NatureBoost Podcast Plant Natives For Spring!
[Music playing, nature sounds.]
>> Hey there and welcome back to NatureBoost. I am Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation. The winter season and those chilly temperatures are behind us, and I thought it would be great to ring in the spring season by giving back to nature and planting native plants. This is actually a topic we have gotten some requests and I myself have made it my mission to plant natives in my yard this year. But like some others, I have no idea where to start so I enlisted the help of two plant experts.
Alix Daniel and Cydney Ross are native landscape specialists who work out of Kansas City. If you've ever visited the Anita B. Gormon Discovery Center downtown, they are the ones responsible for maintaining all of those lovely native plant landscapes throughout the grounds. They also host monthly webinars on a variety of topics related to native gardening. So, I knew they were the ladies I needed to speak to.
>> Thank you for having us!
>> No problem! Thank you for being here. So, we have touched on this in the podcast before about native plants, but why are native plants so beneficial? Alix, I will start with you.
>> If you think about it, our whole ecosystem is based in levels, right? The basis levels, the smallest things you can think of the tiniest organisms up to the biggest predators that we have all rely on this food chain, basically. What the native plants do is they provide food for so many of these species. They have co-evolved with our insects, and our birds. All of it has evolved together over thousands and thousands of years. So, these plants and these relationships are vital to having a healthy ecosystem and providing habitat food, everything for our native insects, birds, animals, and that kind of thing.
And people are part of that food chain also. Not only are these native plants beneficial, but they also are beautiful. They also are more sustainable practices in your garden. They require less water, less resources. We often say do not fertilize your native plants. Obviously, you wouldn't want to use pesticides because then you would be damaging all of the native insects that rely on these plants. Overall, they are just the better option for your garden, and I think that's just one of the kind of cool things about native plants.
>> Native plants are kind of like nature's superheroes. They provide great benefits for wildlife and people. But when researching plants for your landscape, you may come across other terms such as nonnatives, aggressive natives, or invasive.
Cydney broke down what these terms mean and why it is important to know their definitions.
>> Nonnative plants are plants that did not originally exist in our ecoregions here in North America. That is not to say that all nonnative plants are bad. Some are definitely worse than others like our nonnative invasive species. These would be in our area bush honeysuckle, winter creeper, Bradford pears, and so many others. Those nonnative invasive species cause damage to the environment and to our economy. They do things like choke out other vegetation, they release chemicals that deter our native plants from growing. Most of the time they don't even offer themselves as a food resource for our insects and wildlife. So they are pretty much just bad. The nonnative invasives. Now, we have nonnatives like hastas or nonnative Irises and things like that. They are not invasive per se, but they don't necessarily provide the same benefits is our native plants do.
As Alix had said, our native plants provide food and shelter and all these great things. Whereas, nonnatives whether they are invasive or not just don't offer those kinds of things for us.
>> Yeah, I think that one of the things that is fascinating to think about. This is something that new that came out. Can I talk about the goldenrod thing that is happening? Okay, this is fascinating.
One of our major, I will just say bush honeysuckle a lot in this episode because it is the scariest nonnative Invasive that we have here in Kansas City and in the Midwest. That plant is from Asia. Their climate is similar to ours and that is why it does so well here. But the problem is that we don't have any biological controls for nonnative Honeysuckle. We don't have the insects that they have, we don't have the birds that they have. We don't have anything eating this plant and keeping it under control. In its native region, it would be having the right kinds of biological pressures and so it is not an issue.
A species that we have here, huge campaign by the government to get rid of it. You can get fined for having it. That is Canada goldenrod, solidago canadensis, which is a very common weedy species that we have here at the Discovery Center, all over the Missouri, all over the Midwest. It is a really aggressive native plant, but we just call those aggressive, not invasive. You can only be an invasive plant if you are nonnative That is the terminology. I think we try to cover that in the beginnings of these just so people can know that there are things such as aggressive natives that we don't necessarily recommend for the garden, like Canada goldenrod.
But that gave us hope 'cuz we are really hoping that something similar like that can happen with honeysuckle.
>> That's the crazy thing about these nonnative invasive plants is they were sold originally as ornamental landscape plants. Or as for like what was it, like restoration or habitat for quail.
