Native Plants Are Becoming “The New Normal”

What is normal?  A definition I like is “the usual, average, or typical state or condition.”  So, what would most mid-Westerners think of as a “normal” landscape? How about a landscape dominated by lawn, a few foundation plantings with uninspiring, “tidy” perennials and shrubs that serve no real purpose other than to take up space? In my opinion, this describes many of the common landscapes we have seen over the past 20-30 years, including some areas around my own house.

The “new normal” reflects a current state of being after some dramatic change has transpired.  It replaces the expected, usual, and typical with exciting, productive, purposeful, beneficial and sustainable.  I believe that over the past few years we have seen a renewed interest in landscaping that fits this description, and that soon, landscaping with native plants will become the new normal.

Through increased interest in our native plant sales, native landscaping classes and educational programs, we are witnessing a collective realization that there are significant benefits to utilizing natives in the garden, benefits that make sense both for people and for the wildlife that depend on these plants for their survival.  We as a society have also come to understand, we don’t have to give anything up in the process of developing an eco-friendly landscape.  It is interesting and ironic that this “new normal” of landscaping with native plants is taking us full circle here in Kansas, back to our prairie roots.

Here are three reasons native plants should be the “new normal” in your garden:

#1 Low Maintenance

There is no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape.  However, if we emphasize selecting plants that grow naturally in our area and matching them to our site, maintenance will be drastically reduced.  Native plants have adapted to local conditions.  Once established, the deep roots of the prairie natives will take them through prolonged periods of drought.  Healthy plants require less maintenance, are stronger, are less prone to disease, require less water, provide beautiful blooms while growing in the toughest environments, therefore reducing our time in the garden and increasing our enjoyment.

The new normal is to select plants that go naturally with the place we live, rather than planting traditional landscapes that often try to change the place to accommodate the plant.

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Native wildflower planting at Denver Botanical Garden at Chatfield

#2 Beautiful Plants

If you have ever walked through a pristine prairie or observed the changing seasons in the Flint Hills, you know the exquisite beauty of wildflowers in bloom coupled with native grasses. It is understated and taken for granted. I am always amazed at the complexity and intricacies of these prairie plants.  They create a very unique sense of place.

The new normal is a renewed awareness of the natural beauty of the prairie and a recognition that we can have a part of it in our own gardens.

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Summer Wildflowers in the Arboretum

#3 Attract Pollinators and Wildlife

Even in most urban settings, wildlife surrounds us.  Pollinators live in our neighborhoods and utilize plants in our landscapes.  By strategically planting even a few native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs that bloom at different times throughout the year, you can make a positive impact on their survival.  When it comes to helping the natural world, diversity is crucial.  Increasing the natural diversity on your property will ultimately benefit wildlife.

The new normal is understanding that we can positively or negatively influence the natural world by the plants we choose.  Even a few native plants in your garden, combined with those of your neighbors, will be extremely beneficial.

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Painted Lady Butterfly on New England Aster

Over the years, I have learned that there is no right or wrong way to use native plants.  If you don’t like something, or if a plant isn’t happy, you can always try something else.  In most cases, you can just move it.  I have to remind myself that these plants are so much better than a turf lawn.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been rewarded for my efforts in observing a beautiful flower covered with lively pollinators.  To see them flying from plant to plant makes it all worthwhile.

Eight Garden Myths Worth Knowing

Over the years, I have come to realize how little I knew about gardening the right way.  So much of what I knew as a budding horticulturist was gleaned from school.  It wasn’t until I had killed a few plants and tortured many others that I began to learn some basic principles that guide how I work in my own garden today. Many times, we do things to plants and flowers in our gardens for no reason, other than “that is how it has always been done” or “Mom or Dad told us to do it that way”. There may not be any legitimate scientific data backing a certain practice, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it anyhow. Begin to demystify gardening with these truths I have learned.

Myth #1  Add sand to improve clay soil drainage.

Truth: This takes me back to my days sitting in soils class and learning about soil particles.  Clay particles are fine and fit nicely between the sand particles which forms a substance similar to concrete.  Since every pore is filled with these particles, air exchange and drainage is reduced, if not made impossible.  The better choice for clay soils is to choose plants that thrive in them, such as milkweed, indigo, bluestem, or blazing star.

