What is Land Stewardship?

The other day, I was reading an interesting article about modeling sustainability in our landscapes.  This particular article focused on botanical gardens and their importance as models for sustainable practices and stewardship of the land.  Obviously, it made me think about our own landscapes here at the Arboretum, how we manage and maintain them and how we can help encourage conservation and stewardship of our lands, waters and wildlife. It also made me keenly aware of my own feelings toward stewardship. How do I share my empathy for the land or my belief that the land is worth saving?

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills. Photo by Brad Guhr.

What’s your personal land ethic?

Certainly, a land ethic is a very personal thing. Stewardship is about a person’s relationship to the land. It’s about what you believe on the inside.  What I am willing and able to do right now regarding stewardship of the land in my little corner of the world, is quite different from what my neighbor is able to do, or even what you, the reader, are able to do.  We may feel driven to make drastic changes right now, but others may see those changes as excessive and unimportant in light of other issues they are currently dealing with. 

I am reminded of a quote from Aldo Leopold from A Sand County Almanac:

“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Each of us has some sort of land ethic. Whether or not we can articulate it to someone else is another thing. 

Kansas Wildflower Exhibit
Arboretum tallgrass prairie garden in the Kansas Wildflower Exhibit

The stewardship spectrum

I like to think of stewardship on a horizontal plane.  On the one end of the spectrum are those who hold a deep reverence for the land.  They are compelled to actively incorporate practices into their lives, such as using native plants, harvesting rainwater, reducing/eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides, mulching, creating habitat for wildlife, and other sustainable actions. They are caretakers of the land. 

On the other end of the horizontal plane are the novices.  These are the folks who want to do the right thing, but they don’t know how to get started.  This end also includes someone with a pristine lawn and tidy flower beds.  There is nothing wrong with this type of landscaping — remember that a land ethic is a very personal thing.  This landscape reflects their beliefs about how a landscape should look.

Those of us who see the value and beauty of a native landscape have the opportunity to model a paradigm shift in landscape practices and show a different land ethic that can be beautiful in its own way.    

Developing a connection to the land

So how do we move people along this horizontal plane from novice steward to sustainable steward of the land?  Whether here at the Arboretum or in your own back yard, the more people who see and experience nature up close, and connect with the land, the more progress will be made. 

This connection with the land is important. A deeper connection results in a deeper empathy for the world around us. Change starts at home in your own landscapes by modeling your convictions. 

“Conservation can accomplish its objectives only when it springs from an impelling conviction on the part of private landowners.” 

– Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
A small garden of native plants

People will want to change when they see change is possible.  If they see stewardship modeled for them, they will begin to embrace this change in their own feeling about the land. To care for the land, people must see that the land is worth saving. 

Those of us who see that stewardship is possible need to: model it for others, share it with others, help others, and support others as they gain understanding and confidence on their own stewardship journey.

“ A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”

– Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Encore Blog: Do You Want A Native Front Yard?

Posted on August 8, 2019 by Scott Vogt

(Originally published on March 29, 2017)

Something interesting is happening to our front yards.  They are slowly shrinking.  The typical large expanse of green lawn is being replaced with low-maintenance, drought tolerant shrubs, perennials and grasses.   Homeowners are realizing that this alternative to a mowed lawn has its advantages.  Certainly, this new paradigm will require less water over time, but it can be functional and beautiful as well.  The potential environmental impacts of making this change can be significant.

Shady area at Arboretum converted from fescue turf to columbine, blue star and other perennials and shrubs.

Lawn grasses such as fescue and bluegrass require more mowing and watering than native landscapes.  Here are some facts about lawns and their impact on the environment:

  • There are some 80 million home lawns across the country
  • 30-60 percent of urban fresh water is used for watering lawns
  • The typical American lawn uses 10,000 gallons of supplemental water (non-rainwater) annually
  • Nearly 70 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. lawns each year
  • Approximately $25 billion is spent on lawn care each year in the U.S.