>> We were encouraged to buy these plants, and still are in some cases. Winter creeper is still sold. Bradford pear is still sold. It's hard. We are just going back to this educational approach and trying to inspire the public to know, okay, there are better and more beautiful plants out there that you can add to your landscape to have a really enriching green space.
>> The Bradford pears. I have a personal story about them that I am very ashamed to admit. My parents planted Bradford pears. I am sure I am not the only one.
>> Everyone's done it. Don't worry.
>> I am just going to get it off my chest.
>> It's okay! You can recover. You can get better.
>> I can. I'm learning. It is all about the education. And as a child, I remember just loving those trees because in the spring they had the most beautiful blooms. But then it wasn't until I got older that I realized how truly terrible they are.
>> Yeah, they spread into thickets and just take over natural areas. They also smell horrible.
>> Yeah, disgusting.
>> Yeah, see that is the thing with that. I was gonna ask you, Jill, do you remember the smell as a child?
>> I do, I do.
>> So, that the beauty of the flowers was more than the smell for you. Okay, got it.
>> Isn't that funny?
>> Many people ask, where have the birds gone? I used to see butterflies, but I never see them anymore. What happened? Well, the birds and butterflies are still around, but the culprit may be what is planted in your neighborhood. Or not planted.
>> We have created food deserts by having barren turf grass lawns or nonnative or nonnative invasive trees. They don't have, they're not offering food. They might be offering habitat and shelter to a point, but they're just, yeah, that is why you are not seeing them as much.
>> They're sterile. It's sterilized. Everyday prairies are getting plowed up and forests are getting torn down to build these subdivisions that are then just going to replace them with all nonnative invasive species and turf grass. So, what do the birds have to eat?
I have a good story where this older gentleman came by and walked and he saw some yellow birds.
He said, "What are those yellow and black birds I am seeing everywhere?"
I said, "Those are the gold finches, aren't they so beautiful?"
He said, "I've lived in Kansas City my whole life and I've never seen any gold finches."
And I was like, "Well, you need a few things. You need some coneflower; you need less turf grass. They have nothing to eat in your yard that's like, you know, a Japanese maple and some Kentucky Blue or whatever."
So, there's nothing. They're going for echinacea, they're going for goldenrod, they're going for ironweed. They're going for all these plants that provide seeds sources for them. They can't eat grass. So, they won't eat there.
>> I'm not going to lie to you both, I feel like we are already good friends. So, I feel like I need to be honest with you. [Laughing.]
Okay so I might have been a little selfish with this topic as well, because I am very lucky to have a big backyard. And I want to plant natives in my backyard. It is very shady. I have two huge oak trees. The front of my yard gets blasted by morning sun.
But the back of my yard is very shady. I would love to plant natives. I have a question for you both. Before you start adding natives to your area, do you recommend getting rid of nonnatives first? Do nonnatives and native plants compete with each other at all? Or what can you speak to that?
>> Okay, so it really depends on the types of plants you have already in your yard. Sometimes nonnative and native plants can exist, as long as the nonnatives are not invasive. There are a few things I would do to get started when you are thinking about adding plants to your garden.
One is understanding the types of conditions you have, which you just said you have full shade in your backyard, and you get part shade which would be morning sun in your front yard. That's great. That is one thing you really need to know. What kind of sunlight are you getting? Take note of what time of day the sun is hitting those spaces, like you mentioned. Also, how many hours is your space getting this certain type of sunlight.
Then take note of the type of soil you have. Is it clay? Most people in Kansas City have clay soil in their yards because when these houses were built, they dug up all that rich topsoil and they got down to the bottom. It's just compacted clay soil which then when they refill after the foundation, that's what's left. A lot of our yards here in Kansas City have clay soil. So, making sure you have plants that can handle clay soil is important.
Also looking for wet spots in your yard. This is a great time of year to see where you are having standing water pool up. Especially with spring coming, keep an eye out for that. Analyzing your space in this way will really help inform the type of plants you can have.
Then another thing I like to do once you kind of have a sense of what your space is like, go out to your natural areas and look at these native plant communities. If you have full sun, if you get lots of hot, direct sun for six to eight hours, go out to your local prairie and see what is growing out there; see what plants you like.