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The result of mixing sand and clay soil-It will dry and become like concrete.

Myth #2 Drought-tolerant plants (native plants) don’t need to be watered.

Truth: They are still live plants that need water for survival, though maybe not as much as others.  Match plants to your site, for sure. But native plants are only drought tolerant to a point and may need water during prolonged dry spells.  Until they get established, they are very vulnerable to drought stress.  Establishment Guide

Myth #3  After pruning a tree, treat open wounds with a wound dressing.

Truth: There is good research suggesting that treating a tree scar/wound after you have removed a branch is bogus.  Trees are resilient and can heal themselves.  Treatments can delay the healing and even lock in plant diseases.

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Oak branch scar with callus tissue

Myth #4  Amend the soil when planting trees and shrubs.

Truth: At the arboretum, we have heavy clay soils.  For years, I put soft soil (compost) in the backfill when I planted trees.  I have come to find out, that is like planting the tree in a pot.  The new roots often circle the hole, unwilling to venture into the hard clay soils.  This restricted root growth slows establishment.  Use the native soil in the backfill and force the tree to acclimate to its new surroundings.

Myth #5  Plant a tree even with the soil line.

Truth: In our clay soils, it is better to plant a tree high.  Find the root flare and plant the top of the flare at least 2 inches above the soil line.  It can even be 6 inches higher.  Planting too deep can deprive the growing point of oxygen or actually drown the tree if the soil stays too wet. Recommended Trees for South-Central Kansas

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Newly planted Sugar Maple is slightly raised

Myth #6  Apply turf fertilizer early in the spring to help encourage new growth.

Truth: Applying early spring turf fertilizer only encourages top growth, resulting in more mowing in the spring and summer.  It does very little for the root system of the turf.  In our climate, the focus needs to be on developing healthy roots. That is why we fertilize in the fall (October and November).  Turfgrass growth slows in the fall as nutrients are translocated to the roots for the leaves.  This translocation process stores energy in the roots in preparation for next year, helping it survive the summer with less stress.

Myth #7  If a plant is under stress, it should be fed.

Myth: If a plant is under stress, fertilizer will not solve the problem.  Usually it is environmental (dry soils, overwatering, compacted soils, root damage, etc.).  Our soils generally have adequate nutrients, so diagnose the problem to find the solution.

Myth #8  When it comes to fertilizers and pesticides, if a little is good, twice as much is better.

Truth:  I have experienced this in a number ways over the years, from dead grass to burned foliage, causing me a few sleepless nights.  There are precise directions for a reason and label directions have been carefully developed to help you avoid catastrophes.  We want immediate results to a problem so we “kick it up a notch”.  BAD IDEA!!!  Too much of a good thing is usually harmful and often results in unforeseen consequences.  Using the exact recommended dosage is always the best practice.  Trust me.

These are some truths I learned the hard way.  Unfortunately, some plants took the brunt of my misinformation.  Myths, old wives tales, and folklore abound in the world of gardening.  Learn from my mistakes.  You and your plants will both benefit.

 

Three Ways To Connect With The Natural World

There is something healing about being outside.  I am not a scientist or a psychologist, but a short walk in the great outdoors does wonders for my physical and mental well-being.  The problem is that I don’t get outside enough to encounter those helpful connections.  It happens too infrequently.  I sit in my office staring at my computer screen never venturing outside and then wonder why I feel tired, disconnected, and even a little uneasy when I go home at the end of the day.

If we know we need to go outside to lift ourselves up, why don’t we make it a priority?  I don’t know all the reasons, but I have heard that there are medical benefits from being outside for just 15 minutes.  This makes me think about why I need to create time in my schedule to be in nature.  So, I challenged myself to be outside at least once a day for 15-30 minutes.  Here are some ways I plan to connect with the outside world along with some positive benefits I know I will experience.

Get your hands in the soil.

This can be done in many ways, but the most obvious is growing something.  I love: the smell of the earth after a rain; the thrill of establishing a new plant; soil on my hands; planting a vegetable garden.  Just planting a few plants can have tremendous benefits to you and nature.  It is invigorating being in the garden and watching your landscape be transformed each year.

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Take in the Sunshine.

