Getting ready for fall’s crescendo

As the growing season winds down, there is still plenty happening in the garden. I like to think of this time as fall’s crescendo, bringing the prairie’s annual symphony to a high point before falling into dormancy. The asters are beginning to show a few blooms while the goldenrods and sunflowers are adding a bit of sunshine to the landscape and roadsides. 

Fall is a great time to glory in the many textures and forms of our native grasses too.  Every phase of the garden is beautiful, but I have come to appreciate autumn the most. 

Asters and Little Bluestem in the fall

Life is a cycle

Each fall, the garden reminds us that we have come full circle. From winter’s dormancy to lush spring growth through summer’s blazing hot days to fall’s crescendo of color and texture, the prairie has put on another spectacular display.  Now as flowers fade, the grasses will show their true colors and everything slowly becomes lifeless and brown.  These forms, textures and seedheads standout in the landscape, extending the interest in the garden into the winter once again. 

Embrace brown

So much is happening in the garden right now.  Plants are storing energy in their roots for next year.  The browns and yellows of the foliage mean this process is complete.  Actively growing plants are only alive at or below the soil line.  This transformation can be stark, but I think it can be quite attractive. 

Just because the plant has gone dormant, doesn’t mean you need to remove it.  I challenge you to leave it up through the winter.  A prairie garden in the fall and winter with all its forms, textures and muted colors has a unique beauty that should be savored.  Let it be.  Don’t be too quick to send it to the compost pile.  

Autumn splendor of Little Bluestem

Shelter

Dormancy is important for the plants, but so many other things benefit from these plants this time of year.  Insects of all types overwinter in garden litter and tufts of grasses. Inside plant stems and at the base of grasses, insects and butterflies at different life stages are safely harbored for the winter. This is why it is so important to leave these dormant plants through the winter.  In the spring, we cut these plants down but leave the stems as mulch.  These dormant insects will wake from their winter slumber to pollinate for you next year.    

Food

Songbirds that overwinter will find flower heads such as coneflowers and sunflowers welcome food sources.  As the winter deepens, food becomes much more scarce.  These nutritious seeds are just what these birds need to get them through the coldest months.  Again, you can cut them back in February or March as you prepare for spring.  Remember to leave as much as you can on the ground as natural mulch.  Don’t carry all those beneficial insects away from the garden. 

Coneflower Seedheads

Fall’s Crescendo into Dormancy

Fall is a reminder that natural processes are at work.  Simply understanding how important this process of dormancy is to the prairie and to wildlife should guide how you manage it.  Take note how the stark contrast of the native grasses in texture, form, and hues of color against spent wildflowers gives the prairie landscape a unique beauty all its own.  Whether you are taking advantage of the cooler temperatures to work on an outdoor project or just enjoying the plants and wildlife, it’s a great time to be on the prairie. I love this time of the year. 

Switchgrass capturing snow

  

What to Plant in the Fall?

Fall is often overlooked as a key planting time for a beautiful garden. It’s such a good time to give your plants a little attention before winter sets in. Take advantage of fall’s cooler weather to dig in your yard and add a few plants. With warm days and cooler nights, I actually prefer to establish plants after the heat of summer has passed.  Here is a handy list of items I like to plant in the fall:

Shrubs

With warm soil temperatures persisting well into October, adding a few shrubs to your landscape is one of the easiest tasks to do.  Whether evergreen or deciduous, fall planted shrubs will continue to root as long as the soil is not frozen.  Select healthy, actively growing shrubs and always plant at or slightly above the natural soil line.  These newly planted shrubs will benefit from regular watering through the fall until the ground freezes.  Mulching appropriately stabilizes the soil temperatures to keep newly established plants rooting until winter dormancy. 

Leadplant is an native butterfly bush alternative.

Trees

Fall is a perfect time for tree planting. With an increase in rainfall and cooler temperatures, you will need less water to get the trees established.  Tree growth stops as the days get shorter, but warm soil and consistently cooler weather help spur on new root growth.  These new roots will develop as long as the soil is not frozen.  Trees planted in the fall are better equipped to deal with heat and drought in the following season because they have a more established root system.  Fall is also a great time to pick trees by the fall they produce.  Steps to planting a tree. 

