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.

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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.

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?

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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. I was given a few native plants, and I also bought a few seed packets that I planted in late fall shortly before the first snowfall.

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, Common Milkweed, and Swamp Milkweed, to be exact. 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, though it does grow in the wild. 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 three non-native species. The second is Globe Thistle. This is the furthest from native I plan on adding. Its native to Europe. I has an interesting look that I think will go well with my native plants, and bumble bees in particular benefit from it. I’ve not added it yet but plan to next year. The third and final non-native species is 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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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. The first is 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 since been put in my top ten favorites. This is a small plant. The flowers 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 top ten flower is the previously mentioned Orange Milkweed, and this is right up near the top of that top ten list, too. This plant is as orange as orange can get. It practically glows. It stands out more than any other plant. It’s foliage is nice aswell, and I can’t forget the mention the long narrow seed pods that it forms in late summer. If anyone ever wanted to “test the waters” of native gardening, this would be the one to start with.

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One more plant I wanted to share today is one that isn’t quite as showy as the others, but it adds variety. This tiny-flowered plant is called Flowering Spurge. I feel it’s important to have a wide variety of species, and that’s why I have this plant. It’s a simple flower, and yet you can’t deny how unique it is. The bigger variety of plants, unique or not, the more beneficial your garden is. As I said, plants like Black-eyed Susans and Purple Coneflowers hold the garden together, but when you get up close, you get to see the real variety tucked in between.

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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!

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog. I don’t expect much traffic here, so I don’t expect to be posting much here. You’re probably looking at the date of this post and think I don’t check up here any more, but I do, I just don’t post here. If you somehow wound up here, I’d love to visit some of the sites I often update.

You can catch me tweeting on https://twitter.com/JBtheExplorer about all kinds of things, but I often share photos of my pond or the outdoors.

Here is my Youtube page. I often share updates of my backyard goldfish pond along with camping trips and everything else outdoors. My pond attracts all kinds of interesting animals and insects including birds, frogs, and praying manti.

Here is my Flickr page. This is where I share some of my best photos, usually of the outdoors. Photography is a hobby that I picked up about 5 years ago and I feel I keep improving.

Now, I’ll tell you a little more about myself. It can’t be clear enough: I love nature. I love wildlife. If I could, I would spend every moment in the great outdoors. I care about it deeply. I don’t get to be in it nearly as much as I would like, but when I do get hiking days or camping weekends, I love to share my adventure in hopes that others will understand why these few remaining prairies, forests and other habitats are so important, and why we should work to expand them. I encourage everyone to grow as many native plants in their yards as possible. Grass is literally a wasteland. Ask yourself if your lawn really gets used all that often. For most it doesn’t. Yet for some reason we keep it rather than growing a beautiful and colorful prairie. You’d be surprised how stress relieving a prairie can be. That wildlife it attracts will entertain you for hours.

Now, I have a grass-filled yard too. I’m in the process of adding more native prairie plants. I’ve also recently added a garden pond. It draws in so many animals that I would have never imagined in my own yard. Four species of frogs, toads, insects like the Yellow Fuzzy Bee-Fly, Praying Mantis, Monarch Butterflies (which are lower and lower in numbers every year and need MILKWEED to survive. Plant a few Asclepias Tuberosa plants, you’ll like them),and a Leaf-bug. I get all sorts of birds coming to drink and bath in the water such as American Goldfinches, Northern Carinals, Northern Orioles, Wrens, oh, and I get Hummingbirds coming to my Mexican Sunflower plants too.The pond also is great as for as my photography hobby. The frogs tend to get used to my presence and I can use them as subjects to figure out how to get the best shots.

When it comes to camping, I only get out a few times each year. I’m not a deep woods hammock or tent camper. There are no deep woods in the area. I have tented, and its fine, but I currently have a small pop-up camper with only a few basic conveniences such as a gas stove and a pump sink.

I go to some pretty great State Parks in Wisconsin. They all have beautiful trails that anyone in the area needs to visit. Most campgrounds also lie on or near some body of water. In that case I make good use of my canoe. Canoeing is one of the most peaceful things to do. I would also love to expand on that one day and get a kayak.

When not doing that, I still try to get out once every week or two. Sometimes more often than that. I live next to a small wooded park with about a mile of trails and I head back there all the time. I try to get to other parks in town often. I always bring my camera, and often see some interesting things.

In closing, I hope you check out the links above, maybe subscribe on youtube or follow on Flickr. I love sharing what I see and I also love seeing others share their adventures. I ask you, every moment of every day, think about what you are doing and how it will positively or negatively affect the natural world. Now on that note, I’ll share with you just a very few photos I’ve taken over the last year.

Here’s my pond.

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Here’s a handful of photos I took while on some great adventures.

Entering the hidden Cave Snapping Turtle Canoeing along the Sandstone Canoeing the Lake Wading in the Scuppernong RIver

– JBtheExplorer