In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2005
Regional Report

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1847

Perennial rudbeckia is a beautiful, tough native plant in the Midwest.

Tough and Beautiful Native Plants

For those of us with environments not particularly suited to growing sensitive or tender nonnatives, there is a wide selection of native flora available. Happily, landscapes seem to be taking a swing toward naturalistic designs that use these native plants, many of which are drought tolerant and no longer require the high maintenance of heavy watering, pruning, and chemical pest control.

Plants used in settings resembling their native habitats usually have a natural tolerance for weather extremes and soil variations, and many have built-in disease and pest resistance.

When using native plants, it is essential to understand how these plants grow in their natural habitats and also to understand clearly the site's soil composition and pH, moisture, drainage, wind and sun exposure, and competing plants.

Every plant is part of an ecosystem consisting of all the surrounding plants, animals, soil, water, and gases. The components of the natural ecosystem are interconnected, and if one part of the system is removed or changed, the whole complexion changes. When a plant is removed from its natural environment and placed in a cultivated situation, free from competition with other species, it may behave differently. The plant may do poorly or may grow rampantly.

Plants generally grow best in an environment similar to the one where they grow naturally. This is sometimes not possible to duplicate in the home landscape, so it's important to accurately assess your growing site and find plants that are suited to it.

Matching Plants to the Site
If you are attempting to incorporate a few native plants into a perennial garden, the physical characteristics of the site will not be as critical as they would be in a natural community restoration. In a perennial garden, competition from species that a plant naturally associates with is reduced. Under these circumstances, the plant often can thrive even without optimal environmental conditions.

However, if you are attempting to create a self-sustaining prairie or woodland plant community where competition for light, water, and nutrients is extreme, it is much more critical to duplicate the native environment. If your site doesn't not provide this environment, you can either make changes to the site or change your plant selection to suit the site.

Also, as a general rule, native plantings require little fertilizer, so you'll need to take into account any runoff from surrounding plantings when deciding on a site.

Once you have matched the site with the appropriate plants, there are many nurseries where you can order native plants. Start with nurseries in your own state, or contact your local Cooperative Extension office to find sources for the plants. Then enjoy the process of creating a native plant community.


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