Planning and designing a native garden

Those who love wildflowers, gardening, or an have an expansive lawn may want to plant a native plant garden this year.

But you don’t need a huge space to incorporate native plants into your existing environment.

Native plants are not only beautiful, but they also support pollinators and have environmental benefit. There are many low maintenance options that will work great for you.

Photo credit Unsplash. Illinois native plants such as these Black-eyed Susans are not only beautiful, but they also support pollinators and have environmental benefits.

Planning is key

Planning and design are an important first step towards designing a successful garden. And though the cold is currently upon us, it’s never too early to begin thinking about the warmer days ahead.

We usually think about installing, planting, and enjoying our gardens, but I encourage you to spend time this winter and early spring planning your native gardens. By making note of your garden’s conditions, you can choose plants that are most likely to thrive.

First, pay close attention to sun and soil, considering whether you want to plant your new garden bed in full sun, part sun, or shade. Determine the condition of your soil. Is it usually wet with poor drainage?

Say goodbye to existing vegetation

Be sure to kill off any existing vegetation, such as turf and weeds. My favorite eco-friendly way to kill existing vegetation is to use a weighed-down tarp or layers of wet cardboard and newspaper. You can just remove the tarp and plant directly in the soil after a few months, or put fresh soil and mulch on the cardboard and plant immediately. The materials will eventually break down.

When selecting plants and designing, keep these things in mind for success:

  • Select your state’s native species from your region.
  • Look for straight species, not cultivars, for the greatest wildlife benefit.
  • Choose locally grown plants when possible.
  • Determine the size of the plant you need to purchase (seeds, plugs, quarts, or gallons). The more the roots are developed, the easier the plant is to establish
  • Choose plants with four-season interest and aim for continuous blooms throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
  • Plant in groupings of three or five plants.
  • Layer plants for more dimension: trees, shrubs, grasses, forbs, and ground covers
  • Install edging for a well-managed look. Native gardens don’t all need to look like prairies!
  • You don’t have to plant all or nothing, mix natives and non-natives into your landscape.
  • Keep low growing plants in front of windows to keep a nice view

By Gemini Bhalsod, Horticulture Educator, Illinois Extension

Source: Gardeners Corner Spring 2021: University of Illinois Extension

Author: Dennis Hickey

There are no limits to success to those who never stop learning. Learning will also nourish your personal growth. I hope you enjoy this website and visit often so you keep learning and growing too!

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