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Habitual Gardener

Promoting healthy garden habits and habitats
vib prunifolium

Walk on the Wild Side – Grow Native


The word “wild” has many connotations – sometimes negative (wild child) and sometimes positive (living a wild life). In gardening the term “wild” derives an undesirable insinuation. The label “wild garden” conjures an image of plants (usually scorned as weeds) running amok with each one battling for dominance and looking at the lawn as prime battleground. Unfortunately for some people wild plants and wild gardens are synonymous with native plants and native gardens. Native plants grow in the wild, but are not automatically “wild” plants.

First, what is native? The definition of native can be as specific as your desire. The plants could be native to North America, native to eastern U.S., native to Illinois or native to your specific county and plot of land. In gardening native generally encompasses plants native to North America. Many new cultivated varieties (cultivars) are selections of native plants.

Native plants offer splendor, variety, and durability to our landscapes. However they are also a crucial element in the lives of “all creatures great and small” in our yards. In order for us to build our yards into great habitats, native plants must be part of the equation along with well-behaved non-natives.

In our Midwestern gardens we generally talk about prairie plants when the discussion of native plants arises. Illinois was once predominantly prairie with grasses and flowering plants, but Illinois also had fringes of forests often along rivers and streams where fires were naturally kept at bay. Many trees and shrubs are also part of the native equation.

One of my favorite native shrubs is Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)

•        Woodland native but fine in full sun (picture at right shows shrub growing in full sun)

•        More open habit (fewer  branches) in shade

•        15 feet tall x 10 feet wide

•        Creamy white flowers in May (pictured above) which provide food for a myriad of beneficial insects such as small bees, flies, butterflies and moths

•        Fruit ripens to blue-black and eaten by Eastern Chipmunk and birds such as Pileated Woodpecker and Eastern Bluebird according to Illinois Wildflowers website

•        Heralds in spring with bright green leaves haloed with a tinge of maroon

•        Shouts goodbye to another season with autumn leaves of deep purple red

Don’t let wild scare you away from native. Join us in our love affair with native.  Here are a couple opportunities to add native trees and shrubs to your yard and to learn more about them.

Native Tree and Shrub Sale 2015

East Central Illinois Master Naturalists (ECIMN) are making available for purchase a selection of trees and shrubs indigenous to Illinois and often hard to find at garden centers. Our soil and climate have tested these plants for 8,000 years, it's a good bet they will work for you! Orders will be accepted until 8/31/2015. Click here to learn more.

ECIMN will host a Native Tree and Shrub program on Monday Aug 10, 2015 at 6:30pm at the University of Illinois Extension Auditorium, 801 N Country Fair Drive Champaign Illinois focused on native trees and shrubs. Discover the benefits of using native plants and more information about the plants available in the Native Tree and Shrub sale. Click here to register.



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