As I wrote in an earlier post about woodland plant communities, the easiest way to create a successful native landscape is to replicate your local plant community.
If you’re unfamiliar with the plant communities in your area, plan a visit to a local park or remnant to observe what is growing together and in what conditions. If you are new to the area – find a naturalist or sign up for a nature walk at the local nature center.
This year especially, with the nation being in the worst drought in in more than 50 years, we could learn a lot from the deep-rooted prairie plants that reach depths of up to 15 feet along with the ability to sequester carbon.
Not far from my home is a remnant short-grass prairie. Probably extensively grazed at one time, but never plowed due to the very poor sandy soils and slope. It has some wonderful herbaceous perennial natives and grasses that I have replicated in my own yard on my sunny, sandy slope. Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum) and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) dominate a large portion of the remanant and provide late summer interest. Stiff Goldenrod is an excellent native to plant for pollinators.
Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) loves the top of the sandy slope in hot, dry conditions. This remnant is home to one of the largest patches of whorled milkweed in our municipality. Another larval host plant for the Monarch Butterfly, it also attracts other milkweed insects including the Small and Large Milkweed Bugs.
One of the lowest growing milkweeds with fine, needle-like foliage. It works well at the front of landscapes or intermixed with short prairie grasses such as Blue Grama or June Grass.
Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) occupy another section of this prairie remnant.
Downslope of this remnant knoll is a large prairie restoration that the our city planted over 15 years ago. It’s dominated by taller prairie grasses including Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), as well as other forbs not present on the remnant. The conditions are the same – sandy soils, hot and sunny.
The other great thing about this park is that the city allows the prairie area to be used for off-leash dog walking. People gain a better appreciation of the importance of the prairie as they walk their dog.
Large swaths of Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) thrive in these poor soils. Another excellent native pollinator plant flowering in late June.
Scattered throughout this portion of the prairie is Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). A favorite nectar plant for Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies and another larval host plant for Monarchs.
Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canandense) also remains dominant in this restoration as it has evolved since seeding. It’s tall (four foot) flower stalks help it to compete for light alongside the large prairie grasses. This prairie native seems to be plagued by Japanese Beetles of all the species in this prairie.
I’ve had great success with all of these prairie species in my own landscape. What was formerly a steeply sloped hillside of lawn, is now a wonderful mix of these native prairie species and many others.
I encourage you to get to know your local landscape, so you can find drought-tolerant native species that have the ability to withstand the extreme weather fluctuations we are experiencing and may continue to experience in the future.
© 2012 – 2013, Heather Holm. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us