In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
Non-native 'Biokovo' geranium is a lovely naturalistic addition to a woodland garden.
Choose Wisely with Native Plants
I'm going to encourage you to take a walk in the woods. Or a meadow or wherever you can get to that is a somewhat natural area (not a subdivision or city landscape). I do have a good reason for asking this. As you think about your landscape, whether starting new, adding to it, or simply embellishing what's there, think through the process in terms of a plant's native environment. This will help you choose the best site for a plant and the best plant for a site.
Natives Not the Only Way
I may get tarred and feathered because I'm not insisting that you only add native plants to the landscape. I'm simply recommending that you look at plants that are native, figure out where they grow best, and then duplicate what you like, whether with the same species or one that is similar.
Plant More Than One Type
Let me give you an example. In the woods near where I live, the forest floor is carpeted with perennial geraniums. All in full bloom right now. These plants are about a foot high and have purple flowers with white centers. They are beautiful, and since I have a small section of woods in my landscape, I want to duplicate this look. So I've added some of these native geraniums. But to add a bit of extra pizazz, I've added several other geraniums in different colors, sizes, and leaf shapes. They are not natives, but they all grow quite well in a shady spot.
Don't Duplicate Northern Woodland Plantings
I'm asked all the time about duplicating a northern woods landscape in a suburban central Midwestern landscape. It seems that everyone who vacations in the North Woods wants a piece of it at home. The plants that grow in those woods live on acidic, organic soil in cool, damp conditions. Trying to duplicate that situation doesn't work well in the alkaline, dry soil, hot summers, and strong winds of the Central Plains. So we have to go for the "look" of those northerly woodlands instead of trying to copy their plants exactly. For our woods, instead of Christmas ferns, we can use hay-scented ferns. Instead of winterberry groundcover, we can use moneywort. Instead of paper birches, we can and should use 'Whitespire' birches since they don't have the pest problems of paper birch.
Stressed Plants are Hurting Plants
Any time you push a plant to grow in a situation that it isn't well adapted to, the plant will be in a constant state of stress. A stressed plant doesn't look good, but more importantly, it actually gives off stress hormones that seem to attract pests. If a plant is not functioning at its peak growing state, disease can settle in easily and eventually bring the plant to its knees.
Check out Native Environment
Take a long, hard look at a plant's native site before trying to make it adapt to a situation where it might not do well. If it looks bad, you will feel bad every time you look at it. Native plants can be great choices for your garden, but only if they are adapted to the conditions that exist in your own landscape.
Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!