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University of Illinois Extension

Landscaping with Native Plants

March 19, 2012

Landscaping with native plants has been a trend in the past few years. Native plants are better adapted to our changing weather patterns. Over the past few years, natives have done better than exotics that have been brought here from elsewhere.

Using native plants certainly has advantages. Many examples exist of exotic species taking over native species. Those that come to mind are kudzu in the south, multiflora rose and purple loosestrife here, and now the dreaded garlic mustard. Each of these was introduced for a reason. If instead a well-chosen native hardwood, shrub, or prairie grass had been used, the same purpose could have been achieved without the problems.

Plantings on the University of Illinois quadrangle are a great example of diversity versus monoculture. The quad was originally planted entirely of American elms. It was beautiful, but devastating when they all died from Dutch Elm Disease. Next the quad was planted with all thornless honeylocust. Again it was beautiful, but devastating when they all died from a root disease. Today the quad is planted in a variety of plant species, for obvious reasons.

One approach to landscaping your yard with native plants is to think about plant size. Start with dominant or the largest plants first. Look at the woods around us. Large trees form the structure of the woods. Most yards can support at least one white oak, burr oak, or sugar maple.

Next plant the small flowering trees. Several small trees can be used to strengthen the structural diversity of the yard's plantings. These include redbud, flowering dogwood, and ironwood. Sometimes you can bend the "go with natives" principle a bit by using evergreens because they enhance large yards, but don't overdo it.

Finally, add the shrubs, wildflowers, and prairie plants. These form the habitats of your yard such as sunny prairie, woodland wildflowers, native shrub bed, or wildlife area. And don't forget water. Water gardens are very popular and help attract wildlife to your garden.

To learn more about native plants to use in your landscape, attend Gardeners' Big Day March 31st at Dickson Mounds Museum. Horticulturist Carey Boehm-Corrie will discuss why native plants are so powerful and exciting to use. More information about Gardeners' Big Day, including online registration, can be found on our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt.

Consider adding a few native plants to your landscape this year.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture, ferreer@illinois.edu

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