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John Church: Now is the time to prepare for spring plantings

Published: Thursday, March 2, 2017 5:30 a.m. CDT
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John Church

Happy spring! Although we have enjoyed a spring-like February, March makes the season “official.”

Many people will soon start to think about their outside gardens, plants and chores. More homeowners are considering planting more environmentally friendly landscapes, in which a major consideration is the use of native plants. Now is a good time to get prepared for such plantings.

Native plants are those species that were present locally when the first settlers arrived. These plants have evolved over thousands of years to be able to live on rainwater alone, without adding fertilizer, and their deep roots help infiltrate rain where it falls and carry the moisture deep into the ground to replenish our aquifers, cleaning it as it goes.

As you start this year’s yard work and lawn care, take a step back and think of the native possibilities. As indicated in The Conservation Foundation’s Conservation@Home web page, there are countless ways to incorporate native vegetation into your home landscape. Start one plant at a time or create a whole new flower bed.

Native prairie and woodland plants evolved in this climate and can handle the cold deep freeze, the spring rains and the hot drought conditions that we experience here in northern Illinois. Once they are established, generally after the first growing season, native plants thrive on their own and do especially well during drought conditions. They rarely need to be watered and do not require any fertilizer. Their deep roots hold the soil, allow water to filter down deep into the ground where it belongs, and because they “evolved” here, they attract dozens of species of beneficial wildlife like butterflies and songbirds. There are an increasing number of examples in our area where native landscaping has been established.

You can easily also incorporate native plants into existing flower beds; just be sure to check the growing requirements and make sure they will get enough sun, shade or moisture as with any perennial plant.

Native flower beds do need to be weeded occasionally. It is best to cut back certain plants to keep them from getting too large or taking over. They can either be mowed down or cut by hand after they have died back, although leaving some stalks and tall grasses adds a nice dimension to the winter landscape and provides seeds for birds. If you do not want your prairie flowers to spread to other parts of the yard, you can cut off the seed heads or pods and dispose of them before they ripen.

The TCF Conservation@Home program helps homeowners establish native plantings and other conservation practices, such as using rain barrels. Now is a good time to learn more about the program for your yard and garden. For more information, go to theconservationfoundadtion.org, phone 630-553-0687, ext. 204, or email jchurch@theconservationfoundation.org.

• John Church is the Kendall County Program Director at The Conservation Foundation.

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