Or in your case, since you have shade in your backyard, go to your woodlands and see in the springtime all the spring ephemerals coming up and all those different types of plants. Use that as a guide and inform your plant choices in your yard.
>> I love that idea of finding inspiration out in nature. It is also a great excuse to go out on a springtime hike. Alix and Cydney also recommended checking out native plant gardens at your nearest Missouri Department of Conservation Nature Center or finding inspiration at nearby conservation areas.
We are going to take a short break but when we get back, we will continue our step-by-step guide of planting native as well as why you don't want to be a plopper.
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>> There once was a girl named Goldilocks who wanted to plant a tree in her yard, but she didn't know what to do.
>> This tree is too tall.
>> But some trees work better in some places than others.
>> This tree is too wide.
>> Before you plant, decide what benefits you want from your tree, then select the kind best suited to those needs.
>> This tree is just right!
>> Choosing the right place is simply a matter of planning, too! Learn more at Missouriconservation.org search keywords "Right Tree." Choosing the right tree for the right place doesn't have to be a bear.
>> Welcome back to NatureBoost where we are celebrating the spring season by learning how to get back to nature and plant native plants. Joining me on this episode are native landscape specialists out of the Kansas City region, Cydney Ross and Alix Daniel.
Both Cydney and Alix agree that when planning your garden, it's best to actually plan it, rather than heading out and buying plants that you think just look good.
>> The common misconception about native plants is that they will always look super wild. That's really just about doing the right research and having intention when you plan your garden. You know. There are a few different schools of thought. You could be a plopper, like I've definitely been there. Like I just said earlier.
>> Are you looking at me? Why aren't you looking at me? I'm a plopper.
>> She loves to plop plants.
>> That's a way . . . what's plopping mean?
>> I switch it to I now plop with purpose.
So what plopping is when you go to the garden store, and you fall in love with this plant. We all do it. You walk in, you kind of have a plan. But then you see this thing that is like, "Hey, I want to come home with you" and you are like "Great, now I don't know where to put you in my garden."
And then it becomes kind of chaotic because if you are just bringing home random plants and sticking them wherever, you don't have really a plan in mind, and it shows.
>> It can kind of get wild.
>> That's okay if it is like your backyard and it's kind of a more private area, but if you are trying to plant for your front yard where the whole neighborhood, maybe you have a homeowner's association, maybe you live in a busy neighborhood.
>> Maybe you have angry neighbors that really love their grass and their Japanese maples.
>> Right, and that's where things can go downhill. That's where having a plan is I think more important than just being a "plopper."
>> I could totally see myself being a plopper.
>> People do it. It is easy to do. I mean, I still will go to the garden center and see a random plant and ask if we can bring it back to work with us.
>> We sometimes do.
>> But, yeah, I think really doing your research and having a general plan is the best way to set yourself up for success when it comes to adding native plants to your garden.
But also know that if you put a plant in an area and it doesn't thrive, you can always dig it up and move it to a better spot. Really it is about observing your space, observing how these plants are working in your space, see if they are happy or not. Move them around. If you have a plant that is really reaching and really leggy and looks like it's flopping over, it may not be in the right spot. So, you can kind of move it around and see what works over tie.
>> Alix also noted that it's best to plan your garden by including plants that can support each other and mapping out where each should be located.
>> You want to have a matrix of plants. You want to have a community of plants that can support each other too. It's not a good idea to have really tall, tall grass prairie plants on the edge of a bed where you know it's going to . . .
>> We struggle with that all the time.
>> I mean it has happened here; we've done it. We've fixed how we garden the borders especially of some of our beds by putting ground cover species.
>> Short plants.
>> Short plants in front. Yeah, it seems simple enough, but these tall prairie species are so gorgeous and they would usually normally stand up but sometimes if they are planted as a monocle where it is just one species up top, they can't always support themselves.
But also underground, they are all competing for the same root space there, and what's good to have with a mix of native plants is we are finding out that the root morphology or the way the roots interact under the soil is just as important as the support up top. The root structure, if not strong, will cause more flopping and leaning.
But floppers is something we do all the time. It is a technical term, but another misconception is that native plant gardens are no maintenance. That is simply not true. Even if you designed the best most perfect functioning garden which Cydney, did, she did, and it is out there right now. We will show you, Jill. But it is still going to need maintenance, like hardcore maintenance for like the next two years it is going to need weeded.
