native plants

As hot as a July afternoon

I'm describing the bright colors of our fave native perennials. These hard-working superstars will bloom all through the summer with a little care and occasional deadheading to promote even more blooms. 

ASTER - offers hundreds of species across North America. Asters prolifically naturalize to cover large sunny, dry prairies. Excellent border plant in a broad array of colors from pale blue to regal purple. Asters bloom from July through the first hard frost. Butterflies, bees and wasps and other pollinators love the abundant nectar. 

COREOPSIS, also called 'Tickseed' comes in a range of warm colors from pale yellow to gold to rusty red and combos of these colors. Ray-shaped flowers dance on thin stems about 18-24" tall, perfect with mid-height native grasses like little bluestem or prairie dropseed. 

Coreopsis

 

ECHINACEA or coneflower should be in everyone's garden, right? The common name comes from the 'cone' of densely packed seeds in the center of the petals. Songbirds love the seeds, and while you can grow plants from seed, most people prefer to used root cuttings or plant divisions. All parts of the plants have medicinal value, from the flowers to the roots. 

echinacea

 

LIATRIS, or blazing star, is the queen of sequel blooming. With at least nine species you can plant, you'll enjoy their lavender to deep purple spikes from spring through fall. Once dominant on the Grand Prairie, blazing star does remarkably well in home gardens. Its unusual characteristic of blooming from top to bottom makes the blazing star a good choice in fresh-cut floral arrangements. The spiky foliage and pods of rattlesnake master make an interesting companion for blazing star in cut arrangements.

Blazing Star

 

MILKWEED - Swamp or rose milkweed is the host plant for migrating #monarchs. Fragrant, rose-colored, dome-shaped flowers form seed pods in fall, which break to reveal seeds that disperse in the wind. Deer resistent, milkweed grows in average to moist soils and is a great choice for bioswales and rain gardens.

Butterfly milkweed is also a favorite for attracting and sustaining butterflies. Unlike its cousin, swamp milkweed, this fiery orange bloomer prefers a dry, well drained location to survive and set seed.

MONARDA is a must for butterfly and hummingbird gardens with whorls of nectar-rich tubular flowers at the tip of each stem. Grow this pollinator favorite in full sun or part shade with moist, but well-drained soil. 

RUDBECKIA has 'black-eyed Susan' flowers, which bloom profusely with showy gold petals and dark brown centers. 

YARROW has the flat-topped umbrels of tiny flowers to that make the classic butterfly landing pad. Tough, drought-resistant plants bloom all summer in colors that range from white to gold to reds. 

We always include these perennials in #Bluestem landscape designs.  With beauty, performance and the benefits they give to watchable wildlife, what's not to love? Contact to start a conversation about a new, easy-care landscape for your home or business. 

#NativeWildflowers
#SummerGardening

#EasyCareLandscapes

#ButterflyGarden

#Pollinators

 

Barbarians at the gate of biodiversity

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'RIGHT PLANT, RIGHT PLACE'. We've all heard that mantra. But, there are some plants that have NO PLACE in the landscape. These species are THE INVASIVES. And, as beautiful as each may be, they are destructive in the natural landscape. They are the barbarians at the gate of biodiversity.  Each invasive is highly adaptable and once they get a foothold are difficult to control in your landscape or when they escape into wild areas. Invasive species reduce biodiversity and critical wildlife food and habitat.

The good news is there are MANY GREAT NATIVE PLANT ALTERNATIVES to invasive plants or overused ground covers, shrubs and trees. Here are just a few of our “most UN-wanted” barbarian plants.  

Pachysandra, or Japanese spurge, is an invasive evergreen perennial INVASIVE GROUND COVER that spreads throughout the garden by means of underground stems and roots.

If you have this ground cover and want to eliminate it, you have three OPTIONS FOR PACHYSANDRA ELIMINATION.