If you are tired of the traditional front yard and wish to reduce your lawn, a simple landscape design focused on native plants can make a real difference.  With their deep roots, native plants can adapt to the regional climate and ecological conditions, while also addiing diversity, reducing maintenance and attracting a host of wildlife and pollinators.  Use these simple steps as a guide to develop a native front yard.

Step 1: Plan your design, start small

I prefer to lay out a garden hose to get the curves and flow that I want.  It is a great way to “fiddle” with the design before tearing anything up.  Start small by removing a section of lawn that you can manage.  You can convert other areas over the next few years.

Step 2: Investigate plant types

Think about the type of plants that will grow in your area.  I group shrubs, perennials and grasses to add impact in the landscape.  Strategically locating small trees such as redbuds and disease resistant crabapples will give height and take up space in the design. Are there some evergreen trees and shrubs that will give some splashes of green especially in winter?

Investigate the types of plants you wish to include in your yard.  Plan your garden for a succession of bloom to guarantee there are always a few plants flowering throughout the year. These native plants provide nectar and pollen for beneficial insects.  A few plants such as milkweed can provide food for larvae and fruits and seeds will feed the birds.  A monoculture of lawn can be transformed into a landscape alive with diversity and activity.

Buffalo grass, blue grama grass and mixed prairie plantings

Step 3: Find your plants

Find the plants you need for your design by checking with local nurseries, or you can use our Native Plant Guide 2019.  Steal ideas from nature or visit the Arboretum to gather ideas of combinations and groupings that grow well together.  Then purchase the plants you want at our sale in April or September and get them in the ground.

Earth Partnership for Schools Prairie Planting along walkway to school

It will be great to see your front yard transformed into an oasis for pollinators and birds.  You will be able to look out your front window at a diverse and functional landscape that has a positive impact on the environment.  It will be a landscape that fuels pollinators and supports all sorts of birds and other wildlife.  It will be a landscape that is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

I believe lawns will always have a place in our landscapes, but maybe just a smaller place than in the past.*  It is not a bad thing to replace some of our lawn areas with beautiful and attractive trees, shrubs and other perennials.  Just think about the possibilities.

*If you like a larger expanse of lawn, but wish to consider drought-tolerant alternatives, consider buffalograss as an option.

Trusted Plants for Kansas Landscapes

It has been an interesting year weather-wise, to say the least.  We have seen monsoon flooding and sweltering heat.  I would like to say that this is another typical year in Kansas, but I don’t know what typical is anymore.  So with all the highs and lows, wet and dry, what will grow here?  How can you choose trusted plants with confidence, knowing that they are right for your site?

Plants are the best teachers

The simple answer is to look to nature to show you the way.  Plants are the best teachers.  So go ahead and choose plants that you believe will grow without much input on your part.  After a year or two you will have a pretty good idea which plants grow best.  You will need to plant more of the plants that are thriving and find a new space for those that are struggling.  Every good gardener has had their share of plant failures, but they keep finding new plants that work.  Don’t get discouraged, this is all part of the process of growing plants in a harsh environment. 

A display of Black-eyed Susan, Russian sage, and blue star.

Every Landscape is Unique    

The other thing to keep in mind is that every landscape is different.  What works for your neighbor may or may not work for you.  The plants they use may not be your cup of tea.  Choose plants you like and appreciate to make your landscape uniquely yours.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to bring you joy, fulfillment and increase your confidence to try new things. 

Start Small

Start with a small area and slowly expand it.  This way your garden doesn’t overwhelm you.  From weeding, to watering, to maintaining your garden space, establish a garden you can manage with just a few hours each week.  More than likely, it will not be perfect the first time, but with trial and error you will discover the types of plants that work in your areas. 

Rattlesnake master with red switchgrass

A Reflection of You

From those humble beginnings, you will have a space that reflects your interests and tastes.  Here are a few of my favorite “go to” plants.  I confidently use these plants because they are quite adaptable and provide consistent color, texture and/or bloom.  Some of these plants may work for you too. 