>> Forever, like, there is no such thing as a no maintenance garden, pure and simple. Because we are people, and we like to manage things and have a certain vision for things. It will always require a level of maintenance. But with native plants and with some planning, you can set yourself up to have a lower maintenance required garden.
>> One other thing I want to mention, another basic gardening tip. If you are wanting to add native plants to garden, there is a few things you can do besides the research and the planning. When you do go to plan your garden, you want to put your taller species towards the back. If it is a garden, you're viewing from one angle.
Let's say Jill, you are looking out your backdoor and there is a fence line.
>> I do!
>> Great, what do you know? What a surprise.
So, you want your taller plants in the back towards the fence. As it gets closer to you as you are walking towards it, shorter in the front and then you have your middle ground species in the middle, and your taller plants in the back. This is a method that I took from Claudia West, she has this great book called Planting in a Post Wild World and she talks about using native plants and having a less rigid landscape style and a freer natural style.
Start with your structural plants like your shrubs or woody plants.
>> Big oak trees.
>> Big oak trees, yeah. So, knowing those plants you have already existing in your yard or ones that you want to add, maybe. That will really inform the sunlight requirement. Right? Since you have mature oaks, you have shade.
Then from there, you can add your seasonal interest which would be your forbs or your flowers. There's like your herbaceous plants like your coneflowers, your, well I guess not in your shady location. You could have woodland pink roots, maybe some . . .
>> Lots of spring ephemerals.
>> Spring ephemerals.
>> Woodland pinks roots.
>> Woodland asters, wooden goldenrods, things like that.
Then you get to your groundcovers, the shortest species. Those are the fill in species like round leaf ground like wild ginger, and things like that. They fill in the gaps and create a green mulch that way it is retaining moisture, suppressing weeds, it is the final piece to create that native plant community that helps support each other.
>> I love that, that is a really great tip. Can I tell you a really embarrassing story?
>> We love embarrassing stories.
>> It's so funny. Okay so a few years ago, I bought a bee house. Which they say, you know, they are easy enough to make. I probably could have made a better one, this one was not the best. But I was so excited. I was like, "I'm gonna have all these bees around, yes!" I hung it up, there was a perfect spot for it on my fence.
I didn't have any bees. Do you know why? Because I didn't have any dang plants! It wasn't until like two months later, I'm like, "you idiot."
>> You know what? Here's a way to get bees at your house. Obviously, they need plants. But to have a bee house with a native plant, like it's an all in one, right? Purple coneflower.
>> It's a starter.
>> It is! It is the starter pack of plant choice for native gardening. If you don't have it, get it, it is so easy to grow. But that's the one you will have. At an old house, I planted coneflower. There were no native plants in the yard at all. I planted coneflower, echinacea purpurea, the purple coneflower in the mostly shade front bed and within one year we had gold finches visiting. It only takes a little bit of time.
>> It does! They will come to it.
>> It's true. And it's funny 'cuz I didn't, the very first plant I planted at my house was also purple coneflower.
>> Everybody's first!
>> And in that year, and I think I actually got that plant from the Discovery Center.
>> That means I grew that plant!
>> You grew that plant for me. And I will never forget the very first time I saw an Agapostemon. A green metallic sweat bee, and it blew my mind.
It is the most beautiful little native solitary bee. It is bright green, iridescent, it's stunning. And I saw it on that purple coneflower, and I was immediately hooked. That's the best way to see nature in your own backyard and have these beautiful flowers. It's a win-win-win-win across the board.
And usually if you are gardening with native plants, your goal is going to be to attract some sort of wildlife, right? So, if you want pollinators, and who doesn't, try to have something in bloom for the longest amount of time. We cover this. Instantly, if you have a sun garden, you put rose verbena in it because you will get blooms from March to December.
>> It is insane.
>> And you'll have visitors then. Then you want to think, you want to break it down into three growing seasons. So, you want to make sure you have a spring bloom, make sure you have a summer bloom, make sure you have a fall bloom.
>> Don't forget about that winter interest, though, ya'll!
>> The winter interest is good, but it doesn't serve the pollinators.