Newly planted American Elm

Perennials

Time and again we have seen the benefits of planting perennials in the fall here at the Arboretum.  We usually have more time to focus on getting them established, too.  Fall planted perennials such as wildflowers and even native grasses are more robust and vigorous the following year.  It’s true, we don’t always feel like gardening this time of year, but the reward is worth the extra effort.  Here is a short list of perennials for fall plating: 

Wildflowers

  • Black-eyed susan
  • Coneflower
  • Blazing star
  • Asters
  • Penstemon
  • Primrose
  • False Indigo
  • Blue Star
  • Yarrow
  • Milkweed

Grasses

  • Little bluestem
  • Big bluestem
  • Indiangrass
  • Prairie dropseed
  • Switchgrass

As you can see, just about any perennial can be planted in the fall.  Establish them as you do in the spring with daily watering for the first few weeks depending on the weather.  Back off on watering as you see new growth. 

During the winter, check the new plants monthly and water them if the top inch or two is dry.  The biggest issue with fall establishment is that the plants get too dry during the winter.  Desiccation/neglect can be a real drawback of fall planting.  I have done this myself by thinking “Oh, the plants are dormant, so they don’t need to be watered.”  Don’t forget to check them through the winter!

Butterfly Milkweed

Bulbs and Cool Season Grass

Fall is a great time to plant a few spring blooming bulbs.  Order or pick up quality bulbs and plant them to the suggested depth.  I love daffodils, but species tulips, grape hyacinth and ornamental onions are nice additions to the garden. 

August and September are great times to establish cool season turf like fescue.  Make sure you buy seed that is free of weeds and other crop seed.     

While most gardeners are more accustomed to planting in spring, fall is also an ideal time to get a variety of plants established in your garden. Don’t let garden fatigue keep you from getting your landscape ready for next year.  Working in the garden in fall makes good sense both now and for next spring. Come to our fall FloraKansas Native Plant Festival for more information and options for fall planting.

New Favorite Plants

Every plant sale I find myself enthusiastically telling customers, “This is my favorite plant!” And every plant sale, that plant changes. Lets be honest, every DAY that plant changes! I am always finding new favorite plants that excite and inspire in the landscape. I have been especially impressed with the new shrubs and perennials in my home landscape. With little care and sporadic watering, they have beat the odds and survived in my laissez-faire landscape. Here are a few of my new favorite plants.

Phemeranthus calycinus – Rock Pink or Fameflower

Fameflower is one of very few native succulent plants in Kansas. The thick, needle-like leaves and wiry stems make it a unique addition to any garden. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I found a few of these growing in the gravel under the benches in the Arboretum greenhouse and couldn’t bear to throw them away. I planted them in my native flower bed at home. A few tiny succulent leaves and a thin, hair-like root has turned into a huge, wonderful plant! Fameflower has never been a big seller, and it never caught my eye until now. These flowers bloom for weeks and weeks, the flowers opening and closing every day. Because they are succulent, they thrive in hot, full sun areas and require little water.

Amorpha fruticosa – false indigo bush

False indigo bush has huge, spikey blooms with showy yellow anthers. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

This shrub has been a favorite for a long time, but I had never planted one for myself. In the same genus as lead plant, it shares those lovely, pollinator-attracting purple spikes in late spring to early summer. The leaves are delicate and pea-like, and they are a favorite food of the silver spotted skipper caterpillar. I planted two of these shrubs in a low spot near the edge of my yard where water often collects after rain. They are thriving! To keep them from getting leggy, I plan to trim them back every spring.

These plants have only been planted for a few months, and already they are attracting wildlife! I saw some strangely folded leaves and upon further investigation found a caterpillar inside. This leaf folding is how the caterpillars create shelter for themselves as they eat.
They are very hard to photograph, but you can see the tiny black head with orange marking and light green body of the silver spotted skipper butterfly.
After blooming, it displays unusual drooping seeds heads.

