Right In Your Own Backyard

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Published on: May. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

and they also keep mice from ruining garden plants. You can also make flutes and whistles from the hollow stalks.

This winter, I'm going to kill some non-native plants that are slowly choking out some of the nicer plants. Honeysuckle will be the first to go. One or two honeysuckle bushes in a yard may not seem like a big deal, but birds eat the seeds instead of something native, and they drop the seeds in fertile ground where new honeysuckle takes root, spreads and displaces more beneficial species.

That's symbolic of what's happening to our native plants statewide. Botanists estimate that more than one-third of all plant species growing wild in Missouri are not native.

I may target other plants, too. I'd like to yank out bunches of Japanese honeysuckle vines and make room for more native Virginia creeper. Virginia creeper leaves turn a really nice shade of crimson in the fall. In late summer, I dug out about five stems of bull thistles, a plant so detrimental to pasture and agricultural land that it has been declared a state noxious weed. My peonies, surprise lilies and bulb flowers aren't native, but I'll keep them since they don't spread aggressively.

After salvaging bricks for a couple of years, I finally have enough to build a narrow sidewalk that will meander through the back yard. It will spare me from having to wade through chigger-infested foliage unless I choose to do so. Of course, I might have to shovel the walk when it snows, but it should add a nice touch, nonetheless.

My little urban island is also a testing ground of sorts. The health of our cities and towns will improve if we would mow less grass. More people could enjoy the beauty and low-maintenance of wildflowers blooming at different times of the year. We could also save money by using fewer herbicides and pesticides, because native plants usually don't need them. They also survive on rainfall and give better food and cover for more animals.

Overall our cities would have more natural, wild-looking green spaces, and our urban areas would become better places for both people and animals. Older, so-called "overgrown" neighborhoods often have more birds, a greater diversity of plants, healthier wildlife and less erosion than closely manicured yards. There are also fewer leaky basements because drainage is better.

Best of all, Missourians wouldn't have to spend a big chunk of every precious weekend mowing their lawns. Instead, people could go fishing or take naps.

Like my house, my yard will always be a work in progress, but with more native plants flourishing, less lawn to mow and some creative landscaping, it will look more and more "fixed up" every year.

Plant Literacy

The Conservation Department has available several free and for-sale publications that can help you identify and choose plants for backyard plantings.

  • "Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri," by Don Kurz, is available in hard cover for $15, plus $5 shipping; and in soft cover for $12, plus $2 shipping.
  • The recently updated and revised "Missouri Wildflowers," by Edgar Denison, costs $12, plus $2 shipping. Mail your order to Nature Shop, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180; or order by phone, (573) 751-4115, ext 3325.
  • Free publications include "Landscaping for Backyard Wildlife" (10-pages, color); "Native Plants for Landscaping" (two pages listing wildflowers and grasses); and "Native Grasses for Landscaping" (a four-page booklet describing 12 varieties of native grasses for meadows, pastures and lawns). Request these publications by their name on an envelope and sending it to: Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180. The Missouri Native Plant Society maintains a list of Missouri nurseries and greenhouses specializing in nursery-propagated native plant stock. For more information, write to Missouri Native Plant Society, P.O. Box 20073, St. Louis, MO 63144-0073 or view the list at <>.

Except for some agricultural crops, the Conservation Department plants only native species on the land it owns or leases, unless no suitable native plant is available. In that case, area managers only use non-native species that pose little threat to native ecosystems and don't spread aggressively

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