Need an overall 'natives' strategy (Michigan)

maryliz(5b/SE lower MI)June 17, 2008

Hi, y'all. I've visited before, but now I have a question.

I'm probably over-excited and just need to calm down, but I have been reading a book lately (Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy) that has me re-thinking some of my garden plans. According to this book, even "nice" aliens are a problem, because they don't feed the insects that in turn feed the birds and amphibians.

Our house is in a very sandy area that has been disturbed by agriculture in the past. I think it would be called an "oak savannah" or "oak opening," because we have the tallgrass prairie (with non-native grasses) and the oak trees (Quercus coccinea) grow in abundance.

The day we moved in, we started battling the alien invasives, and have been making a bit of progress.

After five years of living here, I know what ornamentals will do well in our sandy soil. But some of them are not native. Perhaps most. Rather than insist on natives, I would like to put together a list of plants that will (1) grow on our acidic sand without irrigation (2) support the insects and other animal life. For example, I am letting the Queen Anne's Lace grow, because it "supports beneficials." I am pulling out the hoary allysum (Berteroa incana) because it is so darn invasive. Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) can stay, because bees love it, but Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia) has got to go, because it would take over if it were not for Roundup.

There is probably someone on this list who can point me to books, webpages and other resources that will help me develop a list of natives and select aliens that will reach my goal of minimal irrigation and maximum beneficial insect life. Any ideas for me?

MaryLiz in SE lower Michigan

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
well_drained(z6a MA)


Sounds like an exciting project - you sound like you have a lot of great information already, and a plan of action. Here are some thoughts and suggestions based on my limited experience on a very small plot in eastern Mass.

(1) I used John Diekelmann's Natural Landscaping: Designing with Native Plant Communities as my guide. Although some of it was over my head, I found dozens of useful points, plus lists of plants in the back, categorized by type of community (oak-hickory forest, mesic grassland, savanna, etc.). But I also took the advice of the book (and folks at GardenWeb) and learned about the native plants that actually live in my area now. I did this by using field guides and by exploring natural areas (state parks, etc.) to identify what was living in sites similar to mine.

(2) As for your book's philosophy that non-invasive aliens are 'bad' too, I feel like that's a matter of semantics. The irises in my front yard non-native garden aren't actively 'bad' for the environment, but they don't do much good either (although you'd be surprised how many native insects and birds enjoy feasting on non-native plants). But for me the more important question is, what plants and animals have evolved together over thousands of years to form a community? These species have slowly pieced together a multi-faceted mosaic with countless connections and interrelationships. There are no places in the mosaic to fit non-native plants and animals - they fit into other mosaics, other communities, where they have evolved, usually far away from here. So one way of native plant gardening (and it is only one of many ways - your way is another) is to plant only those species that are part of the community that you've identified as native to your area and your site conditions. Then, the frustrating part is finding places that sell the plants you identified.

(3) As for 'select aliens', I would ask around in the various GardenWeb forums covering your desired landscape type. Woodlands and Meadows & Prairies are two good ones. Folks there will probably steer you to natives, but you'll probably be able to get some advice about aliens/exotics that will behave themselves in among the natives. I've never heard of an invasive hosta, for example (watch someone prove me wrong!).

Best of luck,


    Bookmark   June 17, 2008 at 11:34AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Getting rid of the invasives is the most important thing so you are doing that much right already. A local native plant society might be a good place to start. The books "Noah's Garden" and "Planting Noah's Garden" both by Sara Stein are good resources. I think Tallamy's book itself reccommended some non-natives like some of the crab apples. There are also probably some attractive natives that would grow in your soil. Brooklyn Botanical Garden has a book about native altnernatives to various popular invasives.

A few resources from random searching:

Here is a link that might be useful: USDA

    Bookmark   June 17, 2008 at 4:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
maryliz(5b/SE lower MI)

Thank you so much for taking the time to give me some advice and encouragement. Thank you for the book & URL recommendations. Now I have a lot of reading ahead of me, but the task will be pleasant. I checked out the other GardebWeb forums. Yesterday, I contacted the local conservation district, which has a plant sale twice a year. And I have located a local plant nursery that specializes in Michigan natives. There is even a local group that rescues plants from bulldozers. I just had to look in the right places. Thanks for helping me preserve this little piece of nature. And now, to go out there and pull out some more invasives, to leave room for the natives! (I let hubby run the chain saw when we want to dispatch a huge russian olive.) Hahaha.


    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 3:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenhaven(SW MI z6)

I highly recommended searching out a local chapter of the Wild Ones organization. The link below shows no fewere than eleven chapters in Michigan alone!

Wild Ones are very earnest about educating the public about native landscaping and the importance of preserving or rehabbing native ecosystems.

Our chapter has monthly meetings, during which a speaker will give a talk on various subjects concerning growers of natives, they are involved in plant rescues and workdays, and also have Show-Me, Help-Me days where we travel from home to home and either see how someone has accomplished a goal or see someone who has a problem or question and needs advice.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wild Ones chapters by state

    Bookmark   June 20, 2008 at 2:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
terrene(5b MA)

I've lived here 5 years too, my yard was infested with agressive invasives, all the worst woody invasives in the Northeast. This included 5 large Norway maples (one of which is still there). I am steadily removing them although in this case it takes years, and creating gardens with many natives in their place. The front yard gardens are approx. a 50/50 native/non-native mix, the back yard gardens consist of nearly all natives, some non-native veggies and annuals.