Grasses for Sun

  • Switchgrass: Panicum ‘Northwind’, ‘Ruby Ribbons’, or ‘Purple Tears’
  • Prairie dropseed: Sporobolus heterolepis
  • Blue grama: Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’
  • Little bluestem: Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Standing Ovation’, or ‘Jazz’
  • Feather reed grass: Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ (Not native, but it has nice form and texture)

Wildflowers for Sun

  • Aster: Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’, Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’, Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’, Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ or ‘October Skies’
  • Ornamental onion: Allium ‘Millennium’
  • Blue star: Amsonia hubrichtii, amsonia illustris and ‘Blue Ice’
  • Baptisia varieties
  • Coneflowers: Echinacea angustifolia, pallida, and paradoxa.  Hybrid varieties are nice if properly placed.
  • Rattlesnake master: Eryngium yuccifolium 
  • Blazing stars: Liatris aspera, punctata, pycnostachya and spiccata
  • Primrose: Oenothera missouriensis
  • Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’
  • Wild quinine: Parthenium integrifolium
  • Black-eyed Susan: Rudbeckia missouriensis, fulgida, maxima, or triloba
  • Goldenrod: Solidago ‘Golden Baby’, drummondii, nemorails, rigida, ‘Fireworks’, or ‘Wichita Mountains’
  • Spiderwort: Tradescantia ohiensis
  • Ironplant: Vernonia lettermanii ‘Iron Butterflies’

Grasses and Wildflowers for Part Shade

Yarrow, Amsonia, Aster divaricatus ‘Easter Star’, Solomon’s Seal, Coreopsis, Heliopsis, Monarda, coneflowers, phlox, coral bells, Rudbeckia, goldenrod, culver’s root, golden alexander, prairie dropseed, river oats (use with caution), sedges, and bottlebrush grass.

June Prairie Blooms

This past week I had the opportunity to trek into the Flint Hills.  I always enjoy spending time immersed in a prairie setting.  It makes me feel small in a great big world.  It makes me keenly aware of the great diversity and complexity of the prairie ecosystem.  It also reminds me how precarious these settings are and how important they are to our survival and the life cycles of so many different things.  Here are a few of the prairie blooms I saw in June:

Catclaw sensitive briar (Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttallii

The vibrant pink disco balls of catclaw sensitive briar stand out in the landscape.

Narrowleaf Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia)

Narrowleaf Coneflower

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens)

The silvery green foliage and dark purple blooms of leadplant are striking in the landscape.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Millions of these bright yellow blooms dot the prairie hillsides.

Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)

These flowers are a favorite of many pollinators.

Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida columnifera)

Columnar coneflower reaching for the sky

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) Photo by Brad Guhr

Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii)

Large pink clusters of blooms on Sullivant’s Milkweed Photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

This is just a handful of flowers blooming right now in the Flint Hills. With all the rain, the prairies are lush and full of life. I would encourage you to take time to find a prairie near you, even our own Prairie Window Project, and enjoy our native habitat. I was amazed how alive the prairie was with sights and sounds of wildlife and pollinators. It was worth taking in the view of earth and sky.

Gardening with Purpose

We have seen an abundance of blooms this spring. All this beauty and wildlife activity, particularly pollinators, has reminded me again about the roles our gardens play in benefiting our small corner of the world.  We can garden with a sense of purpose that helps wildlife ecologically.  With Pollinator Week quickly approaching (June 17th – 23rd), I thought maybe we could take a moment to think about our gardens in a different way. 

Garden with your goals in mind

When we garden, each of us has an opportunity to develop a native wildlife habitat, to design our garden to attract pollinators and wildlife, and to create a safe space where horticulture, imagination, and ecology are reflected purposefully in our garden design.  We need to think with the end-goal in mind.  By creating living sanctuaries, depleted and endangered native bees and butterflies can easily find the food, shelter and water they need for their survival. 

This is a small way you can show you care, maybe even rediscover your own humanity.  Along with others in your neighborhood who develop habitat gardens, you will help the predicament of these beneficial insects.  Even a small garden can have an impact.  Think of it as a way you can reconnect with nature in a very personal way as you care for your corner of the earth.