>> It does for overwintering pollinators.
>> It's true, it's true.
>> Leave all this up after the pollinators have all gone away.
>> Can you see that we are total nerds and love native plants? Because we do.
>> Yeah, I think we love them. I'm pretty sure.
>> And we're best friends, so that also helps.
>> It does.
>> Okay, so then if you have something like, yeah, that's typically what we would do. Especially for designing a garden for an area you are going to see all the time. That's something we like to think about is this. Where are you standing? Where is the public front face of the garden? Is it here? Or if we are helping someone at their house, design a garden. What are you looking at? When you are standing at the kitchen, make sure you get those bird friendly plants right there by the window. You want to make sure you have a nice little . . .
>> Yeah, 'cuz in the wintertime, bird watching is the best winter sport in my opinion. I don't know why it's not in the Olympics, but it really should be.
>> That's what I want! I want.
>> Watch out! Watch out Shawn White, we got a sport for you, baby.
>> Bird watching.
>> Another thing to consider in your landscape is the size and spacing of the plants. Do not let their initial size deceive you. You really need to think about what they will look like once they grow and reach maturity. So, factor that in when you are spacing them out. Additionally, have patience. Because a lot of important work is happening underneath the earth's surface.
Remember, sleep, creep and leap.
>> For native plants, typically in the first year they sleep. So, they are working on their root structures, the underground part. And they are not going to do much production up top. This is for a majority of the species, not all of them.
But, then the second year, they creep which means they put out more base foliage in some cases are just get a little bit bigger, and usually they will bloom.
Then in the third year, they leap. They will typically always bloom in the third year consistently and be more their mature size. It takes three years for a native plant garden to fully look like, and I think longer, too. But three years max before you start judging anything. It takes time for those. That is how perennial plants work, too. If you are just planting them once, they want to build up this root structure and be able to live for years and years and years. So, it makes sense that they don't.
>> They take their time, and it is a long-term investment, but it is worth the investment. You will see some interesting things the first year. You can look for plants. We have mentioned purple coneflower a lot, but that is a really great foundational plant that gives you quick blooms. You could also consider; we encourage people to plant in the spring and in the fall. This spring you could plant some spring blooming plants, but it might be better to maybe add some of the fall blooming plants in the spring that way they get a head start and they can get their roots established and then they might have some flowers in the fall, and vice versa. This fall you could plant some things that would bloom in the spring that way it gets a head start kind of thing.
>> Yeah, that's really great to point out because that is how. It doesn't feel as satisfying to plant like that, but it definitely makes a big difference if you think about your fall blooms for your spring planting.
>> So, you've done your research, you know what type of sun you get, what type of soil you have, you know which plants will work in your yard and where to put them. But where do you buy native plants?
Alix and Cydney both recommend checking out your local native plant nurseries or vendors of which there are many scattered throughout the state. However, you can buy natives from the big box stores, but when doing so, be sure to check that what you are buying is a true native.
>> A lot of native plants have what we call cultivars, which are cultivated versions of true native species. For instance, coneflower. If you are going to look for a coneflower at a big box store nursery, a lot of the coneflowers they will have there is going to be something like echinacea prairie sunset in quotes, or it's going to be like echinacea purpurea and then an x, a small x and then another name like some man's name, probably. It will typically be like the name of whoever came up with that cultivar.
The problem with cultivars, though they may be beautiful, and they may attract pollinators, and they may attract birds is that they're not, the colors they are morphing them into, the shapes they are morphing them into. Sometimes they are made to be like, you know, ombre. We've seen the craziest colors.
>> Is it supposed to be like a weird hybrid or something?
>> Yeah, they are hybrids. They are genetically modified. The problem with that is that in the colors and forms that they are at that point, they are no longer recognizable in the same ways to our insects and our birds. For instance, the way a bee sees is much different than how we see. Colors are much different. They can see a lot more colors than we can, and they translate differently.
When they are looking at that coneflower that is bred to be like ombre pink to yellow, it doesn't look like a food source to them. And when you breed for certain things, you don't ever know. There is not research out there to know if the food value is the same of the pollen and the nectar. A lot of these species are sterile, which means they don't have any pollen and they have lower nectar levels. If you are going to plant native, just go all the way and don't plant cultivars. You could have a few if you want, but if you plant mostly cultivars, it is not really planting for native.
