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Got Sun?: 200 Best Native Plants for Your Garden

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Are you looking for more butterflies and birds in your yard? Do you enjoy seasonal color and beauty? Are you concerned about environmental issues such as water conservation and pollution control? Do you yearn for simple, maintenance-free gardening? Arranged in a question-and-answer format, Got Sun? showcases native trees, shrubs, ground covers, ferns, vines, grasses, and over 100 sun-friendly perennials for your home garden. Illustrated with detailed drawings and beautiful color photographs, this is a book to keep close at hand as you plan and plant your garden.

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1. Got Sun? Choose Natives For Your Garden

ePub

The more natives you incorporate into your garden, the happier the little creatures in your neighborhood will be.

—Douglas W. Tallamy

Butterfly Weed with Monarch butterfly

As I opened my front door, I looked down at two anxious little faces. Our eight-year-old neighbor girl and her blonde friend asked, “Can we catch butterflies in your yard?” “Of course,” I replied, “but you probably have some in your yard too.” “Oh no,” they both said solemnly, “you have the only yard with lots of butterflies.”

Not long after our 2003 move from Indiana to Minnesota, I attended a Wild Ones native plant conference. A landscape design professor from the University of Michigan was the keynote speaker. She had recently done a study on how people wanted their yard to look. The majority of those surveyed replied that they aspired for it to look like their neighbors’. And that is true of most people. Unfortunately, their omnipresent turfgrass lawns are sterile, neither attracting nor keeping birds, butterflies, and other wildlife content enough to stick around. Few yards include many native plants.

 

2. Planting Requirements What Is Necessary For Success?

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The mostly unrecognized truth is that our yards and gardens need to function in much the same way as a wilderness area does.

—Marlene Condon

Wild Petunia

This book is full of specific details about hundreds of native plants. Yet several general considerations pertain to all of them. Success is determined by choosing a site for each plant with proper light, moisture, soil type, and pH. Each plant description includes a segment entitled Plant Requirements. Most are brief and not overly complex. You may wonder, “What is average, well-drained garden soil?” so let’s begin with soil.

Soil is usually sand, silt, clay, or a combination, often referred to as loam. Sandy soil has the largest particles. It is impossible to make a ball out of moistened sandy soil that will hold its shape. Water drains quickly so this type of soil often loses nutrients. Moisture-loving plants need additional water in sandy sites.

Clay has the smallest particles so although it hangs onto nutrients and retains water, it has poor drainage. Plants that enjoy wet or consistently moist sites often thrive in clay soil, but those that require well-drained soil do not. Their roots will rot. All plants need a certain amount of air around their roots. Clay is considered heavy soil and can dry rock hard in drought. Make a ball out of clay soil and it will remain a ball. Some potters make permanent figures or containers with clay soil. I have a small statue of a woman that my son purchased in Haiti. It is as hard as if it had been fired, but was dried naturally in the hot sun.

 

3. Planning a Garden? Start With Trees

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Trees . . . frame, anchor, and connect all the elements to the sky.

—Ezra Haggard

Trees, regardless of size, come in a variety of shapes, including spreading, rounded, open, pyramidal, or weeping. Trees of any size or shape can provide cool shade, beautiful fall color, bark interest, and even spring flowers. They give shelter to birds, offer larval food and nectar for butterflies, and encourage wildlife to check out your property. Walk through your neighborhood or watch as you drive through suburban areas to determine what sizes and shapes command your attention and might contribute to your overall landscape design.

Tulip Poplar

Is your property brand new with a newly built house and a blank yard just waiting for help? Or does it already have mature trees casting long shadows or creating dancing patterns of light and shade throughout the day? The title of this book is Got Sun? It assumes you do have sun and that you yearn to learn what to plant in those sunny spots.

 

4. Superb Shrubs Absolute Essentials

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One of the great pleasures of gardening lies in that basic promise of a garden—that each is its owner’s attempt at creating a personal paradise on earth.

—Allen Paterson

Sweetfern

When homeowners plan their landscapes, they usually begin by creating a want list. As noted in the previous chapter, the first item on that list is a usually a tree. The next item is invariably flowers. But let us not hasten to the consideration of annuals and perennials.

Are trees and flowers important? Of course, but shrubs are even more so. In fact, they may be the main component necessary to unify your home landscape. As the chapter title states, they are absolute essentials. Some will question that statement, so pause for a moment to decide whether you agree. What qualities can a shrub bring to your yard? Do they really serve any function other than to disguise the foundation of the house?

