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Chicago Master Gardener

A blog for Chicago Master Gardeners providing information on volunteer opportunities, training, workshops and resources.

Garden Gift Ideas Can Help the Home Environment

Posted by Ron Wolford -

Gifts that help protect the environment, add to the home landscape's beauty and create a fun project can be great ideas for gardeners. Some such gifts could include rain barrels; supplies and materials to plant a rain garden; and resource manuals to plan for the projects.

More homeowners are becoming interested in adding native plants to their landscape. Most typical new housing developments have disturbed, compacted soils, which can accentuate the effects of drought or other types of stresses on the plant as well as creating more water runoff. "Although there are options to dealing with these soil and planting conditions, one method that homeowners are doing is planting native prairie plants that are deeper rooted and more tolerant of adverse conditions", says John Church, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Natural Resources, Rockford. Over time these plants may help improve urban yard and garden soils through their deep and fibrous root systems. If planned properly, such plantings can be used to make a rain garden to help absorb stormwater runoff as well as add aesthetic beauty to the home.

Whether a beginning or experienced gardener, Native Plants in the Home Landscape for the Upper Midwest, University of Illinois Extension circular 1381, may be a helpful resource for anyone with an interest in plants indigenous to the upper Midwest region. Its 120 pages include a brief history of the American prairie, describes the benefits of gardening with wildflowers and other native plants, and outlines how to begin.

Approximately 80 plant species are shown in the book with color photographs and text descriptions. Plants were selected for their visual appeal, multiple seasons of interest, ease of culture, commercial availability, and suitability to a small site. Beginners will find step-by-step illustrated landscape designs. Also included is information on maintaining the health of native plant gardens. Also, there is a glossary of terms and lists of native plant sources, books, and Web sites in the reference book.

The plant manual and a starting kit of some seeds or plant gift certificates to start a rain garden can make a fun gift for the home gardener. Adding a rain barrel to the list that can be used to catch even more rooftop runoff to be used on the plants can also be a great idea.

For further information about the circular, contact the local county U. of I. Extension office or go to the website Additional native prairie plant information is also available on-line from the Illinois Natural History located at the University of Illinois at or at the U. of I. Extension website

Rain garden information is available on the University of Wisconsin Extension website, Rain barrels are available from local retail stores, catalogs, on-line or from some local conservation groups and agencies.

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