>> That's sneaky.
>> It's very sneaky, yeah. I don't think, obviously, it wasn't with malicious intent, from the people who genetically modified these plants to have these certain visual qualities. But it does have that effect. All these native plants have Latin names, and you don't need to know how to pronounce it. I certainly don't all the time. But it's good to get familiar with it and have a list, whether it is on your phone or a piece of paper or whatever. Know to look for those specific Latin names when you are looking at the tags of your plants.
>> How I like to think about it, or how we like to think about it is kind of the Doug Tallamy school of homegrown national parks. So, like every yard that has some native plant species that are cultivated helps to connect these other spaces. We have a native garden here, there is a big native garden at Loose Park, we have a friend who has a prairie restoration right up the hill here. We have a couple friends who have massive native plant gardens that live just north of us here. If you think about that, we have one remnant prairie left in Kansas City, Jerry Smith Park and down there if you think about the pollinators, all the insects and the birds traveling through the city. Each of these little spots of safe haven of food resources, nectar resources, pollen, bugs for the birds. All of those connected together can help to make these little highways and channels that can help animals survive in the city or make it through the city to the other side.
Am I saying that right?
>> Yeah, it's this food desert which would be all these lawns that use turf grass, herbicides and pesticides and everything.
>> Every unmanaged woodland area in urban Kansas City is completely overrun by honeysuckle and therefore basically unusable by a lot of native.
>> Since most of these areas, whether it is natural, public, or residential spaces are typically nonnative or nonnative invasive, by having your own native plant garden you are creating these oases. You are creating these havens for wildlife.
>> We eventually hope to have turned into more freeways of, what does Griff call it?
>> Wildlife corridors.
>> Corridors, yes! These mini wildlife corridors that go through the city that help. Here at the Discovery Center this used to be a neighborhood before, it used to be a trolley station before. We've started all the way over except for some of the trees that were original. When we opened, we opened in 2002, and since then by planting all these native plants, we have attracted just an insane amount of wildlife that you don't normally see even in the areas right around us.
>> Minks. We have minks!
>> I'm almost tearing up. It's so beautiful.
>> I know.
>> Well, get ready to turn on the waterworks, Jill, because what I'm about to say is . . .
>> Oh, God, I'm actually tearing up.
>> Yes! I love it when it makes you cry.
>> We really appreciate your passion. But in all seriousness, the number one way to support the environment and combat climate change is to plant native. It is something, I know it feels really overwhelming with how scary things are in the world.
>> We cannot fix oil.
>> We can't, there are so many things beyond us but as an individual this is something you can do and it is so empowering, and it is so important. It has so much value. So please go home and plant native plants because you are helping the earth.
>> You are helping earth.
>> Mother Earth.
>> Oh my gosh.
>> It's such a, in all seriousness, it is such a beautiful thing both of you are doing to help educate people. I'm sure you made contact with people who really didn't even know and hopefully are planting natives right now and realize the benefits and how important it is to plant these plants.
>> I know it can be so scary but coming from a place of education and coming from the angle of joy and excitement and passion and enthusiasm and curiosity, we can all do this. We can all make a difference. It's going to be okay. We got this.
>> I really hope this episode has inspired you to get back to nature and plant natives for wildlife. I have soaked up so much valuable information and I look forward to creating a wildlife oasis of my own this season.
A huge thanks to my new pals, Alix Daniel and Cydney Ross. Be sure to check out their native plants at noon monthly programs they put on with Deep Roots Kansas City. You can tune into their presentations and watch previously recorded programs at deeproots.org.
And be sure to let us know if you have ideas on future NatureBoost episodes. Check us out online at missourconservation.org/natureboost to send us a message.
I'm Jill Pritchard with Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.
>> I have a favor to ask you both. Do you know what ASMR is? I love it. Can I record just like a little ASMR of you saying the Latin names? Like just go back and forth.
>> Yes, yes!
>> Separables heterolepsis. Baptisa australis. Hamamelis vernalis. Liatris scariosa. Echinacea paradoxa.
>> Wait I got one.
>> Bone thugs and harmoniums.