Begin by imagining a typical affordable ranch-style house set on a plot of green grass. The entire street is filled with similar houses planted squarely in the middle of each rectangle of turf grass. Except for the house, the grass stretches nearly unbroken on both sides of the street.

 

5. Prolific Perennials Flowers, Flowers, Flowers!

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More than anything I must have flowers, always, always.

—Claude Monet, French painter

Purple Prairie Clover

Native-plant enthusiasts call them forbs. Plant nurseries and garden centers identify them as perennials. Gardeners refer to them simply as flowers. Whatever you call them, these are the plants that light up the garden, bringing color, fragrance, and beauty to the landscape and earning compliments from passersby.

Gardeners are often surprised to learn how many familiar, gardenworthy plants are native. Coreopsis and Black-eyed Susan have been perennial garden anchors for decades. Recently, gardeners have become excited about the huge flowers of perennial hibiscus that bloom in late summer. Do you grow asters? Or sedum? Or spiderwort? All these familiar plants are native. Let us take time to describe some of them and to add a few more to our repertoire.

Prairie plants are usually what people envision when they hear “native plant.” Unfortunately, their reputation for being weedy is well earned. Many gardeners who yearn to fill their sunny front yards with waving grasses and beautiful flowers believe that if you remove the grass, sprinkle a few seeds on the existing soil, and dampen the ground, nature will do the rest. That is not the case. Rather, the result is an unkempt, terrible looking yard and the natives get a bad rap.

 

6. Great Ground Covers Take Care Of Problem Areas

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Ground covers are Nature’s carpets that clothe soil in a variety of green array and make this flowering world all the brighter and more beautiful.

—Daniel Foley

Dwarf Crested Iris

Ground covers are special friends. Most of us have a variety of friends. Each has a distinct personality with character traits and idiosyncrasies that we may like or dislike depending on the timing or our frame of mind. Some are always there, others may move in and out of our circle. But whatever the characteristics, each friend is important to us.

In many ways, the plants in our gardens resemble our human friends. Consider the perennials. These are the bold, colorful friends that brighten your day and can always bring a smile. Shrubs may not be quite as outgoing but are steady and will not disappear when the going gets tough. They lack the innate flashiness of those happy-go-lucky perennials but are probably your “classy friends.” Trees are those incredible friends you realize are above you in so many ways, yet stand tall and firm, ready to protect you in any crisis. Ferns calm and soothe your troubled spirit, bringing softness and serenity. Vines scramble to the heights to please, happily shielding you from unpleasantness as they climb. Grasses change through the seasons, sometimes small and inconspicuous, at other times waving wildly, demanding attention. Sometimes they are just plain, usually unobtrusive green; some of them, given time, become bright and colorful. They may be changeable, but are pleasant to have around. It is good to have variety in our circle of friends. But one friend is missing in this analogy: the one who is never demanding, never asks for extra attention, yet is “always there for you.” In the gardening world, that friend is a ground cover.

 

7. Fantastic Ferns Bring Softness Into The Garden

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Nature was surely in a gentle mood when she created the ferns.

—Henry and Rebecca Northern

Ostrich Fern

Most gardeners assume that ferns require shade. True, most of them do. But sun-worshipping gardeners will be pleased to learn that several ferns grow well in sun. There is one overriding caveat: they all require a consistently moist planting site. Only then are they able to provide an airy, feathery texture to your sun garden.

On the popular website davesgarden. com, there is a 2008 article detailing ferns that can tolerate sun. In it Todd Boland, research horticulturist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden, explains that ferns have had a rather checkered history. They were in high demand during the Victorian era, especially in the United Kingdom, and then became favored only by specialty gardeners. Thanks to colorful Asian Painted Fern availability, ferns are once again sought after. They are recommended as companion plants for hostas and have become a staple for the shade garden. Ferns are used as focal points, planted in a mass to create textural interest, employed as a ground cover, and incorporated in sunny perennial gardens.

 

8. Vigorous Vines Provide Height With Ease

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Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.

—Jonah 4:6

Trumpet Creeper with Hummingbird

It was February and I was delighted to be in Florida visiting our oldest son, Mark and his family near Fort Lauderdale. When Mark was a teenager in Indianapolis, he informed me emphatically, “When I grow up I am NOT going to have plants around my house. Only grass.” Now that he is grown up, I am amazed at his landscaping prowess.

Minimal landscaping at his newly purchased home screamed for help, so Mark sketched a tentative plan that included a few tall trees, some flowering shrubs, space for perennials and annuals, but still left enough turf grass for our two little grandsons to tear around. Mark searched until he found just the right native palm trees for his front yard. Next, he researched Florida native plants to find a shrub that would do exactly what he needed for the privacy hedge at the back of the property. He also designed a small, attractive biohedge of natives at the corner of his patio to give color, texture, fragrance, and privacy. He even disguised the air conditioning unit and utility boxes with flowering native shrubs.

