Native Plant Selection Made Easy

I have found that a beautiful native landscape doesn’t magically appear.  It starts with a plan.  By choosing the right plants that grow well together in your setting, you will avoid many of the challenges homeowners face after the plants are established.  Plant selection is the most important step in the process of developing a native landscape, but it can also be the most challenging.  How do you select the best plants for a particular setting?  What do you need to do to insure their success?  Here are the steps I use to choose the best plants for a site and design a landscape that is both functional and beautiful.

Analyze the Location

You know your garden better than anyone.  You know the soil type.  Does it stay wet or is it extremely dry or something in between?  You know how much sun your area receives during the day and throughout the year.  You know where the water flows.  Are there areas that you can utilize as a background or backdrop?  Is there something you are trying to screen?  Is there an area you are trying to develop?  These are important questions that ultimately affect the types of plants you will choose.


Prepare the Site

Site preparation doesn’t have much to do with plant selection, but it is an important step to consider as you develop your native landscape.  You need to get perennial weeds such as bindweed and Bermuda grass eradicated before you plant your garden.  If these weeds are not eliminated, they will overrun and out compete anything you plant.  Trust me on this.  I am still fighting these weeds in certain areas in my yard because I didn’t complete this step.

It is also good to define the area with some kind of border.  I have used metal edging, brick, limestone or landscape stone.  Edging makes your native garden look intentional.  Develop an area you can manage and fits your lifestyle.   You can always expand, but a bed that is too large can quickly become overwhelming.

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Choose the Plants

Once you have gathered all this information about your site and all the initial work has been done, you are ready to decide which plants will grow well together.  The most important step in the selection process is matching plants to the site.  You need to become familiar with every aspect of the plants through investigation, research and experience.  I often start with one or two plants I know will grow in this location.  Once I have established them as the foundation, the other plant combinations come easier.

I design each landscape with the finished picture in mind.  I consider heights, bloom time, habit, forms and textures.  We often only think about these plants when they are in bloom, but don’t forget their other qualities, such as seed heads that provide visual interest in the winter months.  It provides you an opportunity to highlight these qualities with another perennials or native grasses (e.g. coneflower seed heads  against little bluestem).  I group plants together for visual affect and stagger blooms throughout the season.  You want something coming into bloom and going out of bloom from spring through fall.  I include grasses for texture and movement during the winter months.



Why plant a garden if you can’t enjoy it?  I predict that your native landscape will be a hub of pollinator and butterfly activity.  It will be an important link to other gardens in your neighborhood.  It may even inspire you to establish other prairie gardens in your landscape.  Your success may influence others to follow your example.  A native plant garden should be cherished, because you are helping the natural world in so many far-reaching ways.  Believe it or not, your garden will have a positive impact. So get started! Let your imagination and creativity inspire your design.

Paul Friesen.jen lefevre

Bearer of the Ammonite by Paul Friesen-Photo Courtesy of Jen LeFevre

Photo Credit


Six Ways You Can Help the Pollinators

Did you know that this week is National Pollinator Week (June 15 – June 21)? Whether it is with bees, butterflies, birds or beetles, pollinators are extremely important and provide valuable services.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce.  Think of all the food crop production that would not be possible without the help of pollinators.  We rely on these small, seemingly insignificant pollinators for the food we eat.  If they are so valuable, then they are certainly worth recognizing and saving.

Here are six ways you can help increase declining populations of pollinators, including bees and monarchs:

1. Plant Pollinator-Friendly Plants

Certainly, milkweeds are the best wildflowers for attracting monarchs to your yard.  We saw it this morning as we walked the arboretum – we found three caterpillars munching on the milkweed leaves.  Not only that, but every blooming wildflower was covered with a host of insects.  The wildflowers are the buffet. (Peruse our native plant list and sample landscape designs for some inspiration.)

Photo by Brad Guhr

Monarch butterfly on Asclepias incarnata, or swamp milkweed – photo by Brad Guhr


2. Plant for a Succession of Bloom

I recommend planting wildflowers that bloom at different times of the year.  A mixture of wildflowers coming into bloom and going out of bloom throughout the year provides a ready food source.  This approach mimics the natural prairie and the changing seasons.

Sulphur on Cardinal Flower

Cloudless sulphur on Lobelia cardinalis, or cardinal flower – photo by Brad Guhr


3. Provide Habitat

Layer trees and shrubs along with wildflowers and grasses.  These plants provide shelter from the wind along with nesting sites and food for birds, butterflies and bees. Even a small garden can have a tremendous impact.

Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea - photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock


4. Provide Water

We all need water for survival.  Pollinators need it too.  A clean source of water such as a birdbath, basin, or hollow stone is enough water for pollinators.  These features also provide landing spots so that pollinators have a perch. Here are some great plants to complement your water feature.


5. Reduce Chemicals

There is growing research on the detrimental effects chemicals have on pollinators.  Any time we can reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals in the landscape, we are impacting wildlife in a positive way.  Allow insects to control unwanted pests.  Be willing to accept a few damaged plants, knowing that by not spraying you are saving much more in the long run.

HummingbirdMoth on liatris

Hummingbird moth on Liatris pycnostachya, or Kansas gayfeather – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock


6. Learn About the Plight of Endangered Pollinators

There is so much to learn about each type of pollinator.  What do they need?  When are they out in the garden?  What do they need to complete their lifecycle?  Where do they migrate or how do they overwinter?  We have so much to learn about these important insects. (One good resource for this is this book, by Heather Holm, which we often carry in our gift shop. And, of course, is a great resource.)


When it comes to supporting the life cycle of pollinators, you can be part of the solution.  Native wildflowers are the best option to help them prosper.  You will be amazed when you introduce just a handful of wildflowers to your landscape.  If you plant them, pollinators will come.