Lythrum alatum – winged loosestrife

Don’t let the delicate purple flowers fool you; this plant is tough! It has already survived floods and drought in our small rain garden, and it was only planted in May.

No, this is not that terrible invader purple loosestrife taking over US wetlands. This is it’s well behaved native cousin. Wing-loosestrife has been a wonderful addition to our tiny rain garden area, and has come back from the brink of death multiple times when I have forgotten to water. That’s my kind of plant! Hummingbirds, long tongued bees, and skippers are all known to nectar on winged loosestrife.

More favorite plants to come….

This fall I hope to make a few additions to my beds. I need to add some filler and texture to my side yard, so I will plant mountain mint. A long blooming, drought tolerant favorite of pollinators, the white flowers will help blend the colors of the bed into a cohesive look. Pair that with the airy-ness of sand love grass and the charisma of cat claw sensitive briar, and I think the garden will shape up nicely!

Cat claw sensitive briar has spherical pink blooms and leaves that close up when touched. It can be found growing native statewide.

All of these plants and many more soon-to-be favorites are available for purchase at our FloraKansas Native Plant Festival September 10-13. Check our website for information about our member-only day, curbside pick up procedures, and Covid19 updates relevant to the sale.

Shrubs for Wet Areas

Last week while splashing around in a lake in Missouri, I noticed a shoreline of shrubs blooming and covered with pollinators. And wouldn’t you know, someone had just recently asked me to recommend some shrubs for wet areas in their landscape. (Yes, there ARE wet places in Kansas.) The first example was right in front of me. 

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

That shrub I saw blooming along the lake was buttonbush. This deciduous shrub is commonly found in moist to wet areas in full sun to partial shade.  It can persist even when submerged for a time. The lustrous leaves shine in the sunlight. In early to mid-summer, the unusual, fragrant flower balls of this native shrub are magnets to a host of pollinators. 

I have seen up to two dozen swallowtail butterflies on one plant when in bloom. It has a rounded-upright habit ultimately reaching 8-10 feet tall and wide. ‘Sugar Shack®’ is a shorter form that works well in the landscape. Fruit persists into winter, adding winter interest. 

The Sputnik-like blooms of Buttonbush

 

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

Elderberries are under appreciated as landscape plants.  Even in the wild they often blend into their surroundings.  They are only noticed when they burst into bloom in early summer with dense clusters of white flowers.  Pollinators seek out these flowers and cover the flat-topped bundles. 

Consider planting elderberry shrubs in a drainage area or part of the yard that always floods – they thrive in excess water. Many people use the raw elderberries in jams, wines, and home remedies. ‘Adams’ and ‘York’ are two types of elderberry we recommend for heavy fruit production. You must have at least one of each for best fruiting. 

Elderberry Blooms

Dogwoods (Cornus sp.)

Some of the shrub dogwoods (Silky Cornus ammomum, Cornus racemosa and Cornus drummundii) are good options for wetter areas in the landscape. Each is a little different in height, shape and habit. However, they all offer creamy-white blooms in late spring or early summer. While in bloom, these shrubs are teaming with pollinators. Birds and other wildlife will eat the fruit that is produced. ‘Red Rover’ is a compact selection of silky dogwood with attractive blooms, bluish fruit and nice fall color. 

Others

Black and Red Chokecherry, Aronia melanocarpa and Aronia arbutifolia

Possumhaw, Ilex decidua

Deciduous Holly Fruit in winter

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata cultivars and hybrids

Spicebush, Lindera benzoin

Arrowwood Viburnum, Viburnum dentatum

Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium

Rusty Blackhaw, Viburnum rufidulum

As it turns out there are very few plants that will grow in soil that is constantly saturated. These shrubs are more tolerant of wet sites than others. Obviously, all plant roots require oxygen in order to function and grow properly.  These shrubs persist in soil that lacks oxygen or is periodically flooded without succumbing to diseases and site related problems. 

Try some of these native shrubs that are more adapted to these adverse conditions. You can find them at our FloraKansas Native Plant Festival in September!