While some exotics (i.e. Iris, Peonia) aren't much more than eye candy, many non-natives have great appeal to wildlife and they are not invasive, especially annuals. I grow Zinnias, Tithonia, Cosmos, Cleome, Verbena bonariensis, and others, plus many herbs because they are magnets for pollinators. Dill, Fennel, and Parsley for example have the advantage of being host plant for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. This year I'm also growing non-native annual vines with red tubular flowers to attract hummingbirds.

In one of the links that Bob posted, there is a study that Michigan State University did on 26 native and a few non-native plants and how attractive they are to beneficial insects and bees. Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) was the 3rd most attractive plant to beneficials insects throughout the growing season. It is an easy, drought-tolerant, non-native annual that is fragrant and reseeds nicely, but is not classified as a noxious weed or noted to have weedy tendencies on the USDA website. This IMO is a good non-native to grow.

The USDA Plants database is an excellent reference for researching the nativity of plants in North America. It also makes note of plants that are classified as noxious weeds or invasive. Very helpful.

William Cullina's books are also excellent references on native plants. I have 2 of them - Wildflowers, and Trees, Shrubs & Vines. There is a 3rd on Mosses, Ferns, & Grasses and I'm looking forward to buying it.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2008 at 7:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
terrene(5b MA)

Here is a link to the MSU Study I mentioned above.

Also wanted to add a few thoughts. Growing from seed is a great way to grow a variety of native plants, that would otherwise be difficult and/or costly to obtain as plants. This Spring I winter-sowed many native perennials, grasses, and a few annuals with approx. 44 species germinating. I have also bought inexpensive native tree/shrub seedling stock from the New Hampshire state nursery, which are shipped as 1-2 year old seedlings that I plant in holding beds and will be planted out in shrub borders and the understory.

My lot is upland, sandy loam, and well-drained. The natives I am growing in the sunniest, driest and sandiest corner in front that should rarely if ever need to be irrigated (once established) are Gaillardia aristata and pulchella, Ratibida columnifera and pinnata (Mexican hats & Yellow Coneflower), Oenothera macrocarpa (Missouri evening primrose), Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed), Coreopsis lanceolata (Threadleaf coreopsis), Liatris aspera, grasses Sporobolis heterolepis (Prarie Dropseed) and Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem), and Dalea purpurea (purple prarie clover).

    Bookmark   June 20, 2008 at 9:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
maryliz(5b/SE lower MI)

Thank you for your latest suggestions! I actually stumbled onto the Wild Ones website in the next few days after starting this discussion thread here the GardenWeb "natives" forum. That's the group I refer to above -- the one that rescues plants from bulldozers. Then I attended my first in-person plant swap with a local group I met online. Turns out that the person who hosted the swap at her house is a Wild Ones member, so I am definitely interested in attending the meetings, and most likely I will join the club. I don't believe in coincidences. I think something is pointing me toward joining the Wild Ones group.

I have visited the USDA site. Great way to find out how invasive a plant is considered to be! Thanks for the link to the MSU study! I don't think I would have found that on my own.

Thanks so much for all your help, and I'll keep checking back on this and related forums, to see what else I can learn from y'all.

MaryLiz :-)

    Bookmark   June 23, 2008 at 9:32AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I can recommend a wonderful book - Lynn M. Steiner, Landscaping With Native Plants of Michigan.

Native Plant Nursery is at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market every Saturday and sells a wide variety of native wildflowers for landscaping.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 7:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
maryliz(5b/SE lower MI)

Thanks for the recommendation, shivadiva! I have Landscaping With Native Plants of Michigan on my desk right now. It has been a great resource, because it describes the soil in which these natives will grow. What's the use of obtaining a relatively unknown native plant, only to have it die in your soil? I have poor, dry sand so I need to do my research carefully. The right plants thrive.

I'll have to check out Native Plant Nursery at the A2 Farmer's Market next. Thanks!


    Bookmark   July 15, 2008 at 8:53AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Is it cheating to use varieties that were bread from natives?
For example, instead of native Itea virginica, using...
Recommendations for native conifers
Which native conifers would you recommend planting...
Looking for Alternative for Russian Sage
Over the weekend, I was out of the state and seen some...
Create well-adapted strains in the garden from foreign ecotypes?
Hi, Of course, it is ideal to cultivate the most local...
Which of these wildflowers will spread via roots to form colonies?
Hi, For the benefit of creating a useful list... Out...
Sponsored Products
Royce Leather Aristo Double Decker Playing Card Set - 601-BLK-AR
$35.00 | Hayneedle
Fangio Lightings #1421 28.5-34-inch Brushed Steel Swing Arm Table Lamp with Squa
Modiss | Loe En Floor Pendant Lamp
$546.00 | YLighting
Lismore Polished Nickel Five-Light Chandelier with White Fabric Shade
$422.10 | Bellacor
Minka Lavery Harvard Court 13 1/2" Wide Bronze Ceiling Light
Lamps Plus
Blue Wall Fountain - Medium
$449.00 | FRONTGATE
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™