 

9. Graceful Grasses Listen To Them Sing

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Of all the world’s flowering plants, the grasses are undoubtedly the most important to man.

—R. W. Pohl

Prairie Cordgrass

Grasses are the mainstay of our native tallgrass prairies, which once covered 170 million acres beginning at the Indiana/Illinois border where natural woodlands gradually melded into vast native grasslands. They stretched from eastern Illinois to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and covered land from the northern border of our country just below Saskatchewan all the way south to Texas. Iowa had the largest unbroken stretch of prairie, covering over 30 million acres. Only small remnants of this incredible ecosystem have survived. Yet rich deep soil still exists in testament to the deep roots and humus of those incredible grasses.

Early travelers referred to the prairies as “a sea of grass” where myriads of flowers in all colors of the rainbow bloomed. Pioneer diarists crossing the plains in their covered wagons extolled the glories of the seasons. Now only about 4 percent of our industrialized nation consists of native prairies, most of those restored remnants here and there. Yet recent sources still list over 800 species of non-woody flowering plants existing in these areas. Imagine how many more have been lost through development.

 

10. Rain Gardens Cleansing Storm Water With Native Plants

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When you plant a rain garden in your yard, you mimic some of the benefits of the natural landscape.

—Rusty Schmidt

Rain garden drawing

In a Minnesota Public Radio segment on rain gardens, Stephanie Hemphill noted that a good midwestern summer storm can dump a lot of water in one place, occasionally flooding into sewer lines or even spewing untreated sewage into lakes and rivers. She added, “Cities across the country are spending millions of dollars to solve the problem.”

Especially in urban settings, sunny rain gardens featuring civilized native plants solve problems and make strong statements. Properly engineered and planted, these gardens can be striking, channel roof and driveway runoff to good use, reduce chemical applications and mowing, and break up the monotony of turf landscapes. Progressive municipal governments bent on reducing surges of water and chemicals in storm sewers may offer expertise and even dollars for carrying out your plan. In times of tension between citizens and government, a community of interest is refreshing.

 

11. Final Thoughts Can We Make A Difference?

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The earth is a house that belongs to us all.

—Cheryl Piperberg

Royal Catchfly

Gardening with native plants is becoming popular for good reason. Planting natives makes constant watering and fertilizing unnecessary. These plants know how to deal with weather patterns, how to survive the feast and famine of moisture, and how to put down deep roots to gather the last vestiges of food hidden in those tiny particles of soil. Leave for a vacation during a drought and return home to find your natives blooming their heads off, while the nonnatives sulk on the ground—or worse.

There are plants to avoid and plants to encourage for good and sound reasons. We can avoid planting those exotic plants that are known escape artists. Wouldn’t you like to get your hands on the individuals who brought Dandelions and Garlic Mustard to the Western Hemisphere? Some may ask, “Does it really matter what I plant on my private property?” You bet it does! Exotic Norway Maples are displacing native Sugar Maples. Amur Maples and supposedly infertile Bradford Pear seedlings are popping up in wild spaces. What I call the Terrible Three ground covers—Myrtle (Vinca minor), Purple Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’), and Ivy (Hedera spp.)—have each been found carpeting woodlands. Commonly used Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), and Japanese Spiraea (Spiraea japonica) have escaped to the wild, displacing native species and destroying habitat. Essential food and nesting sites for wildlife are disappearing. Some native plants are even threatened with extinction.

 

Appendix: Native Plant And Botanical Societies

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Nature is a good teacher. We can learn many valuable lessons about gardening by observing plants growing in the wild.

—C. Colston Burrell

NATIVE PLANT SOCIETIES

Alabama

Alabama Wildflower Society

271 County Rd. 68

Killen, AL 35645

www.alwildflowers.org

Alaska

Alaska Native Plant Society

P.O. Box 141613

Anchorage, AK 99514-1613

http://AKNPS.org

Arizona

Arizona Native Plant Society

Sun Station, P.O. Box 41206

Tucson, AZ 85717-1206

www.aznps.org

Arkansas

Arkansas Native Plant Society

10145 Dogwood Lane

Dardanelle, AR 72834

www.anps.org

California

California Botanical Society

Jepson Herbarium, University of California

1101 Valley Life Science Building

Berkeley, CA 94720-2465

www.calbotsoc.org

 

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