  • DIG IT UP. Hard work, but an environmentally safe way to expose and eliminate pachysandra's shallow root system. To make sure you get all of the roots, cut through the foliage and remove the top 4 to 6 inches of soil in the affected area
  • COVER IT UP. Cover the entire planted area with black plastic. With black plastic, the sun will heat the soil under the plants and the plants will be deprived of sunlight and water. It takes a long time, though...three months to a year to completely kill the plants, more in shady areas.
  • POISON IT. Chemicals like glyphosate (Roundup) are the "last resort" method for large or troublesome patches. But, use with care. Glyphosate will kill any vegetation it's sprayed on and can also drift in wind or runoff.

The BEST OPTION is to never plant pachysandra, but rather CHOOSE A SHORT NATIVE SPECIES like wild ginger, barren strawberry, or one of the many cool, short sedges. If you can go a bit taller, look into native ferns, wild geranium, or a medium-short native grass or sedge.


One of the most insidious of all INVASIVE SHRUBS is bush honeysuckle, which includes two species, Morrow's (Lonicera morrowii) and Amur (L. maackii). You'll find this pest shrub in a wide variety of natural landscapes, even those without previous disturbances. There are several control measures including prescribed burning, hand pulling seedlings, cutting and herbicide treatments.

FOR BUSH HONEYSUCKLE CONTROL, the Missouri Department of Conservation recommends these option:

  • Spring PRESCRIBED BURNING in fire-adapted communities will kill seedlings and kill the tops of mature plants.

"Bush honeysuckles readily re-sprout and repeated fires are necessary for adequate control. It may be necessary to burn annually or biennially for five years or more for effective control."

  • HAND PULLED sprouts when soils are moist. All of the root should be removed or re-sprouting will occur. Physical removal by hand-pulling smaller plants or grubbing out large plants should not be used in sensitive habitats. Open soil and remaining root stocks will result in rapid re-invasion or re-sprouting of honeysuckles and other exotic species.
  • HERBICIDING cut honeysuckle stems. After cutting with brush-cutters, chainsaws or hand tools, apply a 20-percent solution of GLYPHOSATE to the cut stump by low-pressure spray or by wiping the stump with a sponge applicator. This method should prevent re-sprouting.

NATIVE ALTERNATIVES TO BUSH HONEYSUCKLE include viburnums (Viburnum sp.), roughleaf dogwoods (Cornus drummondii), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and inkberry (Ilex glabra)

Callery, or Bradford pear, is an invasive, exotic species that crowds out native plants and fails to support wildlife. 

Callery, or Bradford pear, is an invasive, exotic species that crowds out native plants and fails to support wildlife. 

Callery pear, (Pyrus calleryana), commonly known as ‘Bradford pear’, is a deciduous INVASIVE TREE that was brought to the United States in 1917 from China. It was thought that a hybrid species between the imported tree and the common fruiting pear would improve disease resistance in fruit crops. The Bradford cultivar also caught on as a new landscape ornamental during the 1950s and a number of subsequent cultivars continued to come on the market. While individual cultivars are self-sterile, different cultivars are known to cross-pollinate, producing fruits and viable seed. Spread occurs when the fruit of these hybrids is eaten and distributed by birds and other animals.

A single 'escaped' Bradford pear tree can spread quickly by seed and vegetative means to form dense thickets. Even a few of these trees will outcompete native plants and woody seedlings around them, including spring wildflowers.

  • BRADFORD PEAR CONTROL includes PULLING young seedlings, or CUTTING and treating stumps with a 25-50% GLYPHOSATE solution. Like bush honeysuckle, because of the persistent seed bank and potential for resprouting, vigilant observation and retreating of an area may be required for several years.

NATIVE TREE OPTIONS that are equally ornamental include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), wild plum (Prunus americana) and hawthorn ((Crataegus sp.).

Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis) is a tall, elegant but INVASIVE GRASS that forms plumes of seed easily spread by wind.

  • REMOVE INVASIVE SILVERGRASS from your landscape by cutting off the seed heads, placing them in a garbage bag and disposing of them. The following spring, dig up the plant and remove or chemically treat the stump when growth begins. Cut the previous year’s growth to about 12” tall and spray with glyphosate. You may need to repeat this process to completely kill the plant.

NATIVE GRASS OPTIONS that are both beautiful and beneficial to watchable wildlife include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, prairie dropseed, (Sporobolus heteroplepsis), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)and feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora). Natural selections and cultivars of these are also well-behaved choices.  

