FloraKansas Greenhouse Guide

When you visit the greenhouse during our FloraKansas fundraisers, you may notice some signage hanging over the aisles: Shade, Adaptables, Natives for Sun. This post will help you make sense of how we organize the species so you can find exactly what you want and start planting!

Use the aisle markers to help you navigate the greenhouse. You may also find it helpful to bring your Native Plant Guide with you, helping you remember the names and attributes of the plants you are interested in. Photo by Amy Sharp Photography.


In the north aisle you will find shade plants, both native and adaptable. These plants will appreciate all day dappled sun or less than 6 hours of direct sun per day. By nature, many of these plants like a bit more water than their sun loving counterparts. There are lots of great options for dry shade, however, which is common in Kansas’ suburban neighborhoods. Use your native plant guide or the placard over each species to know which plants like it dry or moist, and help you select the right plants for your site.

Shade Garden
The native columbine Aquilegia canadensis thrives in the Arboretum shade garden.
This is one of many shade-tolerant species you can find at FloraKansas.
Geranium maculatum ‘Crane Dance’ is a hybrid of two parent G. maculatum types. This plant can tolerate droughty shade and has excellent fall color. Photo courtesy Walter’s Gardens


Heptacodium, also known as Seven Son Flower, is a shrub from northern Asia. While it is not native here, our butterflies sure do love it! Hardy and drought tolerant, it has become one of our favorite adaptable shrubs. Monarchs on Seven Son Flower at Dyck Arboretum, 9/20/2020 – Photo by Gerry Epp

The center aisle is for Adaptables. This is our catch-all term for non-natives that still deserve to be included in our sale. Maybe it is because they are a well-known garden classic, like peonies or hibiscus. Perhaps they are new and unique, appealing to the adventurous gardeners in our customer base. No matter the reason they initially caught our eye, we consider the following before we add them to our inventory:

  • do they reliably perform well in our area?
  • are they known to be non-invasive?
  • do they still benefit our local pollinators and birds?
  • are they particularly water-wise or hardy?

We research every plant that goes into this aisle to make sure these species deserve a spot at our sale, and have something special to offer our shoppers.

Natives for Sun

Lastly the Natives for Sun aisle is by far the most jam packed and diverse of the three, alphabetized by latin name for all those botany nerds out there. These plants are native to KS and our bordering states. We research the historical ranges for these plants. We also research which horticultural varieties we carry are naturally occurring or intentionally hybridized by breeders. Information is always changing on this topic! When considering whether it is ‘native enough’ for this aisle we also consider factors like how the flower form and leaf color has potentially been changed by humans, which can affect its function in the ecosystem.

Ratibida columnifera is a native prairie plant you would find in our Natives for Sun aisle.
It loves hot summer days and open spaces! Photo by Emily Weaver.

Our greenhouse was built in 2008, and has changed the way we operate our fundraiser in a big way. Before we had a greenhouse, Florakansas was held in the parking lot! I am so glad those days are gone and that our greenhouse is the permanent home for Florakansas, a center of activity for volunteers, and a warm place to escape to in late winter. We hope to see lots of you enjoying the greenhouse at our spring sale!

The Importance of Site Analysis, Part 3

As we have discussed over the past few weeks, beautiful gardens don’t happen by accident. You need to analyze and deeply understand your garden over time. Once you have a pretty good handle on what you are working with, you will be ready to begin the process of choosing the right plants. Here are a couple more things to be aware of within your landscape.

Sight Lines

One of the questions I ask clients about their property is “Where will you be looking at your garden from?” Seems like a simple question, but it is often overlooked. This helps orient the plants in the right lines and heights for maximum viewing.

For instance, for an island planting in your backyard, will you be mostly looking at it from your living room or deck? If so then put the taller plants in the back and the shorter perennials along the front. In the case of a foundation planting, then the viewing would be mostly from the street, but you will want to see it from your windows. I would not use really tall plants that block the view from the front porch or windows.

Another aspect of sight lines is screening. Is there a view that you want to hide/screen? Are taller plants needed to provide you with privacy? Both can be achieved with plant material but your need to be thinking about mature plant height. Is there a structure arbor, fountain or garden art that you want to guide people to with a path or by using the clean lines of a flower bed?

Topography and Drainage

Positive drainage away from your house is so important. Basements are ruined with poor drainage around your home. Really work at getting water to flow away from your home before putting any plants in the ground.

Another thing to understand within your landscape is where the water flows. Standing water for a few hours is one thing, but if the water stands for days then plants will be adversely affected. If you have pooling water after a big rainstorm, then you can divert it away more quickly via a ditch or shallow swale. A better idea might be to develop a rain garden?

Butterfly milkweed in the small rain garden at the arboretum

By understanding these aspects of your landscape, you will be rewarded season after season with beautiful, functional, earth-friendly oasis. A garden that works with landscape and not against it. Whether, you just moved to a new home that you are unfamiliar with or want to start over with your current garden, site analysis is the place to start. Good luck!

If you need help with your native garden come to FloraKansas: Native Plant Days.

The Importance of Site Analysis Part 2

The more you understand your garden, the easier it will be to choose the right plants for your site.  We all have plant preferences but not all of your plant preferences will grow in your garden.  Here are a few more aspects to consider as you analyze your landscape. 

Soil Type

Here in south central Kansas, our soils are typically alkaline, which is good for growing most prairie plants.  Soils can be pH neutral with a value of 7.0, or anything below that is classed as acid, and anything above, alkaline. To determine your pH, a simple soil test can be done by yourself from kits at most garden centers or through the extension service. 

