I look to people like Merv Wallace of Missouri Wildflowers Nursery for advice on species. Having grown natives for 23 years, he knows what he’s talking about. His catalog is an education on Midwestern native species. In it he writes: “Many homeowners hesitate to use native plants in their front yard landscaping because there is a myth that natives look too weedy.”
He goes on to say that many worthy natives have a refined shape, attractive foliage, and showy flowers. These are four-star plants in the rating system that Mr. Wallace is developing to help gardeners choose natives.
Although the one-star plants are the weediest, they, too, have value, often for wildlife. For example, the rambling New England aster is a wonderful nectar source for migrating monarch butterflies.
Planting natives in containers
Growing ornamental plants in containers expands planting areas, adds color, and raises gardening levels. Growing in large pots also allows many condominium and apartment dwellers to grow natives.
Container gardening provides imaginative and effective ways to create small native gardens with esthetic charm and plant appeal – gardens that echo the woodlands, meadows, and prairies of the American countryside.
Choose containers to reflect the themes of native plants, pioneer times, or the past cultural history of a particular region. Washtubs, half barrels, window boxes, and boxes made of rough lumber are just a few of the choices. (Be sure they include drainage holes.)
As in all gardening, one of the keys to success in growing natives is matching plants with your environment. (Place plants that can’t take the sun in a shady area and plants that prefer moist soil where you can keep them well-watered.)
For planters in full sun, choose natives of prairies, glades, and open fields. For shadier sites, choose woodland natives, plants that naturally grow in dappled shade. Plan to group plants that have the same cultural requirements together in the same planter.