A Flint Hills Visit: Inspiration for Native Landscaping

The prairie and its Flint Hills environment at Chase State Fishing Lake (CSFL) provide serious inspiration for native landscaping. The CSFL vegetation, wildlife, substrate below, and the sky above collectively compose for me the most beloved and iconic landscape of native Kansas.

During my many past visits to CSFL, I have usually had an agenda that involved leading a tour group, collecting seed, or gathering butterfly data. I have never taken the opportunity to climb the bluff, sit in the prairie, listen to the grassland birds, observe butterflies and other pollinators, and watch the clouds go by. But I did just that on a recent Saturday in late June.

American lady butterfly on purple coneflower at CSFL

Pure Enjoyment

In addition to providing inspiration for native landscaping, visits to CSFL bring me pure enjoyment. During this recent visit, the steady breeze – with not a tree to stop it – was a reliable Kansas air conditioner. It kept me from thinking about the sweat-inducing effects of the hot sun. The puffy clouds overhead kept changing the light patterns and offered ever-fresh visual perspectives. In the midst of a surreal pandemic experience, when home and work routines are turned upside down and inside out, sitting on that prairie bluff was like visiting an old friend.

Big sky and clean water make CSFL a great place to fish or swim on a hot summer day

Desirable Wildflowers

The prairie wildflowers were plentiful during my visit thanks to a wet spring. The prairie plants we promote for the home landscape are in their native ecosystem here, with root systems that extend 10 to 15 feet into a matrix of limestone/flint/chert.

Rich images of plants like narrow-leaved bluets (white flowers) and lead plant (purple flowers) growing through rock are common at CSFL

In addition to a stunning display of orange and red butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), other flowering species included tuberous Indian plantain (Arnoglossum plantagineum), narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias stenophylla), smooth milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii), green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora), serrate-leaf evening primrose (Calylophus serrulatus), white prairie-clover (Dalea candida), purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), Illinois tickclover (Desmodium illinoense), purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), narrow-leaf bluets (Hedyotis nigricans), catclaw sensitive briar (Mimosa quadrivalvis), and prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera). In your garden, these plants will attract monarch larvae (milkweeds) and other pollinators, fix nitrogen (legumes) and provide year-round visual interest.

Smooth milkweed at CSFL

Interesting Critters

The insects observed on flowers (including 17 butterfly species I noted) were plentiful. Spending time identifying and documenting insect diversity makes me want to see more of them in my landscape. Diversity of wildlife species is directly correlated to the diversity of plants in an ecosystem. Increase the diversity of flora and you will increase the diversity of fauna!

Wild indigo duskywings mating on lead plant at CSFL

In her last blog post, colleague Katie talks about the fun of identifying insects (The Mystery of the Orange Bug). I can certainly relate to the fun of trying to solve mystery insects.

The caterpillar pictured below is a new one to me. One of the identification tools and bio-networking platforms I’d like to use more is iNaturalist. Click HERE to see a couple of photos and help me with identification of this unknown (to me) caterpillar. One follower of this thread suggested the correct ID to be a salt marsh moth. I would have a hard time arguing otherwise.

Possibly a salt marsh moth on lead plant

Butterfly Milkweed

If nothing else, spending time at CSFL in late June will inspire you to fill your landscape with butterfly milkweed. It is harder to grow the same remarkable eye candy of this favorite prairie plant in richer and less well-drained soils. But in spite of my 50% success rate (at best), I keep trying. Never before have I heard somebody say that a prairie reconstruction or garden has too much butterfly milkweed!

Butterfly milkweed at CSFL

None of us will be able to completely recreate the open prairie of the Flint Hills in our urban landscapes. We can, however, take incremental steps in that direction with the plants we choose and the wildlife we attract. Visit Chase State Fishing Lake, absorb some if its good vibes, copy some of its elements with your plant selection choices, enjoy the wildlife viewing, and find new inspiration for native landscaping.

Click HERE for more of my thoughts about and photos from an earlier blog post about Chase State Fishing Lake.

Why Native Plants?

