Create Your Own Naturescape

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

Use nature as your model, and you can design an enchanted landscape on your property.

When planting a "naturescape," patience and dedication must be emphasized. Once established, this space of subtle, resonant beauty brings you back to the rhythm of the seasons and provides a retreat for yourself, your family and friends. It will also be a magnet for butterflies, birds and animals.

Native grass conjures up the vision of a waving prairie. At one time, much of Missouri was home to the major prairie grasses: big bluestem, Indian grass and little bluestem, plus grasses adapted to grow in shady woodlands.

Plants like prairie grasses that have evolved in our environment and on our soils will thrive if they are managed properly. Plants that come from other countries are not adapted to our particular climate and soil and usually require more time and effort.

For small flower beds of native plants, you can purchase bare root plants and set them out in a prepared area in early spring. This gives nearly instant results, since you're planting two- to four-year-old plants.

For a larger area, however, it is less expensive and laborious to start the native grasses and wildflowers by direct seeding. The result takes longer, but it's a wonderful opportunity to watch the succession from annual weeds to a diverse and natural landscape.

The steps in starting native plants from seed are site selection, ground preparation, seeding, proper maintenance and patience. These steps are the same, whether starting a sunny prairie meadow or a shady glen.

Site selection

The site you select for prairie grasses and wildflowers should get as much direct sunlight as possible, with a minimum of six hours for the best flowering. Choose a site with well-drained soil. Shaded sites are suitable for woodland plants. They need soil with lots of organic matter and should not be too heavily shaded.

You can improve the soil by incorporating composted leaves or other organic matter and cutting low limbs of overhanging trees. Regardless of where you plan to establish your naturalized area, talk to your neighbors about what you are doing. They will appreciate knowing you haven't just abandoned the site. When the plants begin flowering, the neighbors will enjoy them as much as you.

Ground Preparation

Most native plants are long-lived perennials that spend their first years establishing deep root systems with little flowering above ground. Native plantings tend to look weedy the first few years. Although you will see

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