Monarchs

Statistics show that the monarch butterfly population in North America has declined by over 90% in just the last 20 years.  This is disheartening.  One of the biggest factors in monarch decline is the increasing scarcity of its only caterpillar host plant: milkweeds. Without milkweeds, monarchs can’t successfully reproduce or migrate, resulting in the species declines. If you plant milkweeds in your own garden you can help reverse the fortune of these beautiful insects.  You can be part of the ultimate solution, which is to provide the plants monarchs need for their life cycle.

Honey Bees

The plight of the honey bee and the collapse of entire colonies has garnered nationwide attention.  However, many of our native bee populations are in danger too.  Scientists continue to track dwindling populations of native bees, including the possible extinction of some species.  The native pollinators are key components of a healthy ecosystem.  Habitat loss, the use of pesticides and insecticides along the introduced diseases threaten their lives.  These bees often lack season-long food sources, which is obviously important to their vitality.  

Choose Native Plants

Native plants can help us alleviate some of the problems pollinators face.  Native plants have the ability to grow in our soils, are adapted to the climate, look attractive, control erosion, create beneficial habitat and are the preferred food source for many of these pollinators.  By establishing habitat gardens that use native prairie plants, we can improve their plight in this world.  Recognizing that we can make a difference should be motivation to at least begin to help them. 

Stewardship starts at home

Stewardship and conservation can start with our gardens. Despite size limitations, these prairie gardens are an important part of conserving the prairie and the wildlife that depend on them. You might be surprised how much your garden can do to reverse some of these trends.  Imagine your garden combined with hundreds of other small prairie landscapes.  True, it is not the expansive prairies of the past, but it does make a difference.  Your garden can be a piece of the patchwork of prairies.

What will all this rain do to my native plants?

The spring of 2019 has been an unusually cool and wet spring here in Kansas. I don’t like to complain about rain, because I know at some point it will quit.  Conditions will get hotter and dryer through the summer.  I don’t know what normal is anymore. For many of us, a short reprieve from the rain would be welcome.  It would give us a chance to catch up and let our basements dry out. 

All this rain made me think about what it does to plants.  Many of you have newly-planted gardens or established flower beds and you, too, may be asking yourself – what will all this rain do to my native plants?

Native Pink Columbine

Excessive growth

Rain obviously causes the plants to grow.  One of the downfalls of excessive growth so early in the season is that it will need to maintain that growth the rest of the year.  Certainly, native plants are adapted to our prairie conditions and have root systems that can sustain the plants.  It makes the placement of plants even more critical and important as we work to match the plants with our sites.  If the plants are properly situated, it should not be a problem. 

Use this season as an opportunity to observe your plants. If you see some wilting over the next few weeks, it may be an indication that the roots have been damaged or that the plants are not happy where they are planted. 

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’

Plant diseases

All this rain has created perfect conditions for plant diseases like bacteria and fungi to flourish.  There hasn’t been much time for plants to dry out in between rains.  Prolonged periods of leaf wetness and excess moisture around the plant root zone can damage leaves and the crowns of plants.  A few days of sunlight will help, but we need to make sure these plants are not smothered by mulch and the crowns of the plants have a chance to dry. Many plants, including trees and shrubs, have been slow to leaf out. Excessive rainfall and overcast skies has slowed the plant’s growth and can affect the timing and intensity of the blooms for the rest of the season. With rainfall like we have had, it makes us more aware of drainage issues, air circulation, plant selection and planting depth within our landscapes.  

Nutrient leaching

Native plants don’t typically need to be fertilized.  Their extensive root systems tap into nutrients that most plants can’t reach. 

Your plants may have a yellow cast to them, but that doesn’t mean you should fertilize them.  It is a result of lack of sunlight and too much water.  Let them develop new roots and they will begin to green up on their own.  By adding fertilizer, native plants have a tendency to flop and outgrow their root systems. Resist the temptation to fertilize your plants. While heavy rains have leached nutrients out of the soil, affecting the plant growth, these conditions will usually only cause temporary nutrient deficiency.  