Achieving any goal is a challenge. I find those goals that matter to me the most especially difficult and daunting. Success in moving toward these big goals needs a compelling “WHY”.  Whether in self-care, your job, or with your family, why you want to make the effort helps keep you motivated and moving the ball forward. 

It is the same for gardening with native plants. Why are native plants so important? In difficult times, even I need to be reminded of “WHY” we promote the use of native plants here at the Arboretum and in the urban and suburban home landscape. 

What is YOUR why?

With so much angst about the state of the environment, gardening with native plants is something each of us can do. We all want to see positive change, but often the solutions seem too big and out of reach. I believe the first step is to start with your own yard and neighborhood. 

Choose natives for all the good they do. Choose native plants not because they are easy (they’re not), but because they belong in your yard. 

Choose natives because you can. It is your choice. And when you choose to use natives, and many others make the same choice, you will have a collective positive impact on the world around you. 

Choose native as an example for others to follow. Imagine what that would look like over time – all the relationships you will develop with other gardeners and the conversations you will be able to have. 

Butterfly Milkweed and Pale Coneflowers

Here are a few other reasons native plants should become the “new normal” in gardening:

Low Maintenance

There is no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape. Native plants still need some care, but compared to a traditional landscape with a lawn, tidy shrubs and a few trees surrounded by perennial beds, native plants are extremely low in maintenance. Native plants are adapted to our climate and can grow in the toughest environments. Once established, their deep roots take them through prolonged periods of drought. 

Saves money

There are obvious savings associated with a native landscape compared to maintaining a traditional landscape. A native landscape uses less water, little or no fertilizer and no chemicals or pesticides, which in turn saves you time. I am frugal and a native landscape is a low cost alternative to a traditional lawn-dominated landscape.  Conservation and stewardship are trends that help you and the environment.

Blue false indigo

Saves water

We have seen an increased interest in native plants because of the water they save once established. Many homeowners are decreasing their lawns as a way of saving water and money.  Most roots on a fescue or bluegrass lawn are only three to four inches deep compared to prairie wildflowers and grasses that develop extensive root systems several feet deep. Big bluestem grass, for example, establishes roots up to ten feet deep. With a shallow root system, a typical lawn requires ten gallons of water per square foot through the summer to keep it looking green. If you minimize your lawn, you will begin to diminish your dependence on water. 

Kansas Gayfeather and Grayheaded Coneflower blooming along the Arboretum pond

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. Here are a few design ideas to get you thinking about your own native garden.

Garden Design Waterwise Native Design

Attract pollinators and wildlife

Pollinators and wildflowers have a symbiotic relationship. If you have wildflowers, you will attract butterflies. There have been over 20 butterfly species identified and documented at the Arboretum during the butterfly counts. They seek out our wildflowers and utilize them throughout the year. Monarch populations are declining. They need milkweed, and since we have milkweed in the Arboretum, they show up. Also, just like the monarchs, songbird populations are declining.  They need prairie habitat for survival along with wildflower seeds to feed overwintering birds.

Often the “WHY” we do something gets lost in the tasks of creating something new. I need to be reminded “WHY” from time to time to reset my focus. Certainly there are more reasons “WHY” to use native plants – we each have our own unique perspective and motivation. I hope reading this has helped you reconnect with your why, so you can move ever closer to your native plant gardening goals.

Pollinator Week: Seen Through a Child’s Eyes

Children are naturally inquisitive.  We see it all the time.  Children marvel at the world around them.  They ask questions and are passionate about so many different things. 

At some point along the way as we grow up, that desire to learn and observe gets muted. Often, I find myself walking past the natural world to the next task, not taking the time to enjoy the beauty around me.  However, watching children around butterflies and other pollinators brings back the child in me. They marvel and are amazed by the smallest things, especially pollinators.

Pollinator Week: Pollinators, Plants, People, Planet

As we celebrate National Pollinator Week, I want to encourage you to look at these pollinators through a child’s eyes.  Slow down and watch the mesmerizing and beautiful work of pollinators.  If you have children or grandchildren, watch their eyes as they discover new things.  Their eyes are wide open and and their minds are ready to learn. 

