Grow Native

You’ve probably driven or walked past a neighborhood or subdivision and thought, “Whatever were those homeowners thinking?!” The yard seems riddled with rangy plants sprouting sporadically in no apparent pattern, giving off an unkempt prairie vibe. That neighborhood or subdivision might even be the one where you live.

Good news! You don’t have to live with that rough look any longer. There is a way of taming the “wild” in wildflowers and native plantings to make your garden or yard a beautiful, natural oasis using environmentally friendly plantings.

Native flowers and plants make for a more naturalistic landscape. Mervin Wallace of Missouri Wildflower Nursery says diversity is important when planting and cultivating wildflowers and grasses, especially if you want to attract and benefit pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

“In order to have high-quality habitat for pollinators, herbivorous insects, native birds and other wildlife species, the greater the diversity of native plants the better,” Wallace says. Tall and short perennial wildflowers, trees, shrubs and vines should all be in the mix.

This range of diversity can sometimes appear unorganized or untended to the human eye. But there are ways for even the most discerning gardener to get around this, Wallace assures.

If you have the space in an area out of public view, Wallace encourages gardeners to dedicate one section to a more natural habitat, embracing many species of wild plants to create a natural, native habitat for insects, frogs, birds and more.

In the front yard or in areas where people are more likely to see the fruits of your labor, Wallace suggests reducing diversity and selecting species that are shorter, compact and look good throughout the growing season.

“A bed with a total of three to five native species in a formal setting can appear exquisitely refined. Mixing short sprawling species that will cover the soil and suppress weed germination with taller species that will provide bright colors is a method of controlling the weeds while giving the appearance of control in beds,” Wallace advises.

Back To Basics How To Plant Survivors

› Start by digging holes and planting your specimens, making sure to break up any chunks of dirt into smaller pieces.

› Next, mulch around the plants, extending the mulch about 2 inches from the plant. Fine particle mulches, like leaf mold, pine and cedar, work best. This will help keep the weeds away until your new plants are strong and large enough to take over themselves.

› It’s important to account for the amount of sunlight, shade and moisture available in the location where you’re planting — carefully select plants accordingly.

› In sunnier conditions, plants such as prairie dropseed, blue wild indigo, butterfly weed, Texas green eyes and blazing stars will flourish.

› In shadier areas, you’re better off with ground-covering species such as wild ginger, barren strawberry, squaw-weed and wild stonecrop, which will all fill in nicely the areas between larger species.

The key to creating a low-maintenance space is growing that mix of species — small ground-covering plants with taller, showier plants. These species can include Indian pink, Pennsylvania sedge, wild geranium, cliff goldenrod, purple coneflower and garden phlox.

The best part about going native in gardening? There aren’t very many invasive species to worry about.

“There are not many native species that spread seriously by running either above or below ground. The spreading species can all be controlled if there is enough lawnmower space around them,” says Wallace, though he recommends staying away from native bamboo and horsetail, especially if you are gardening in a small space.

Another consideration is making your native garden as appealing to the wildlife around you as it is to the humans. This includes growing species that are good for pollinators. Wallace champions the following species: coneflower, phlox, milkweeds, New England aster (best for monarch butterflies), rose verbena and blazing stars.

Once you’ve decided which species you’re planting and where, you’re ready to go!

Still Have Questions?

Attend the Native Pollinators Symposium on June 23 in Monsanto Auditorium of the Bond Life Sciences Center on the University of Missouri campus. You can learn more about native pollinators and the flowers they love at this free event, hosted by the Mizzou Botanic Garden.  Featured speakers include University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy, an expert on native gardening and biodiversity and author of Bringing Nature Home, and Roy Diblick of Northwind Perennial Farm, a recognized perennial plant expert, grower, designer, speaker and author.

The Mizzou Botanic Garden is also hosting “What’s the Buzz?” — a native pollinators dinner, on June 19 ($50 per person).

More information about both events is available online at