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Going Green At Home With Native Plants: Tips To Build Native Habitats Into Your Landscaping

Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

The Missouri Botanical Garden annual Green Homes Festival is this Saturday at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. One of the focuses of this year’s festival is gardening with native plants, or “naturescaping.”

Using native plants is environmentally friendly because it works within the existing ecosystem, explained Jean Ponzi, Green Resources Manager at the EarthWays Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Ponzi appeared on St. Louis on the Air today to talk about naturescaping with host Don Marsh. St. Louis Audubon Society Executive Director Mitch Leachman and Missouri Department of Conservation Community Conservation Planner Angie Weber also participated in the conversation.

One of the purposes of using native plants is to create habitats for wildlife, such as monarch butterflies. And that lies at the heart of the conservation department’s mission, explained Weber.

“Our local wildlife, they really face challenges with habitat loss, and fragmentation and pollution and invasive species, so we just really want to promote the message that each individual person can take some responsibility and help our native species just by changing the plant composition in their yard,” she said.

In 2012 the Audubon Society started a program called Bring Conservation Home that helps homeowners incorporate native plants into their landscaping.

“We actually go to individual homeowners' landscapes and help them understand how they …can create little patches of habitat in their own landscape,” said Leachman.

Landscaping Tips

“I have to say, I’m getting more and more anti-turf the older I get,” said Ponzi. “I’m getting less tolerant of that green carpet and what it takes to maintain it. That is my bias. But I’m not saying rip out your knock-out roses and your butterfly bush, which yeah, goes yoo-hoo to the butterfly but doesn’t support its life, because it is native to China. But when you are looking for something new, look to the natives. Look to the plants and the choices that really do well here, and integrate them with what you’re already doing.”

Sometimes people don’t like native plants because they don’t like the floppy look of prairie plants, said Ponzi. But by utilizing techniques such as creating an island of native plants or leaving a border between the native plants and the rest of the yard, people can keep their garden tidy.

“You can also landscape in different ways with native plants,” added Weber. “So you can create a formal look if you clump like species together, put taller species in the back, use native plants as a ground cover or a border. You can landscape in ways that are still traditional and that’s appealing and has the aesthetics that most people are looking for.” 

Weber also suggested looking into woodland plants in addition to prairie plants because they work well with shade and don’t get as tall or spread as much. Both she and Ponzi recommended visiting the Grow Native website for lists of native plants and  landscape design suggestions.

“We have enough commercially-available native plants … that it really is about what look the homeowner wants to achieve,” said Leachman. “It’s just a matter of picking the right plants for the right location for the look that the homeowner desires.”

Related Event

Missouri Botanical Garden's 13th Annual Green Homes Festival
Saturday, June 7, 2014
9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd.
For more information, call 314-577-5100 or visit the Missouri Botanical Garden website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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