Students conducting an Insect Sweep

Children are also our future conservationists, land managers and biologists. Adventures into the wild can be transformational for these youngsters.  We all know these connections to nature will plant a seed for the future. We need people who are passionate about the natural world and its management. And the younger we can develop those interests, the better.

So as you think about your garden and how you can save pollinators, think about your own transformative experiences. What was awe inspiring, what made you smile, and what had you never seen before? Simply having plants that attract pollinators will have an impact on pollinators in the present, but having people (you and your children or grandchildren) in your garden to love and appreciate them will save the pollinators into the future. 

After the First Year: Words of Encouragement

Thinking about starting a new garden using native plants is one thing, but putting in the time to get it established is another thing altogether.  I was reminded today of the rewards you receive after working hard that first year to get your garden properly established.  A design I had put together for a local couple last spring is now exploding in blooms and growth this year.  They shared with me how amazed they are at the transformation those small plants have made in just one full year.  

Butterfly Milkweed and Pale Purple Coneflowers

The second year

This couple had put in the necessary time and effort last year by watering and weeding their small garden. There will still be a need for some maintenance this season, but it will be greatly reduced because of their efforts last year. 

Establishment is such an important step in the development of a new garden. You will still need to water during prolonged droughts and weed out invasive species. You will need to be vigilant until these natives are fully rooted and completely filling the space, crowding out weeds.  Then you can let them fend for themselves, especially if you have done proper planning and chosen the right plants for the space. 

Yellow Coneflower, Prairie Dropseed and Giant Black-eyed Susan

Beyond the second year    

Keep in mind, your first garden doesn’t need to be perfect.  More often than not, it won’t be perfect. However, remember that you are creating a habitat that blooms, attracts wildlife and pollinators and brings you enjoyment. It takes time to get the results we want. 

Often we get discouraged by the amount of time and effort needed to keep our garden going that first year. Prolonged dry spells, wind, heat and weeds can easily take the fun out of it. Think long term and remember why you are doing this. I certainly have experienced that discouragement and burn out, but have been rewarded with beauty and wildlife as these natives take off the next few years.  

Remain patient and vigilant when establishing a native plant landscape, especially those first few years.  Each season, plants will shift in response to the weather and soil.  Follow the plants’ lead, tidy up after them as you need, and fill gaps with new plants. It generally takes 2-5 years before the full benefits of your landscaping efforts pay off and wildlife find and use the native plants. An old adage says, “The first year a garden sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year it leaps.”  

Bordered patches are commonly found throughout the southwest US and Northern Mexico, but can be found in Kansas through late fall.

The First Year: Getting Native Plants Established

The prairie communities we see are diverse and complex.  Plants, intricately woven together, crowd out weeds and harmoniously coexist.  When you look at a prairie, you only see about 1/3 of the plant.  The root systems that sustain these native plants make up the remainder, because they reach deep into the soil.  The first year is so critical to the whole process of getting native plants established. Developing these root systems properly is vitally important and the establishment period takes time.  Here are a few steps I take to get my new native plants started. 

Prairie Photo by Brad Guhr

Planting

I like to lay out the entire area by placing the plants where they are supposed to be planted.  This does a couple things: first, it helps with proper spacing of the plants and second, it helps to visualize the final outcome.  Think about mature size, rather than what the plants looks like in its infant state. 

Now that we have the plants laid out, we can start putting them in the soil.  It is critical to not plant them too deep.  In our heavy clay soils, it is best to plant them level or slightly higher (1/8 to ¼ inch) than the soil line, especially in heavier clay soil.  This keeps the crown drier, which is important for disease control.  Over time, these natives will develop at the depth they prefer to grow in. 

Lay out entire bed for proper spacing

Watering

Now that the plants are in the ground, they need frequent watering until they get established. Even drought-tolerant plants need to be watered daily until they begin to root and connect with the soil around them. Keep in mind that improper watering is the most common reason for plant loss during the establishment period. 

For me, I water each new area by hand rather than with a sprinkler. It helps me control the amount of water each plant receives and directs it to the intended plant.  I water every day for the first two weeks depending on the weather.  After that first two weeks, you should start to see new growth. 