Bank of Amsonia

Plants are resilient and quite adaptable.  They should recover over time.  The long term effects of all this rain may not be fully known until later this year or even next year, but a majority of them will be fine.  One reward is that we haven’t had to water much.  We established some plants here at the Arboretum and never had to water them other than the first watering.  That is very rare in Kansas.  I love the sunshine today.  All the lush plants are loving it too.       

Growing future gardeners through Earth Partnership for Schools

This week, is National Public Gardens Week.  All week we are celebrating, with other public gardens around the country, the unique role botanical gardens and arboreta have in our communities and neighborhoods. 

In the last month we have been preparing for and hosting many different events and celebrations, including our spring FloraKansas Native Plant Festival, during which we sold over 15,000 plants.  During graduation weekend, there were several graduation receptions and parties, and in the next two weeks we will host four weddings, a college alumni luncheon and the Kansas Native Plant Society board meeting. 

We are happy to be part of this community.  Your support helps us fulfill our mission to cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land.  We are truly grateful. 

FloraKansas Native Plant Festival

Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting on how/why I got into this crazy world of horticulture.  I think it started by working in the vegetable garden and then planting trees around our family farm.  Like most teenagers, I grumbled, but at some level I enjoyed it.  I had the opportunity to get my hands dirty and establish plants that I watched grow and mature.  It started simply, with a little curiosity and enjoyment of being in nature. 

The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) program takes the same approach.  Through the training of teachers, we are able to introduce generations of students to the wonders of prairie plants and the pollinators and wildlife they attract.  Children are naturally curious and these school prairie gardens are an oasis and teaching tool in science, math, music, art, biology and so much more. 

For many of these students, these prairie gardens may provide the first opportunity for them to plant a plant or watch a monarch butterfly on their milkweeds.  These students are the next generation of land stewards.  The more they understand and appreciate the land, the more they will be able to care for and protect it for future generations. 

Fourth graders at Sunset Elementary in Newton, Kansas, investigate a common milkweed plant for monarch caterpillars.

We believe the EPS program, which is celebrating its thirteenth year in 2019, is vitally important in shaping future leaders who are aware of and connected to the natural world around them. 

As part of our membership in the American Public Gardens Association, we have the unique opportunity to participate in a one-week-long, flash fundraising campaign, called the MYGARDEN campaign.  We are seeking funding support for the upcoming EPS summer institute.  This year we are hosting over 30 teachers from 12 schools. Help fund their participation in this inspiring week of training.  To date, over 40,000 Kansas students have been impacted by the EPS program.  Your gift will have an impact now and into the future as more children become stewards of the land.     

Callery Pear: Cut Them Down

Several years ago, I noticed something disturbing was happening to our prairie reconstruction.  Small little trees were popping up throughout the original prairie planting.  I could not figure out where they were coming from, but they looked like pear tree saplings.  It wasn’t until I saw a large white blooming tree in the spring that it all came together. 

Callery Pear

Although the flower clusters are beginning to fade, Callery pear’s white blooms are most obvious in the spring.  We planted them for their explosion of spring blooms and nice fall color, but this ornamental tree has become highly invasive.  It threatens native wildlife habitat and has become a nuisance for private and public landowners.

This once favorite tree was planted extensively throughout the U.S.  The Callery pear – also referred to as Bradford pear – formed a nice pyramid to rounded shape.  The vertical limbs made it a nice median and street tree as well, ultimately reaching 30 to 40 feet tall and 20 -30 feet in spread.  This Chinese native was a harbinger of spring for decades with its prolific white blooms.  An added bonus was its reddish-purple fall color.

Despite all those positives, these trees have become problematic. This non-native, flowering tree was assumed to be sterile, but it is not.  It now cross-pollinates with other cultivars of Callery pear to produce hybrid offspring.  The fruit is ingested by wildlife and birds that spread the seeds across the countryside and into your yards.  It is aggressively displacing native vegetation, causing economic and environmental damage. 