It has been cold and gray for the past few weeks and I am craving some sunshine.  What is it about the sun that we need?  Maybe it is the Vitamin D our bodies need that is best supplied by the sun.  I know too much sun is not healthy so I get enough sunlight by sitting under a nice shade tree after puttering around in the yard with a cool drink in my hand.  There is a link between sunlight and the prevention of all sorts of diseases.  So get outside in the sun for your health.

Another important benefit of the out-of-doors is that it will make you sleep better.  Everything I have read about being outside points to the importance of sunlight.  When you wake up, and throughout the day, sunlight is really beneficial.  Again, don’t get too much, but 15-30 minutes exposed to bright sunlight will help you sleep better.  Try to exercise outside, walk your dog during the day, and enjoy that first cup of coffee in the morning in a sunny spot.  Not only is the sunlight soothing and relaxing, but the natural world slows us down.  When we are bombarded by too many stimuli, we need to remember that the sunlight will help calm us down.

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Enjoy the Natural Beauty.

Nature can transport us away from it all.  Take a walk through the park or visit a natural area and you will be mentally and physically changed.  There are so many fascinating sights to behold: the beauty of a coneflower in bloom or monarchs clustered on a branch.  Often I am mesmerized by the richness of what I see.  My senses are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the natural environments I find.  A short walk each day will change your perspective.

The calming effect of the outside world is something I need in my life currently.  Let’s face it, we are worn down over time by the busyness of life.  I need moments that energize me, reduce the stress, stimulate my brain in different ways than a computer does, and boost my attention span.  Fear and anxiety slip away the more time I spend outside.  Boost your spirits. Get outside.

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I am not a scientist or doctor but I know how my countenance changes the moment I am outside.   Simply put, we need to get outside for better health.   In my opinion, 15 minutes outside makes the next hour inside so much better.

 

How to Plan for Pollinators

It is hard to believe, but it is mid-January already.  Spring is right around the corner.  Yes, it will be here before I am fully prepared.  Are you ready for spring?  Do you know what your garden needs?  Do you know what pollinators need?  How can we sync our gardens better with nature?  These questions and many more have been rolling around in my head over the past few weeks.

I have been reading articles and reviewing plant catalogs.  My brain is in overload.   Here is one of the directions I will be taking my garden this year.  I am planning for pollinators and not just hoping they will magically appear.  So, what does that look like?  Here are a few points to consider as you plan for pollinators in your own garden this year:

Establish plants with nectar.

Pollinators depend on nectar throughout their adult life stage.  A variety of native wildflowers that grow in a sunny location and bloom at different times throughout the year provide pollinators with a constant nectar source.  Not every plant is beneficial to pollinators.  If possible, utilize native plants because they offer nectar that many native pollinators seek.  Here are some sample landscape designs to get you started.

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Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea - photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

Think of color and form.

Butterflies can see yellow, orange, pink, blue and purple blossoms. Bees are unable to see the color red, but are very attracted to yellow and blue flowers.  Darker colors such as black are a warning sign for them to stay away.  Bees for the most part are attracted to bright colors.  So don’t wear a bright colored shirt in the garden.  Flat-topped or clustered flowers provide a place to settle for feeding.  We carry many options of native plants at our FloraKansas Plant Sale.

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Texan Crescent

Provide puddles.

Butterflies like wet sand and mud left behind by puddles or on the edge of a water feature.  They drink the water and extract minerals from damp soil.

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Pearl crescent butterflies – Photo by Dave Osborne

Establish host plants.

Host plants provide food for butterfly larvae (caterpillars).  Butterflies look for specific plants when they are ready to lay eggs.  The host plants for the Monarch butterfly are milkweeds.  If you want to help save the Monarch butterfly, include some milkweeds in your garden plan.  Here is some additional information on Monarchs.

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Great Spangled Fritillary on Sullivant’s Milkweed

Make your garden a pesticide-free zone.

Insecticides kill insects.  Herbicides kill plants, but they can be toxic to insects as well.  Pesticide-free lawns and gardens allow pollinators to survive and flourish.

Provide habitat.

Small wood piles, old logs and leaves in your garden at strategic areas provide important habitats for many different pollinators.  Bees will uses these areas to overwinter because they keep them safe from the elements and predators.  Don’t be too quick to get rid of that old rotting log.  It is just what pollinators need.