For the next few weeks, I water every other day or every third day as needed, monitoring the planting each day for signs of stress/wilting. 

Even after this month long process of establishment, each plant must be monitored and watered through the following summer, fall, winter and spring.  Native plants are not established until the second summer. 

Remember, it takes a few years for those roots to fully develop.  If your plants are properly sited, you will not need to water much after the first full year.  However, if you must water your area during a dry period, natives will appreciate deep and infrequent watering. 

Using a watering wand to direct water on to new plants

Don’t Fertilize

People ask me all the time about fertilizing native plants.  As a general rule, I don’t fertilize our native plants especially during that first year. Think about those small plants in the ground and what will happen to them if they are fertilized. They will have tremendous top growth that is not sustainable by the small root system. This will put the plant under stress and slow its progress. 

Natives are resilient and adaptive. The deep roots most often will find the nutrients and moisture each plant needs.

Mulch

In the book Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, Thomas Rainer and Claudia West develop the ideas of layering plants. There are usually at least three distinct layers of plants: the upper layer filled with taller structural plants used to frame and punctuate the landscape, the middle layer filled with ornamental flowering plants and the ground level that weaves the other layers together and shades the soil, which controls weeds. 

These layers mimic natural plant communities and each layer is important for the health of the plants.  A collection of plants living in community can be extremely drought tolerant and water-thrifty.

If you decide to mulch your display beds initially, only place one to two inches of mulch down and keep it away from the stems.  This is fine as the beds are first established. As they mature, less mulch is needed because, with the right care, the plants become the mulch.  Something to think about is whether you have seen mulch in the prairie?  No, the plants eventually co-mingle and intertwine to push out weeds.     

Creating a native landscape takes time.  With each new plant established comes an expectation of a brighter future. Often, we garden and landscape our yards with the anticipation of what we will get rather than what we are giving back.  By adding native plants to our gardens, we will help make our gardens not only beautiful, but also productive and full of life.

Make Our Garden Your Home

May 8 to 17 is National Public Gardens Week and we want you to celebrate with us. The Arboretum grounds are open for visitors to stroll and enjoy the many spring flowers in bloom.  Plan your visit to the gardens through the Arboretum website and social media channels. 

These are challenging times, but public gardens large and small can provide many physical and mental health benefits. We all need a dose of the outdoors these days. If you can, get outside and enjoy your garden. And if you don’t have your own backyard oasis, I invite you to make our garden your home, or to visit another public garden nearby.

Julia Dyck Roupp helped plant the first Bur Oak tree at the Arboretum on October 10, 1981.

It’s hard to believe that the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains is nearly 40 years old.  Founded in 1981 by Harold and Elva Mae Dyck, the Arboretum has developed into a local and regional attraction.  Its mission to cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land has never been more important.  Whether through education and outreach programs, plant sales, tours, or a quiet walk around the gardens, the Arboretum is a microcosm of the prairie that helps make connections to the land inspiring. 

Our xeric beds in spring demonstrate the many ways plants survive periods of drought.

If you are not able to come to Hesston, follow the Prairie Notes blog or review the archives for helpful tips or inspiration for your next pollinator garden. By the way, there are still plants available in our greenhouse.  Place an order for curbside pickup or visit the greenhouse to peruse the many wonderful plants for wildlife.

 

“Let’s go fly a kite”

The BEST way to celebrate National Public Gardens Week with us is to show your love by coming to the Arboretum.  We want you to be welcomed and safe.  Please give others space and take the proper precautions, but take time to enjoy the beauty of the spring wildflowers. 

If you are able, help the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains continue to care for its 30-acre prairie garden, offer horticulture programs, educate students of all ages, and connect people to the land. There are many ways you can support the Arboretum — by making an online donation, becoming a member, purchasing a gift card for the future, or designating Dyck Arboretum as your Dillons Community Rewards recipient organization. We invite you to visit our Giving Opportunities page to learn more. 

Take care and thanks for your support. 

GIVE