Escaped Callery Pears*

The message to property owners is to remove the trees now while you can easily identify them in bloom.  We need to keep them from spreading to native areas.  It doesn’t hurt my feelings to see them go, because they are a weak-wooded, thorny mess. 

Native alternatives to Callery Pear:

  • Eastern Rudbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea or Amelanchier ‘Robin Hill’)
  • American Plum (Prunus americana)
  • Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
  • Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
  • Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum rufidulum)
Blackhaw Viburnum in spring
Blackhaw Viburnum fruit and fall color

We have cut down the culprit, but still have a bunch more saplings to remove this summer. There is one more larger tree to cut down near the Visitor Center. We will continue to eradicate these unwanted invaders in our prairies.  It will take time but I believe we can get the upper hand.  I would encourage you to remove them in your landscape as well and replace them with native trees.  Callery pear has no place in the landscape anymore. 

*Image Source

Garden Trends in 2019

Over the past five years, we have seen some interesting things happen regarding native plants.  People are learning about native plants and matching plants up with their local conditions.  More and more people are seeking them out to include in their landscapes.  Here are a few of the emerging garden trends regarding native plants:

Wildlife-friendly plants

I keep coming back to this idea of beautiful AND good.  Aesthetics are important and we all want attractive landscapes, but of equal importance is this feeling that what we are doing is good for everyone and everything.  It can be intimidating to change the way you garden or landscape.  Choosing plants just because they are visually appealing simply isn’t a good enough reason anymore.  Creating a habitat using plants that are adapted to your site is a far better approach to landscaping.  Designs that have attractive combinations of wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees may initially capture our imaginations, but more and more people are wanting these plants and landscapes to provide additional benefits. Our gardens must now not only look good, but also do double duty to provide for pollinators, attract birds and other wildlife, develop habitat and positively impact the environment.

New England Aster with Monarch

Pollinator gardens

It has taken a while, but native plants are finally getting the attention they deserve.  They are viable alternatives to many of the overused plants you see in so many landscapes.  There are literally hundreds of plants that will fit into your landscape design.  Whether it is a true native species or “nativar” (a hybrid or new selection of a native plant), these plants offer qualities that will beautify the landscape and attract pollinators, too.  For people who live in prairie country, it may be easy to take our native plants for granted. Yet these plants, with their simple form and subtle beauty, can make attractive additions to the home landscape.

Pale Coneflower

Water-wise plants

We don’t think often enough about the water we use. It is a precious commodity. Remember the 2011 and 2012 drought in Kansas? We were using tremendous quantities of water to keep our landscapes alive. It made us evaluate each plant according to its response to these extreme conditions.  Obviously, some plants did better than others and we lost some plants those years. It made us think critically about our plant choices and irrigation practices. A beautiful and resilient landscape that uses little, if any, supplemental water is an achievable result.  A few changes like adding some native plants can make a big difference.

Kansas gayfeather with tiger swallowtail butterfly
Photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

It seems to me that these trends for 2019 have something obviously in common – native plants.  Native plants are not the “be all” and “end all” solution, but they provide a good starting point to solving some problems you encounter in the landscape.  With so much to consider when designing or redesigning your landscapes, don’t overlook native plants.  You will be rewarded time and again by their unique beauty and deep roots. 

A few plants for your sunny spot

Over the past several months, as I have been working on landscape designs for homeowners, I have been noticing a few trends. 

  • First, homeowners are increasingly interested in native plants.  They understand the benefits of utilizing native plants both to the environment and the wildlife they are trying to attract.  The advantages of native plants have been noted in previous blog posts.
  • Secondly, they want something interesting happening/blooming in their landscape throughout the year
  • Thirdly, they want native grasses incorporated into the design. 

To help fill these needs, I have come up with a list of my favorite plants for the landscape that I try to work into most designs. If you need help with your landscape or have questions about using native plants, give us a call or come to the FloraKansas Native Plant Festival. We would be happy to visit with you.