Bee Hotel Photo by John Regier

Bee Hotel – Photo by John Regier

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Bee Hotel Explanation – Photo by John Regier

Many butterflies, pollinators and native wildflowers have co-evolved over time so that each depends on the other for survival.  Wildflowers provide food for all life stages of pollinators.  In return, wildflowers and much of the food we eat are pollinated by bees, butterflies, and a host of other pollinators.  With a little planning now, pollinators will flock to your garden this year and in years to come.

Three Benefits of Native Plant Roots

The other day I was watching a show on television that was trumpeting the benefits of organic matter.  It really made me think.  I know organic matter doesn’t exactly get everyone fired up, but one comparison that was presented in this program really opened my eyes to the benefits of prairie plants to the soil.

They took soil samples from the edge of a field, which was untilled remnant prairie, and from the farm field itself.  The prairie edge had nearly six percent organic matter, while the field ranged from two to three percent organic matter.  That may not seem like a big deal, but the prairie provides tremendous improvements to the soil.  There is so much going on underground in a prairie.  Here is an explanation of what native plant roots do for the soil:

They add organic matter.

Organic matter is extremely important in a healthy soil.  It attracts microbes, earthworms, and fungi that bring the soil to life.  These organisms break down the thatch at the surface as well as the roots that die from year to year.

Organic matter reduces compaction, making the soil spongy and able to bounce back.

In addition, organic matter increases the water holding capacity.  It is said that for every one percent of additional organic matter, the soil can receive four percent more water holding capacity.  This is important through prolonged periods without rain.

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Western Kansas Prairie-Photo by Larry Vickerman

Organic matter helps prevent soil and wind erosion by binding sandy soil particles together.  This binding property of organic matter prevents caking, cracking, and water run-off that occurs when clay soils dry.

They add nutrients.  

The breakdown of organic matter consequently infuses minerals throughout the soil profile.  For every one percent of organic matter in the soil, it releases on average:

  • 20 to 30 lbs. of Nitrogen
  • 4 to 7 lbs. of Phosphorus
  • 2 to 3 lbs. of Sulfur

Organisms in the soil are vital in the decomposition process.  They help recycle the nutrients into forms that are readily available for plants to absorb through their roots.  It is a symbiotic relationship.  Other plants, like legumes (prairie clovers, lead plant and indigos), actively fix nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil.  These native plants live harmoniously together, forming a matrix of roots that keep giving back to the land.

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Purple Prairie Clover at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains

They improve soil porosity.

What we see above ground is only 1/3 of the entire prairie plant.  The roots are 2/3 of the plant and 1/3 of those roots die each year, adding organic matter to the soil and opening pores, so water can percolate deeply into the ground.  If you have a heavy clay soil, native grass roots can break through compacted soils.  It is rare to see standing water in a prairie because of the holes punctured deep into the earth by plant roots, allowing rainfall to be readily absorbed.

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The rich soils of the prairie that were broken for farming were a result of huge quantities of organic matter.  In some places in the Tallgrass Prairie, the top soil was over ten feet deep from centuries of organic matter decomposition.  Think of the prairie soil as a living organism that gives and takes and gives and takes.  It is true, prairies develop healthy soils.  Why not start bettering your own soil by growing a prairie?

Five Ways Native Plants Enrich the Environment

One of the traits of being a horticulturist is a heightened awareness of plants.  The good, the bad, the ugly, the sad, and the beautiful are all critiqued.  My family is used to it, but they still roll their eyes from time to time as I stop to look at various landscapes.

Over the past few days as I shop for gifts for Christmas, I have noticed several sad landscaping attempts outside the stores.  Creativity is at a minimum and most displays add nothing to the beauty of the place.  Granted, it is a parking lot or store front, but the plants I have seen do nothing to enrich the environment.

I don’t have all the answers for these areas, but I think native plants could really bring some life to these tough spaces and our own landscapes.  Here are five ways I believe native plants enrich the environment.

Native plants increase biodiversity.

A healthy ecosystem includes a variety of plants that are in bloom throughout the year, attracting a host of pollinators.  We don’t need to give up beauty for function.  Simply put, native plants make things happen in the landscape.

