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Get your hands dirty and plant something. That’s right, putting trees, flowers or shrubs in the ground doesn’t just provide you with beauty and shade, it can also improve your property value, lower your energy costs, clean the air and water—even lower your heart rate.


Have you heard the buzz about native plants?

Native plants are the topic of many magazine & newspaper articles, garden shows and seminars lately. So why is everyone talking about natives?

Natives make sense because they “grew up” in Illinois. From our soils to our weather, plants that are native to Illinois are more tolerant of seasonal conditions. Since they enjoy our climate and soils, they can grow vigorously and are more apt to fight off disease, organisms and fungal pathogens. A side benefit is that you may not have to use fertilizers, insecticides or fungicides because these plants should possess a natural immunity.

 Examples of Native Plants



 Points to Consider

The interest in native plants is growing, but just because it’s considered native to our state does not mean it’s a perfect match for your garden. There are native plants that can be aggressive in their growth patterns, causing them to wreak havoc in a small garden. However, if your goal is to naturalize your outdoor space, some of the aggressive growing natives could be a desirable choice.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this rings true, as not all gardeners will consider every native plant an attractive choice for their outdoor space. This is a subjective decision that each gardener must make, but something to keep in mind before planting. Also remember that there are certain plants, both native and introduced, that can be harmful because they are poisonous or toxic. Before you select a plant, know the plant.

 Create an Oasis for Native Wildlife

Another benefit to the Illinois heritage of native plants is that our certain creatures – butterflies, birds, bees, etc, recognize them as a food source! You might be thinking that you want to keep “critters” out of your garden but that’s not true. The right animal life adds a healthy balance to your ecosystem and many of them can be quite beautiful. You can even plant material that attracts the type of activity you would like to observe on a regular basis – Monarchs, hummingbirds, etc. Once a native plant is established, it can tolerate feeding from our native creatures with no problem. One example is the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata) which can be nearly defoliated by monarch caterpillars and the plant will be no worse for the wear!

 Healthy insect populations = healthier food chain

Insects are like the bottom of the natural food pyramid. Many animals, birds and reptiles depend on insect protein for food. When insect populations are not healthy, neither are the populations of certain birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

 Healthy plant and animal populations = healthy food chain = cleaner water = cleaner air= healthier humans

You might be thinking… what does any of this have to do with me and my yard? You have an opportunity to create a natural ecosystem in your own backyard! 95% of our land in the lower 48 states has been modified over time…approximately 42% through agriculture and approximately 54% by creating the cities and towns where we live. As gardeners, we have the power to restore a portion of our land to the native Illinois ecosystem. Our backyard gardens have never been more powerful and more needed, than they are today.

 Condition the Soil

As mentioned above, humans have done quite a bit to modify the natural landscape through the creation of cities and the residential and commercial development that has filled our populated areas. Much of the soil in the areas where we reside has been disturbed. You may find that you are planting in subsoil or a mix of subsoil and transplanted topsoil mix, which is inadequate for plant group because it’s missing the critical microbiology needed to help plants perform at their optimum level without synthetic supplements/fertilizers. The microbiology that naturally occurs in healthy soil helps native plants to absorb the necessary nutrients and water from the soil, leading to peak performance. If your soil is not healthy, even though you have selected native Illinois plants, they may have difficulty thriving in the altered environment.

 Be Cautious of Invasive Plant Species

You may have heard about certain invasive plant material that can overtake not only your garden area, but can spread to become a pest all over. Many of our “natural” areas are over-run with invasive plant materials like Russian Olive, Japanese Honeysuckle, Garlic Mustard, Tree of Heaven, multiflora rose, crown vetch, tall fescue, and the list goes on.

 How do I know which plants are a concern?

With proper planning and proper plant choices, your outdoor living space can be a functioning ecosystem.

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