Why Native Plants? Northern Wisconsin’s native plants are a part of our natural heritage. Cultivating native plants helps preserve the biodiversity of native vegetation and wildlife. Native plants can be easy to care for, having naturally acclimated to regional conditions such as climate and soil. Native plants provide ample benefits to wildlife and humans including food, shelter, and beauty.
Planning a Native Garden Planting any garden starts with the gardener’s objectives. Luckily, gardening with native plants can fulfill a multitude of objectives, many of which are complementary. Common objectives include:
Increase pollinators forage and nesting habitat
Provide habitat structure for a host of wildlife
Maintain an open view
Beauty/aesthetic taste – bloom time and color
Native Plants of the Northwoods Meadow openings: Wildflowers (forbs) and grasses would typically be found in meadow openings with abundant sunlight. These species can be used in an area maintained as open and may provide abundant forage for pollinator species as well as grazing wildlife. Wetland: Sedges and various wildflowers are adapted for excessively wet conditions and generally tolerate high levels of sunlight, although some will also thrive in shade. Woodland canopy and midstory: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines will require ample space and support structure where applicable. These species may get large and create shade or impede visibility. Woodland understory: Includes shade-loving ferns, some grasses, and wildflowers such as spring ephemerals. Spring ephemerals are woodland understory species that leaf-out and bloom early in the season, and are often dormant before the end of the summer. These plants can supply forage for pollinators early in the year when little else is available.
Site conditions Conditions will dictate what plants will thrive in a given location. Sun: Full sun most of the day, such as larger woodland openings, meadows, fields, etc. Consider wildflowers, grasses, trees, shrubs, or vines that thrive under high-light conditions Partial Sun/Shade: Filtered light or sun part of the day, such as woodland edges, smaller woods openings, etc. Consider wildflowers, grasses, trees, shrubs, or vines that can tolerate medium light Shade: Shade or filtered light, such as woodland understory, north side of buildings, etc. Consider woodland wildflowers such as spring ephemerals, or select trees, shrubs, or vines that don’t require much light Soil texture will determine the drainage of a site: sandy soil will drain rapidly, where clay soil will hold water. Organic material will help buffer soil moisture and provide nutrients. Native plants don’t require high levels of nutrients, so compost and fertilizer amendments are unnecessary (often times these amendments just give competing vegetation an upper hand). Wet: soggy or marshy most of the year (depressions, drainage areas, or high water table areas) Wet Mesic: excessively wet in spring and after heavy rain but often dries in summer Mesic (Medium): water soaks in with no run-off (“average garden soil”) Dry Mesic: water is removed from soil readily but not rapidly Dry: Excessively drained (sandy or gravely soil, steep terrain, south-facing slopes)
Selecting Plants Plant Finder: Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery offer Native Plant Finders that can be used to suggest suitable plants for your growing conditions, goals, and aesthetic taste. Prairie Nursery Plant Finder - www.prairienursery.com Prairie Moon Nursery Plant Finder - www.prairiemoon.com
Range Maps: Using the resources below, appropriate species can be selected for a given region. “Native” in one region may not be native in another, so it is worth checking. The Biota of North America Program - www.bonap.org USDS NRCS Plants Database - www.plants.usda.gov
Local Genotype: Specimens should be sourced from local stock as much as possible. This helps to maintain the genetic integrity of local populations and ensures that specimens are adapted to local growing conditions. Vendors should be able to share where their seed was collected. See our Wisconsin plant list on page 4.
Establishing a Native Garden Plants or Seeds? Establishing native plants can be done in a couple of ways, including planting grown plants or broadcasting with seeds. Objectives and site conditions determine the practicality of each method.
Plants: Nursery-grown and come in plugs, pots, or as bare roots. Can be planted from spring to fall. Pros:
Allows for design choice and flexibility
Fits well into existing plantings and
Not practical for large areas
Seeds: Seeds can be broadcast over a prepared site in early spring or late fall. Pros:
Cost effective and practical for planting
Can be highly diverse
Establishment time – up to ~3 years
Less design control
Cultivation: Hand cultivation on small sites or repeated roto-tilling on larger sites can be done to suppress weeds. If planting by seed, smooth soil clumps to prepare a seedbed for successful establishment. Smothering: Black plastic, tarps, or mulched newspaper/cardboard can be used to kill unwanted vegetation by starving plants of sunlight. Solarization: Clear plastic spread for weeks or months at a time can be used to kill unwanted plants in larger patches by raising the soil surface to a lethal temperature. Herbicide: Careful chemical application can be used to eliminate undesired vegetation. Choose a “lower-impact” herbicide and strictly follow the label instructions and safety guidelines. Installation Spacing: Plants can be spaced roughly half of their grown height apart. For example, Black-Eyed Susan gets about 2’ tall, so a spacing of 10-12’’ is adequate. Spacing can be adjusted for the growth habit of each plant. Increase for wide and spreading plants, or decrease for tall narrow plants. Seeds are a popular way to establish forbs (flowers) and grasses over a larger area. Seeding rates vary widely, but a rate of 1/2 lb. grass seed per 1,000 square feet, or 2 ounces of wildflower seed per 1,000 square feet is suggested as a general guide. Specific instructions can be obtained when purchasing seeds. Planting: Care should be taken when planting to ensure roots are loosened and arranged in a properly sized hole. Roots should not be coiled or curled (“J” rooted) in the hole. Soil can be gently firmed after planting, followed by watering. Establishment: Native plants often take a few seasons to establish. During establishment, it is important to control weed competition. This can be done by hand-pulling, or for grasses and forbs, by mowing. Once established, native plants may require continued weed control. Species of grasses and forbs may benefit from occasional controlled fire, but mowing may help too