Flying Flowers of Kansas

Native plants enrich the soil.

It goes without saying, but a diverse collection of native plants with deep roots benefits any soil type.  Native plant roots can grow up to 10 to 15 feet deep depending on the species.  Their roots break up heavy clay soils and allow water to thoroughly permeate the soil profile.

A good example would be Big Bluestem.  What we see above ground is only 1/3 of the entire plant.  The roots are 2/3 of the plant and 1/3 of those roots die each year, adding organic matter to the soil and opening pores so water can percolate into the soil.  Legumes such as purple prairie clover or wild indigos fix nitrogen from the air and deposit it into the soil as well.  The extensive root systems of native plants help stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.  Wow, so many soil benefits!

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Native plants reduce inputs.

Native plants do not need pesticides or fertilizers to promote growth.  They are able to use nutrients already in the soil to actively grow.  A healthy plant that is not under stress is able to fend off pests more easily.  Native plants are drought tolerant and require little – if any – supplemental water to survive.  If the right plant is matched to the site, that native plant will grow with minimal care after it is properly established.

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Native plants provide habitat.

Native plants increase habitat used by wildlife, particularly songbirds. With songbird populations in decline, native plants provide the food and shelter they need for survival.  Even a small garden display can have a positive impact.

A robin looks for food in a native plant bed.

A robin looks for food in a native plant bed.

 

Native plants provide a “sense of place”.

Native plants thrive in the Great Plains.  They are adapted to its unique environmental conditions and require no special care to survive. Native plants growing in your area convey an understanding of the special place where we live.  Let’s look at the particular plants that are native to the land and embrace our “sense of place”.

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Four Ways to Highlight Elements of Your Natural Landscape.

Many people come to the Luminary Walk each year and enjoy the prairie landscape illuminated by Christmas lights.  It is amazing how a few lights can make the natural landscape come to life at night.  Typically, the winter landscape is cold, harsh and lifeless, but warm glowing Christmas lights can invite you in and provide visual interest.  Here are some ways we use lights to warm up our prairie garden.

Up-Light Trees, Shrubs and Focal Points: 

As trees and shrubs lose their leaves, some remarkable architecture is revealed.  What we perceive as a barren, stark landscape in the winter has beautiful, often unnoticed shapes, forms and branching structure.  The simple use of well-placed lights such as spot lights under trees and shrubs brings these plants to life.  Shop lights with an incandescent light bulb are what we use, but LED can be used as well.  Weaving strings of lights through evergreens or draping lights over shrubs illuminate their round shapes.  I have even wrapped tree trunks and branches with strings of mini lights.  Icicle lights, rope lights, lath wrapped with mini lights, and shooting stars are just a few alternatives to traditional mini lights.

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Outline Paths

Strings of mini lights along a path or placed on plants next to the path edge are a fantastic way to lead you through your garden.  I have even used rope lights to brighten a path or bridge.  If you are going to be in the garden at night, why not light up your way?

Bridge

Less Is More

Too many lights is too commercial in my opinion.  I tend to err on the side of putting out less rather than more.  Focus on a few focal points within the landscape.  Accent the most important elements with lights, but don’t overdo it.  Too many lights will only distract from the natural beauty of your landscape.

We have also been using more LED lights.  They use far less energy than conventional outdoor lights and can be connected together in longer lengths.

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Avoid Using Colored Lights:

I know this is a preference, but I really believe white lights make everything seem much brighter. At night, they really stand out more than other colors.  Warm, white lights illuminate plants and focal points naturally.  Red, blues and greens are not normal, authentic and look fake in my opinion.

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Bald Cypress

 

I find new ideas from the web.  People more creative than me are always coming up with ways to illuminate the natural elements in the landscape.  I try to keep it simple by accenting points of interest.  Look at the lights from different perspectives to get the positioning right.  By adding just a few lights you can enjoy you landscape even when it is sleeping for the winter.

 

 

 

 

Dos and Don’ts of Autumn Yard Work

Gardening in the fall is different from gardening during the summertime.  In my opinion, autumn yard work could barely be called work and borders on fun.  The weather is perfect.  Cool days with warm sunshine lure us outdoors.  Take advantage of this wonderful season, because winter will be here before we know it.  There is so much that can be done in our landscape, but how do we prioritize those chores?  Here is a list of dos and don’ts to help focus your efforts this autumn season:

Dos:

1. Plant anything and everything.

Trees, shrubs, and perennials benefit from warm soils and beneficial autumn rainfall.  Plants properly established will have a head start next spring. Perennials should be planted well before the end of October. Install spring blooming bulbs, tree and shrubs before the ground freezes.

