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Native Plants for Use in Your Home Garden

by Master Gardener Jan Phipps

Along with all the interest in native plants, there is also a desire to get to know and start growing prairie plants. You do not need an acre of land dedicated to prairie. It is possible to incorporate some of the prairie plants into your home garden. Because they are native to east central Illinois and west central Indiana, they will support native pollinating insects and other wildlife.

            Choose a site with full sun and well-drained soil. In the wild, prairie plants are dependent on the vagaries of natural rain fall making them drought tolerant. Large root systems that either store water or grow deep, following the water table down protect them during dry spells. This alerts us that a lot of supplemental watering in the garden is not necessary or desired.

            Also in nature, nobody is fertilizing the plants. In fact, if you do fertilize them, they may grow too tall and need to be staked. In other words, once the plants are established, they demand very little care.

            The following is a list for you to get started. Pay attention to the botanical names in parentheses. Many of these plants have been hybridized so there are many varieties under the common name which are not really prairie plants. The list comes from an article in the Chicago Tribune by Beth Botts.

            Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida). This is a relative of purple coneflower but with wispier and paler petals.

            Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) and white wild indigo (Baptisia alba). These are large, showy shrublike plants with spikes of blue or white flowers, respectively.

            Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) sports broad clusters of tiny, bright orange flowers. It attracts monarch butterflies and is critical to their survival.

            Wild bergamot aka bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) has pale lavender flowers and as one of the common names implies, is a favorite of bees.

            Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) blooms in late summer and supports many species of butterfly.

            Goldenrod (Solidago) also blooms late summer with bright yellow tassels. Many species of goldenrod are native and are an important source of nectar for many pollinators.

            There are three types of prairie grasses to incorporate into your yard, Switch grass (Panicum virgatum), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).

            The Edgar County Extension Master Gardeners continue to help homeowners with their horticulture questions even in the winter. Our phone is 217-465-8585.