gardening, and we don’t have to sacrifice beauty to make it happen!

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When I started my native garden, I decided to make it a prairie-style garden. I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I knew how to figure it all out. I learned to throw out everything I’ve ever learned about gardening. It’s filled with myths and inaccuracies. I began to research native plants; what would be good in my garden and what wouldn’t. I went to the Scuppernong Prairie, which is the largest wet-prairie East of the Mississippi River here in the United States. I wanted to see how plants grow in a real prairie. I wanted to imitate it as much as I could while still making it look good. I wanted to see how truly close or far apart plants grow from each other. Plant tags often suggest a larger spacing than necessary. Plants tend to grow just inches from each other in the wild, and they thrive. They like to mingle with each other. They support each other. I noticed other things about the prairie, too. I found logs that were filled with life. Insects, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals all need those logs. I decided to add a few logs to my own garden. I was designing what seemed to be a garden, but was actually a much needed prairie habitat, and it was easy! In fact, it’s also inexpensive. Instead of buying a single plant, you can buy hundreds of plants-worth of seeds for the same price.

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It’s easy and inexpensive. So, why is it taking so long to catch on? It’s tough to say. I imagine that one reason is because many people still see native plants as weeds. It’s horribly sad to see such an inaccurate stereotype placed on such beautiful plants. Nothing I have grows like a weed. Sometimes native species can be aggressive, but if you do a little research, you might see that they’re easy to control. or maybe they are too aggressive and you’re better off not planting them, but there are still hundreds and hundreds of other native plants that aren’t aggressive, or at least very easy to control.

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Perhaps another reason is that people think a native garden is difficult to maintain. It’s not. It’s easier than most gardens, and after a few years, Mother Nature will do most of the work. Sure, there’s the initial weed pulling, and keeping the seedlings watered, but that changes. The garden grows up. The plants fill in and begin to outcompete many weeds. With drought-tolerant plants, like prairie plants, you won’t need worry about watering, either. Only in times of drought will you even need to consider watering. When you grow native plant species and you let them do their thing, they’ll be fine. Let them self-seed a little. Sometimes that means plants will pop up in new places, but that’s what’s fun about it. You never know exactly what to expect, but it’ll always be colorful and most importantly, beneficial to native species. Sometimes a plant might disappear completely, and that’s OK, too. That’s mother nature’s way of saying the plant wasn’t fit for the situation it was in. Its place will likely be replaced by something else that will thrive. Learning to be comfortable with decisions that aren’t yours is the key. You have to have trust that nature knows what it’s doing. If a plant is doing a little too well or one of your favorites isn’t doing good enough, you always have the option to intervene or make adjustments, but never forget that nature does things for a reason.

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This year, I saw my own native garden begin to form into something. Plants that were added two years ago began flowering. Seeds that were planted last Winter began growing. Even with a garden so young, I saw it begin to make a difference. Over the summer, I saw countless Monarch Butterflies use my Orange Milkweed as a food source as well as a place to lay eggs. I found 24 Monarch Caterpillars. That’s 24 Monarch Caterpillars that might not have existed, or 24 Monarch Caterpillars that might have been crowded out by other Monarch caterpillars elsewhere. I saw Bumble Bees sleeping overnight on Blanket Flowers. I saw the occasional Hummingbird hovering by the Liatris stalks. I saw Soldier Beetles mating on Black-eyed Susans. I saw Frogs and Toads using the garden as shelter and as their hunting grounds. Towards the end of the season, I started seeing more and more Large Milkweed Bugs on the milkweed, and a Woolly Bear Caterpillar on the leaves of a young Purple Coneflower. These are only the things that I happened to see when I was outside. There was so much more going on than I could ever have noticed. All of that happening in a native garden that hasn’t even fully established itself yet!

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A successful native garden can be created in small spaces too. I had an area that was 4 feet by 2 feet, and I decided to turn it into another native garden. You don’t need large spaces to make it work. When I planted the seeds, I began to wonder if it was even worth it. How much of an impact is a garden that small going to have? The impact was bigger than I expected. Bumble Bee after Bumble Bee appeared. I even found a Monarch Caterpillar. Toads were also spotted there almost every night during the peak of summer. Even a small garden can make a huge difference.

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I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, I really am, but this post isn’t about my garden. My native garden means a lot to me, but it would mean even more if I were able to convince more people to start a native garden of their own. I’m focused on showing others how easy it is to do, and what a huge impact they can have. When I see gardens filled with Hostas, Daylilies and other non-natives, I see missed opportunities. I have both Hostas and Daylilies in other parts of my yard, by the way, and I’m working to replace them. I want the plants that I have to truly matter. It’s time to focus on the future. The world’s gardening community can make a massive impact, and while this post generally referred to plants native to the US, the truth is, the same thing needs to be done around the world. No matter where you’re from, plant native plants.