2. Take inventory and think spring

Analyze each area in your yard to determine how plants performed through the year and what will enhance the landscape.  A quick check now will guide your efforts next spring.

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3. Clean up leaves

Remove leaves from display beds so that plants don’t get smothered.  Collected leaves can be composted, which makes excellent plant food and humus.  Analysis shows that, when composted, leaves from most trees can contain up to twice as many minerals as aged manure.

4. Mulch

Fall is a great time to mulch all your plants.  Mulching now will help protect roots from extreme temperatures while also helping the soils to retain moisture in a typically cold, dry winter.  We apply 2-3 inches of new mulch around perennials, trees and shrubs.  Be careful!  Don’t allow mulch to contact the stem or trunk.  We leave a halo around the plants to aid in air exchange and drying.  Too much mulch can cause more harm than good.

Table Rock Maple

Table Rock Maple

5. Water

It is vital that perennials, trees and shrubs are adequately watered throughout the fall.  Newly installed plants don’t have a fully established root system and would benefit from periodic watering.  If the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry, the plants need water.  Evergreen trees continue to need moisture in winter, so irrigate thoroughly if needed before the ground freezes.

Don’ts:

1. Do not remove seed heads and stalks.

In certain gardens, we deadhead spent blooms on plants such as gray-headed coneflower to prevent seeding.  Other seedheads are left through the winter as food sources for birds.  We leave ornamental grasses through the winter.  They provide texture and movement in the winter landscape.  These beds will be cleaned up in the spring. Seedheads to leave through the winter include black-eyed Susans, sunflowers, coneflowers, grasses, and trees and shrubs with berries.

Coneflower Seedhead

2. Do not remove habitat.

Logs, leaf piles, brush piles and perennials such as grasses are havens for insects that overwinter in the garden.   These beneficial insects will be drawn to your yard if you provide even just a few of these elements in the landscape.

3. Do not prune trees and shrubs.

Keep in mind that fall is NOT the best time to prune trees and shrubs.  It encourages new growth that will not get hardened off before winter, making it susceptible to damage.  Prune trees in the winter after they have gone dormant.  Shrubs can be pruned in the winter as well, but only if they bloom on new growth.  Pruning spring blooming shrubs in the winter will remove next year’s blooms.  Prune these after they have finished blooming in the spring.

4. Don’t let leaves smother your lawn.

Too many leaves will shade lawns and choke out grass.  Either rake and collect them or shred them if they are not too thick.

5. Do not leave out weather-vulnerable pots.

Clay pots are an investment that can be lost with the first freeze.  If the soil inside the pot freezes, it will expand, causing it to crack.  It is best to remove the soil and put the pot in the garage or tip upside down.  There may be ways to” winter proof” these pots with soil in them, but I don’t like to take the chance.

6. Don’t let weeds go to seed.

This seems obvious, but those weeds have a way of hiding.  Look thoroughly at your landscape.   A little work now with weed removal will pay dividends next year.

 

Don’t stay indoors this fall.  Do have fun being outdoors in your landscape!

 

Five Reasons to Love Kansas in Autumn

Last weekend, my family was invited to a get together out in a friend’s pasture.  It was away from any civilization, quiet and cool.  As we sat around the bonfire and visited, I was reminded why this is my favorite time of the year. Here are my reasons for loving Kansas in autumn, but I am sure there are more that you can add:

1. Cooler Weather

Yes, the weather is getting colder.  I love to go to work wearing a sweatshirt and then enjoy a warm late afternoon walk in my shorts and t-shirt. The sunlight is warm and bright, but there’s always a breeze to balance out the heat. It is usually not too hot or too cold, which is perfect in my opinion.

On the gardening front, fall’s cooler weather signals a reprieve from watering and the slowing of maintenance regimens.  This time of year allows me to step back and enjoy the fruits of our labor throughout the year.  I can spend quality time outside taking in the beauty and bounty of the landscape.  It is always good to reflect and appreciate all your energy and effort given during the year.  Otherwise, would it really be worth it?