Native prairie dropseed is an elegant, mid-height grass that blends beautifully with wildflowers and other native grasses. 

Native prairie dropseed is an elegant, mid-height grass that blends beautifully with wildflowers and other native grasses. 

With a little planning, you can plant butterflies.

There are two kinds of gardens  The mundane where gardening tasks are a boring chore, and the creative where any time spent there can be both therapeutic and inspiring. The difference is in giving thought to WHY one plants a garden to begin with.  

Most people put more thought into a grocery list than their planting list.  Groceries will be consumed in a few days, but you can be stuck with hastily selected plants for years.  Are you planting for color and cutting? To create an elegant and tranquil sanctuary? Or, maybe to invite butterflies?  You could do all three with thoughtful planning. Then, with the end in mind, you can plant future memories and butterflies, not just flowers. 

Butterflies prefer the structure of flat-topped, "landing pads" like coneflowers, asters, and lantana to collect nectar. Plant for a succession of blooms to support the delicate visitors from spring through fall. You also want to consider plants that invite butterflies to lay eggs or feed larvae, like milkweed for monarch butterflies.  Annuals like marigolds and zinnias will attract butterflies, but a garden filled with native perennial butterfly favorites will come back and increase year after year. Additional butterfly attractants include sand beds that hold shallow puddles of water, and food items, like soft, decaying bits of fruit. 

This tiger swallowtail is enjoying sipping nectar from an orange lantana. 

This tiger swallowtail is enjoying sipping nectar from an orange lantana. 

Next, consider your available space. Are you creating a small bed, or planning an entire yard? Larger areas can accommodate shrubs and trees, which can provide both food sources and butterfly nesting habitat and shelter. This sketch was created for a pair of complementary butterfly gardens in an area of about 600 square feet. Note, the larger shrubs like ninebark are used as a backdrop to smaller perennials. 

Butterfly Garden by Bluestem Services

Butterfly Garden by Bluestem Services

Color is a matter of personal taste, but a larger butterfly planting, like any designed landscape, typically considers the color and style of a home or building for overall curb appeal. Informal gardens often have a light-hearted variety of bright colors. More traditional landscapes will keep to a simpler, more subdued palette. Monochromatic plantings, especially those in whites and creams, are both soothing and sophisticated.  White flowering plants are beautiful in moonlight. Moonflower, gardenia, tuberose, nicotania and jasmine have the added plus of heightened fragrance at night. 

In addition to sheer enjoyment, many love to photograph visiting butterflies, or use the moments to educate children. Done correctly, butterfly gardening can help support migrating butterflies and increase their local populations. 

Learning from monarch butterflies

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Beautiful and fragile, monarch butterflies weigh only a few grams and live a matter of weeks. Monarchs are known to make long, annual migrations of nearly 2,000 miles between the Great Lakes region and Mexico to escape cold winters. 

The journey involves millions of the delicate insects and requires producing several generations along the way. Recently, researchers from the University of Guelph and Environment Canada have discovered a fascinating twist that proves some monarchs deviate from the traditional path, cross the Appalachian Mountains, and produce a new, east coast generation. 

migration_map_xerxes.jpg

 

The groundbreaking study solves the puzzle of why monarchs appear later on the east coast than the interior U.S.

You can watch the eastern monarch migration in this short video from Google Earth Tour. The video also features people that help them out along the way, including some from the University of Kansas' Monarch Watch program. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqDwvuleRYc

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Monarch numbers are declining. Some reasons are temporary, such as weather. According to a monitoring report carried out by WWF and Conanp, monarch numbers in Mexico were down by about 15% in 2017-18 due to two tropical storms and three hurricanes on two occasions in the Atlantic coasts in mid-September of 2017, when the migration begins.

Other reasons for the monarch decline are more permanent, and ominous including development and agricultural practices. The longterm survival of monarchs is connected to their specific diet of milkweed and the dramatic loss of the native plant. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there has been a 99% reduction in milkweed in Midwest croplands since 1999. Development is consuming 6,000 acres per day, a loss of 2.2 million acres annually. Other studies cite the overuse of herbicides and increased use of genetically modified crops, especially seeds containing glyphosate, as major factors in habitat loss.

