By ANGIE HONG – Feature Columnist
It’s a good thing we have a tall fence around our backyard or I might hear complaints from the neighbors. When I took the baby out to play two nights ago, I nearly lost him. The grass was so tall, he must have thought it was a jungle. I swear that we just mowed a week ago, but perhaps our lawn is on steroids?
One thing is certain, even in my pre-baby days, I never had much time for yard work and that is doubly true now. There are marathons to run, rolling county roads to be biked, trails to hike, cat shelters to clean, and now a little boy to play with. For the record, cleaning the house is not something I have much time for nowadays either. In spite of all this busyness, however, I still want our yard to look good, which is part of the reason native plants appeal to me.
Native plants are not maintenance free, but once established, they need very little care. They don’t need to be mowed once a week like the lawn. They don’t need to be watered, even in drought conditions. They don’t need fertilizers, don’t need pesticides, and don’t need to be replanted each year.
Sure, they need a little extra attention during the first growing season, but unless you are aiming for a showcase garden, occasional weeding after that is enough to keep a native planting looking presentable.
When we bought our house in Stillwater last summer, I wasted no time in planting a rain garden in the backyard to capture water from a rooftop downspout that was wreaking havoc on the grass in that area. I used a variety of native Minnesota plants from Cedar Hill Natives and Hedberg Nursery, mostly small plugs (4 and 6-packs) to reduce the cost. For a roughly 200-square-foot garden, I spent about $300, including plants, mulch, compost, extra pipe and a pop-up for the downspout, and the rental of a sod cutter.
Less than a year later, the garden has already filled in nicely with columbine, Jacobs ladder, strawberry and phlox currently in bloom. The natives that I planted in my boulevard strip during the fall are still small, but in good health. I have not watered either area since the first weeks after planting last year.
For people who are interested in replacing turf and annual gardens with native plants to reduce maintenance and attract birds and beneficial insects, finding a place to buy the plants is sometimes a challenge. Most garden centers and nurseries carry only a limited supply of native plants, if they have any at all. Happily, there are a growing number of nurseries in our area that specialize in native plants. Visit www.BlueThumb.org to find native plant sellers near you using either the map or search function. In addition, three local native plant sales are scheduled for the first week of June:
Landscape Revival – Native Plant Expo and Market: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 2 at the Roseville Rainbow Foods Community Pavilion (1201 Larpenteur Avenue West in Roseville). Buy and learn about Minnesota native plants on one day at one location. At the free expo, learn from native plant experts representing ten organizations and shop for native trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses and wildflowers from eleven native plant companies. http://www.saintpaulaudubon.org/events/2012/06/landscape-revival.
Stillwater FFA Native Plant Sale: 8 a.m.to 4 p.m. June 1, and 9 a.m. to noon June 2 at Stillwater Area High School. This is always a great opportunity to purchase local source prairie plants, with profits going to fund environmental programs at the school. The greenhouse is located at the back of the school, in the bus-unloading area, just south of 58th Street.
Washington County Master Gardener Plant Sale: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 3 in the 4-H Building at the Washington County Fairgrounds. An annual event, the sale will feature perennials for sun or shade, rain garden and native plants, plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, vegetables, herbs, annuals, and more. In addition, Master Gardeners will be on hand to provide gardening advice and answer questions.
Happy gardening. May your summer be long and your yard full of life, and whatever you do, don’t peek over the fence into my overgrown backyard.
Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water – www.mnwcd.org/cleanwater – which includes Brown’s Creek, Carnelian Marine – St. Croix, Comfort Lake – Forest Lake, Middle St. Croix, Ramsey Washington-Metro, Rice Creek, South Washington and Valley Branch Watersheds, Cottage Grove, Dellwood, Forest Lake, Lake Elmo, Stillwater, West Lakeland and Willernie, Washington County and the Washington Conservation District. Contact her at 651-275-1136 x.35 or firstname.lastname@example.org.