Maximilian Sunflower

 

2. The Prairie’s Last Hurrah

Native grasses are at their best right now.  They are in full plumage.  They are changing color from green to bold reds, yellows, and oranges.  They have reached their full height and are spectacular.  If you combine these grasses with just a few fall blooming wildflowers like asters, goldenrods, sunflowers, blazing stars and blue sage, you have the makings for an incredible natural habitat.  I love the way our prairie garden goes a little wild this time of year, still teaming with all sorts of pollinators.

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3. Changing Trees

Nothing signals the switching seasons like the trees.  Sure, it is not like New England, but we can have some amazing fall color on our trees.  Have you noticed that one tree in your neighborhood that explodes into color each year?  Since those trees are so rare in this part of the world, we should appreciate them even more.

Table Rock Maple

 

4. Sunrises and Sunsets

The evening sky has been incredible lately.  Vibrant reds, blues, and purples highlight the sky.  WOW!  Sunrises have been equally spectacular.  So, step outside in the evening or take a morning walk and revel in the beautiful sky.

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5. The Smells of Autumn

A warm bonfire while you’re roasting a marshmallow to make a s’more. That first autumn rain after warm, dry weather called petrichor .  The smell of a cool crisp morning.  Pumpkin Pie cooking in the oven.  Anything pumpkin, for that matter.  A warm pot of soup, a freshly mown yard, the rich earth as you turn your garden.  The smell of old leaves on the ground, a freshly brewed cup of coffee, homemade bread cooling on the kitchen counter.  You get the point.

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Bonfire at Luminary Walk

 

Autumn is a great season of the year.  Take some time to appreciate the beauty of fall.  Enjoy moments with family and friends.  Take in the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel, and the tastes of autumn, because winter is coming all too fast.

Have You Ever Wondered What The Tallgrass Prairie Was Really Like?

In late September, I was at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City, KS.  It was a great experience.  The Flint Hills were in bloom with wildflowers and the grasses were adorned in their autumn glory.  I walked to the top of the bluff on the Southwind Nature Trail and looked to the west.  It is a magnificent sight to behold.  The rolling hills covered with amber grasses were stunning.  I stood there for quite a while taking in the sights and sounds of the tallgrass prairie.

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It made me think about the prairie and imagine what it must have been like in the early 1800s – to look at this “sea of grass”  moving and waving in the wind stretching as far as the eyes could see.  The Flint Hills offer us just a glimpse of what The Great Plains used to be. They show us how much we have lost.

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These enormous plains with grass up to a horse’s belly or higher were extraordinary.  Early settlers and explorers tried to describe what they saw.  Here are some of their descriptions:

 
…we walked on over a Ridge came to high large prairies and hills.  We walked on found some cherries near a handsome Spring River and named cherry Run at which we drank at the forks then followed it or one branch to the head which came out of a ridge which joins the prairies, and went up on a high Ridge of prairie where we could See all around for a long distance in the open prairies or as far as our eyes could behold, and on the opposite Side of the Missouris we saw a large and extensive prairie which looked very handsome,…”  The Journals Sergeant John Ordway Kept on the Journey of the Corps of Discovery, July 15, 1804.

 

“I felt motion in the landscape; in the fresh easy blowing wind, and in the earth itself, as if the shaggy grass were a sort of loose hide, and underneath it herds of wild buffalo were galloping, galloping…” —Willa Cather, My Antonia, 1918

 

…boundless and beautiful / For which the speech of England has no name– / The Prairies…

…Fitting floor / For this magnificent temple of the sky…

– William Cullen Bryant (1866, “The Prairies,” D. Appleton, New York, NY)

 

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“Elysian (heavenly)  fields of tremendous areas of luxuriant grass” (Fremont 1845)

 

I would encourage you to visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.  Sure, it is not the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, but it is unique to our part of the world.  It highlights an ecosystem that is nearly gone, but worth saving.  It made me more aware of how quickly something can be lost.  I can still hear the birds, feel the wind on my face and picture the hills of grass spreading into the distance as I stood on that overlook.  It was a snapshot of the prairie that will stay with me forever.