Other soil considerations are consistency and texture. At the Arboretum, we deal mostly with clay soils.  This soil type compacts easily and drains poorly. You must find plants with root systems that can penetrate through the dense structure of clay, i.e., big bluestem, asters, and indigos.  Other soil types are sandy (dries out quickly, low nutrient holding capacity, low organic matter and loose in your hand), Silty (mixture of a sand and clay, easily compacted), Chalky (stoney, exposed subsoil after construction, good drainage) and Loamy (high in organic matter, holds moisture and nutrients). 

If you have been working in your garden for any length of time, you have a good idea of what type of soil you have.  You can add some compost to your soil if it is really terrible, but typically, you can find plants that will grow in your soil conditions.  For example, there are plants that appreciate the consistent drainage of sandy soils especially during the winter months. 

If your soil is alkaline, you will struggle growing rhododendrons and azaleas that need acidic soil.  Try to gather as much information about your soil and then find plants that grow in it. Finding the right plant for the right place will make you garden smarter not harder.

Think of Garden Aspect

Once you have defined the area you want to landscape, you need to understand aspect. Garden aspect simply means which way your garden is facing.  If it north facing, typically shadowed by your house, it needs plants that can grow in shade or partial shade.  If it is south facing, then choose plants for all day sun.  If it east facing, then choose plants that need six hours of sunlight, but are protected from the hottest sunlight hours.  If your garden is west facing then choose plants that can endure the hottest sunlight hours. 

South-facing garden with prairie dropseed, blackeyed susan, Amsonia hubrichtii, russian sage and Taylor junipers.

Obviously, trees, structures, and house orientation play a role in garden aspect.  The key is to observe your garden at different times throughout the year.  This will help you understand completely where the sunlight is coming from and how intense it can be.

One other thing to consider is microclimates within your garden.  There may be small areas that behave totally different than other areas ten to fifteen feet away.  One example would be a protected area along a fence or under a tree the shields that site from hot west sunlight and drying winds. Or, a low area in your yard that stays consistently moist is another example. These areas might allow you the opportunity to try a few different plants that would not otherwise grow in your garden.

Next Week: Site Analysis Part 3

The Importance of Site Analysis

Over the past few months, I have been working on some landscape designs.  These designs have reminded me how important site analysis is to a successful design.  Choosing the right plants for an area begins with a close look at the area being considered for a new garden. In my opinion, gardeners (I include myself in this category) don’t spend enough time observing our gardens throughout the year prior to planting anything. Here are a few important aspects to consider that will help you develop a rewarding planting scheme.

What is the size of your outdoor space? 

Site analysis begins with taking a step back to observe the big picture. A small planting bed leading to the front door versus a larger foundation or island planting require different plants. Most plants need space to fully develop. Be realistic when you first start thinking about your garden.  Lay out your garden beds with a hose to help define the landscape space.  Step back and look at the lines and size of the bed.  Is this the look you want for the area? 

Another piece of advice I often give is to start small and work on your areas over successive seasons.  A new garden can be overwhelming as you work to establish new plants, control weeds and maintain those new plants through the first year.  Once the first area is up and growing, you can move to the next area.  By starting small, you can build on your successes.

By using a garden hose to layout your garden, you can play with the design and curves before moving any soil. Step back and take a look. Adjust the lines until you are satisfied with the flow and size of the bed. Visualize the area with mature plants.

Control perennial/annual weeds before planting anything


Obviously, the best time to eradicate bindweed is before you plant. I spray the area with Roundup™ several times starting in July and August. Anytime we see green, the area is sprayed. This is the best time to spray because the plant is moving energy from the leaves into the roots for winter storage. The chemical is also moved throughout the extensive root system, killing even those deep roots. Trust me, it is worth waiting to plant until this weed is removed permanently.

Small patches can be hand pulled but you have to stay on it. Every sprig that pops up must be pulled immediately.  We have also had limited success with hand painting the leaves with Round-up.  Again, every new plant must be found and painted.  Essentially, you have to be as ruthless and relentless as this weed is to completely remove it from your garden. I thank my ancestors for bringing this over to America with their wheat seed.

If you are firmly opposed to using any chemicals, you might consider solarization instead, or you may want to read my colleague’s blog post “On Weeding“.

Bermuda grass

This perennial grass is a problem because of its vigorous creeping habit.  The plant spreads by seeds and by above and below ground stems that can take over a garden in one season.  It is drought tolerant and thrives with neglect.

Like bindweed, bermudagrass is best removed before planting (same as bindweed).  If you have it growing next to your gardens, a buffer must be maintained between the perennial display and the lawn area.  This buffer can be weeded by hand or sprayed every few weeks with Roundup™ to burn back any new runners toward the garden.  Raised beds are another defense against bermudagrass.  Don’t blow bermuda grass clippings into your gardens.  Again, it is better to wait to establish your new wildflower garden until you have bermudagrass eliminated.  I have made the mistake of planting into bermudagrass and I am fighting with it every year. 

Keep plants in scale

I don’t always observe or think about proportion and scale until it is too late. Keep in mind that your overall garden size helps determine what plants you can use in your design. Plant scale generally means using plants that are half the bed width. For instance, an area six feet wide needs plants that are no taller than three feet. A tall (8 foot) compass plant would stick out like a sore thumb if used in this area. In a narrow bed leading to your front door, taller plants tend to fall over and get in the way. Shorter plants such as prairie dropseed and black-eyed susans are a better option. Measure up what you have in order to see how everything will fit into place.

Compass Plant is a beautiful wildflower that gets eight feet tall. It is out of scale in a smaller space. Give it room to grow.

Look for Site Analysis Part 2 next week.