As you know, each landscape is unique and only a handful of these plants will work in specific yards, but they are all hardy and easy to maintain.  These sun loving perennials have beauty and landscape value too.   Here are some of my favorite native or adaptable plants to use for a sunny landscape in South Central Kansas:

Switchgrass (Panicum ‘Northwind’)

This grass is incredible! Do you need a vertical element in the landscape? Then this is the grass for you. The upright clumps have wide steel blue leaves that turn a golden yellow in the fall. The unique flower panicles emerge in September and are held towards the middle of the clump close to the foliage.  Ultimately, it reaches four to five feet tall.  I love this grass because it will not fall over. 

Threadleaf Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii)

This is an all-season perennial with fantastic ornamental features that make it stand out from other wildflowers.   In May and June, clusters of small powder blue, star-like flowers top the strong stems.  The stems are encircled with soft, narrow leaves resembling pine needles, making each plant look like a small shrub with feathery texture and incredible fullness. I have found them to be extremely hardy, drought tolerant and very low maintenance.  Other forms worth considering are Amsonia ‘Storm Cloud’ and Amsonia ‘Butterscotch’

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)

At one time, this was one of the top selling grasses nationwide.  It is a favorite of mine because it is long-lived and tough.  It is so tough they are planted en masse in street medians.  The fine textured leaves and airy, fragrant panicles are a nice addition to any landscape.  Each clump can reach 12-18 inches wide and up to 24 inches tall.  The entire plant turns shades of orange and yellow in the fall, providing multiple seasons of interest.  It is great in a border, as a groundcover, in an informal prairie setting, or as an accent to other short or mid-range perennials.  I like to mix it with short heath asters, purple poppy mallow, evening primrose or Missouri black-eyed susan. 

Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)

Some like it hot, but these like it really hot.  The deep tap root of Purple Poppy Mallow sustains it during times of drought.  These roots are starchy and supposedly taste like a sweet potato.  (I don’t know if I am that hungry, but it may be worth a try.)  The magenta cup-like blooms appear throughout spring and into summer.  I like to interplant them with low grasses or shorter perennials that bloom later in the season, such as blazing stars or goldenrods.  The stems hug the ground and ultimately spread 24-36 inches wide and 6-12 inches tall.

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ (Penstemon digitalis)

I love this penstemon in the perennial border.  The pink flowers in spring have just a blush of white and develop interesting seed heads.   It adds outstanding form and texture to any landscape throughout the year.  Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is a beautiful selection of smooth penstemon with reddish-purple foliage that is attractive even when blooming is complete.

Aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius)

This diverse wildflower grows throughout the state, and is more drought-tolerant than other aster species. Its name alludes to its fragrant purple/pink flowers and foliage that exudes a pungent aroma.  This species typically grows about two feet tall, but shorter varieties also exist.  Garden-worthy varieties include ‘Dream of Beauty’ (one foot tall with pink blooms), ‘October Skies’ (2’ x 2’ with light blue flowers)  and ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ (3’ x 2’ with light blue flowers).

Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ in full bloom

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly milkweed is a stout one to two foot tall perennial with a deep, coarse, fibrous root system.  Flowers vary in color from deep orange-red in the eastern part of its range to lighter orange and finally yellow farther west and south in Kansas.  Unlike the numerous other milkweeds found in Kansas, butterfly milkweed does not exude a white milky sap when the stem is cut or a leaf is removed.

Do your garden a favor and include some butterfly milkweed.  Its many ornamental and functional assets, plus its rugged character will make it a focal point in the summer garden for years to come.  Plus, you will be rewarded as pollinators such as Monarchs seek out this beautiful native wildflower.

I could choose many more garden worthy perennials, but I only have so much space. You can find these and many other native plants at our spring FloraKansas Native Plant FestivalCLICK HERE for the 2019 Native Plant Guide.  These garden worthy perennials would be at home in any sunny spot in your yard.  Why not give them a try?