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Plant native plants.



Native Gardening

About two years ago I learned something that completely changed the way I saw gardening. Gardening doesn’t need to be the typical showcase of “garden center” plants. Gardening is important. More important than I ever realized. Gardening can restore habitat. Your garden can have real meaning. It’s something everyone should know, no matter where you live, so I thought I’d share it with you.



It’s simple, and it’s highly important. Give up those typical garden center plants. It’s time to plant species that are native to your area. If your yard is shady, you may want to add woodland plants. If you’re in full sun, consider prairie plants. Maybe your yard can support both. Just plant native plants.

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For me, it started when I was standing at the northern edge of the Scuppernong Prairie. Whenever I’m at the Scuppernong Prairie, or any prairie, I could spend hours there. Looking at the plants, watching the insects and animals. Why couldn’t I have a yard that looked like a prairie? Maybe I could. Sure, a garden is not a prairie. Although, why can’t it be? Why can’t I have the same plants I see in the prairie in my own yard?


Maybe someday I’ll live somewhere where I can turn my entire yard into a prairie, but for now, I started with an 8′ by 8′ section (later expanded to three times that size). I was given a few native plants, collected some seedheads that a neighbor threw in a burning pit, and I also bought a few seed packets.


There are countless species native to my state – Wisconsin, and I needed to decide what I wanted to add. I decided that the plants I was going to add needed to be both colorful and beneficial to native wildlife. I decided on a few basics. Milkweed is a necessity for Monarch Butterflies, so it’s a necessity in my garden. I decided on Orange Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed, to be exact. Common Milkweed would also be plant in another area. Black-eyed Susans, Gray-headed Coneflowers, and Purple Coneflowers are the most well known prairie plants. They also needed to be added.

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They would be what holds my garden together. In between those species is where I would add a little variety. I began researching. I wanted to learn about other prairie plants. What else was out there? I wanted interesting flowers. I wanted colors I don’t normally see in prairies, even though I know they’re out there.

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The very first plant I added was interesting, it was brightly colored and very unique. One problem, though. Gaillardia is a US native, however it’s not native to my state. I needed to decide what “native” meant to me. Does every plant need to be native to my state, or even my right down to my county? I decided that the answer was no. While I would do my best to add only species that were native to my area, there would always be a few that I’ll accept into my native garden regardless of where they come from. The trade-off would be that they still have to be beneficial to native insects. Gaillardia certainly is. I see at least 6 species of bee on it daily, along with caterpillars, soldiers beetles, butterflies and more. It’s probably the single most active plant I have.

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In total, I’ve decided on two non-native species. The second being Long-headed Coneflower. This is probably the closest to native. It’s native to the US, including nearby states. It also grows in the wild here in Wisconsin, and benefits the same insects as the native and closely related Gray-headed Coneflowers.

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I’ve also considered adding Globe Thistle, which is not a US native at all, though I haven’t decided on it. So, the non-natives are out of the way. How about the natives? My grandma was nice enough to let me take some of her three native species. She needed her plants divided, and I needed native species. The first was Liatris. This is another flower that Bumblebees particularly love.

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The second is Penstemon. An interesting white flower that blends well with brightly-color species.

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The third is Spiderwort. This flower is in between purple and blue, but I usually refer to it as blue.

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There aren’t many blue flowers out there, and I wondered if Spiderwort was going to be my only blue flower. Research paid off, and I found a plant called Blue-eyed Grass. Native to my area and sold at a local garden center for less than any other plant they sell. I couldn’t pass it up, and it’s quickly become one of my favorites. This is a small plant. The flowers are an inch at largest, and the plant is about 8″ tall. It’s best for the outside edge of the garden, and that’s how I’m using it.

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Another favorite is Orange Milkweed. This plant is as orange as orange can get. It practically glows. It stands out more than any other plant. It’s also a plant that does well in all gardening styles, as long as it’s in a sunny spot. It’s a great plant to get if you want to try using native plants.


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I currently have over 20 species of native plants, however most won’t flower until next year. The garden is very young and still has quite a few bare spots. I should also mention that I’ve double the size of the garden and also added four additional 3’x3′ native gardens under birdhouses. I can only imagine the color boom when they all bloom next year! Until then, enjoy these scenery shots of it over the past couple of months!

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Add native plants to your yard. You wont regret it!