You can help monarchs and other pollinators by reducing herbicide use, planting shrubs and trees that provide shelter during migration and including native milkweeds in your yard and habitat patches on your farm.

Interested in working together to restore native habitat?  Let's start a conversation!     Email Judy Allmon @ BluestemServices@gmail.com, or give me a call or text at 573.230.1196.

Wet or dry, your landscape should include a rain garden

Not too long ago, a woman lamented to me, “I wish I could have a rain garden, but my yard is so dry.” 

“Does it ever rain at your place,” I asked.

“Well, of course,” she replied.

“Then good news!  Your yard is qualified to have a rain garden!”  I told her.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.   -  Langston Hughes  

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.  -  Langston Hughes
 

 

This woman was like many gardeners. She had heard the term “rain garden” but wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, or if it would be something that would be appropriate for her yard.  The term has become popular with gardeners who are interested in adding native plants to their landscape to absorb stormwater and help lessen the negative impact of runoff. What you may not know is that rain gardens can be as beautiful as they are functional. In fact, many of our most beautiful regional natives need the type of regular moisture found in a rain garden to thrive.  Without such a moist site, a gardener would not be able to enjoy their bright, ample blooms or lush foliage.  An added bonus is that most of these wildflowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

The moist soil of a rain garden supports vigorous growth from large-flowered, deep-rooted native plants like Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum), Rose Mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus) and Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra ). Unusual wildflowers including snapdragon-like Rose Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua), elegant Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) and the frothy plumed Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) are just a few more natives to consider.  Natural selections from regional natives will also work well. 

If you decide to add a rain garden to your landscape, it can be done as a weekend project. First, you’ll have to do some planning and figuring.

To establish the size of your rain garden, calculate the square footage of the area where rain will fall and runoff. For a home, figure the square footage of the home, not that of the roof. The roof pitch doesn’t change the amount of rain that falls on your home. Take that square footage, divide by the number of downspouts and then divide by 3 for the square footage of an optimum-sized rain garden on well-drained sites with sandy, loamy soils. For example, let’s take a 1728 square-foot home with four downspouts. To plan a rain garden for one downspout, divide 1728 (the square footage) by four (the number of downspouts) and then by 3 to discover you should have a 144 square foot rain garden to treat the stormwater from one downspout. To calculate the number of plants planted on 18” centers, divide 144 (the square footage of this area) by 2.25 to find 64 plants. If your soil is extremely compacted or clayey, double your square footage figure and increase the size of your rain garden, OR amend your rain garden’s soil (50-60% sand, 20-30% topsoil, 20-30% compost).

Most important, create a rain garden of some size. Even if your space is limited, you can benefit from a rain garden and help improve our area’s management of stormwater. Even small rain gardens add benefit when you think of the aggregate potential in a community.

Once the size is determined, layout your garden on the downslope of your home at least 10 feet away from its foundation.  Use a rope or garden hose to test different shapes for your garden’s footprint. Within the footprint of the rain garden, create a slight depression by excavating three to five inches of soil. This also helps by removing existing vegetation. Mound this soil in a shallow berm on the downside of the garden. If your soil is extremely compacted or clayey, tilling a mixture of sand and peat into the soil will help improve the rain garden’s absorption until the native plants mature.

Arrange your rain garden plants. Group your plants with height, color and seasonal bloom in mind. Don't overlook moisture-loving woody shrubs and small trees; in addition to their absorptive contributions, they offer year-round structure. 

During the first season, woodchip or gravel mulch will help prevent weeds during garden establishment. A quick weeding may be needed once a month and removing spent flowers will help prolong blooming. If your garden does not receive about one inch of water per week during the growing season, supplemental watering may be needed to keep plants blooming. Fertilization is not necessary; however, use of a slow-release fertilizer or root stimulator at planting will reduce planting shock and increase plant vigor.

To encourage new growth, do a late fall cleanup. Cut back plants to six inches tall and remove dead vegetation. After several seasons, you may divide large clumps and create additional gardens.

That’s it!  As you begin planning, here are a few basics to keep in mind:

 

  • Think bold. Moisture-loving plants will grow taller and more robustly than their dry-site counterparts so allow for plants to grow up, fill out and have room. These vivacious plants look out-of-scale in smaller gardens, but their scale works well with rain gardens that typically are 70 square feet in size or larger.
  • Don’t forget your greens. Native grasses, rushes, and sedges provide textural contrast with large-leaved plants as well as year-round interest.
  • Plan for change. You can get extra zip from any garden design by planning for a change of color scheme. A pastel spring palette of rain garden bloomers like Goat’s Beard, Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) will give way to a stronger fall color scheme of violet, red and gold with New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae), Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)  and Riddell’s Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii).

 

If you’re not sure about how to select plants, or how to design, site and install your rain garden, don’t worry. You can always contact Bluestem for ideas on your rain garden design, installation, and maintenance. Our specialists can provide anything from general site recommendations to a unique rain garden design and complete installation---or give you something in between. 

 

Interested in working together? We'd love to talk with you! Email us @ BluestemServices@gmail.com, or just give us a call at 573.230.1196.

Sustainable plantings, like rain gardens, offer wonderful opportunities to engage your family with nature. 

Sustainable plantings, like rain gardens, offer wonderful opportunities to engage your family with nature. 

Why we love sustainable (and, you should too!)

As I write this, a male cardinal is snacking on the vibrant red berries of our native Deciduous Holly (Ilex decidua). He loves the berries, but he also appreciates the cover from the holly grove's dense branching. We have a suite of birdfeeders, but somehow it's more satisfying to see birds dining on seeds and berries al fresco

This brilliant red male cardinal loves eating berries from our deciduous hollies. 

This brilliant red male cardinal loves eating berries from our deciduous hollies. 

So, obviously one of my top five reasons for a sustainable home landscape is watchable wildlife (#1) . But, you should know when you invite wildlife into your yard you may see sex and violence.  Several years back, a client called to tell me how distraught she was that her children saw a black snake eat a mouse in her backyard.

"Yes, ma'am. That's a great lesson for them on the food chain."  

Click. 

Hey, bringing nature home isn't all Disney. But, with natural plant and animal diversity (#2) come natural predators that are healthier for the environment--and healthier for us than chemical pesticides, herbicides and, fungicides. Think ladybugs, praying mantis, toads and more.  And, related to this are natural pollinators including butterflies, bees and, hummingbirds. 

Being water-wise is next (#3).  I'm sure our water bill is far less than some in our neighborhood with thirsty non-natives that are out of their element.  The way we've landscaped to slow, absorb and filter stormwater also helps--with a broad bioswale buffer filled with native grasses and woodies and permeable gravel strips. We're part of the solution to saving our local watershed along with those who have redirected downspouts to rain gardens and rain barrels. Household water costs will rise 40% within the next five years making affordable water inaccessible to 1/3 of American households. Do you think people would rather water plants or themselves? 

High-risk areas likely to face affordability challenges are those with a median income below $32,000.   Image by Mack EA and Wrase S, 2017, PLoS ONE

High-risk areas likely to face affordability challenges are those with a median income below $32,000. 

Image by Mack EA and Wrase S, 2017, PLoS ONE

 

I'd be lying if I didn't admit I love the fact that our landscape is admired by the neighbors (#4). But, that's not just because of the sustainability issues. Although a survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects found a high demand for landscape sustainabiity.  It's also because our design is a native interpretation with design intent. And, that helps give the natural connection (#5) that we all crave and need.  Recent studies from the University of Kansas and University of Michigan found that over 70% of people feel they've lost touch with nature. One finding showed children aged eight to 18 spend nearly eight hours daily in front of screens.  This disconnect leads to depression, reduced attention span, lower self-esteem, stunted academic growth and a lessened empathy for the environment. 

No wonder watching our resident cardinal makes me feel so good! 

Interested in working together? We'd love to talk with you! Email us @ BluestemServices@gmail.com, or just give us a call at 573.230.1196.