By now I’m sure you know I love plants, especially trees and flowers. That’s why I was super excited to attend the talk on gardening with native prairie plants given by Greg Houseal of the Tall Grass Prairie Center (in Cedar Falls, IA) lat the Cedar Falls Public Library. If I wasn’t already excited about working with native plants, I definitely was after hearing about the benefits of gardening with natives, where to find native prairie seeds, a brief how to, and what the Tall Grass Prairie Center is all about.
There are many benefits of gardening with native plants. Firstly, since they are native, they are very hardy once established. This means I don’t have to worry about killing them off. They also require little care, since they are suited for Iowa’s cold winters, and hot, dry summers. The dense root systems of prairie plants will not require extra watering, and will help hold in loose soil. They also don’t need chemical fertilizers and can even help correct poor soil conditions.
Another benefit, that I was particularly interested in, is that they provide much needed habitat for pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, and also birds that may feed on these insects. For example, Milkweed, which comes in a variety of colors, like orange, white and yellows, is crucial for helping monarch butterflies. Plants such as Asters, Blazing Star, and Bee’s Balm are not only pretty, but they also bloom from summer through early September, provide food for thousands of pollinators, and are easy to grow!
So by now, I’m sure you’re thinking, I want to grow native plants too! Lucky for us, planting native is growing as a movement. Right now, native seeds can be hard to find in regular retail stores like Lowe’s and nurseries. At the talk, we were introduced to a program called Plant Iowa Native which seeks to connect gardeners with native seeds and increase awareness of the benefits of planting native. Plant Iowa Native will be hosting a number of events across Iowa this spring so be sure and check out their website.
The talk then launched into tips on how to start your seedlings indoors. I won’t go into huge detail about this process, because that would take up a whole article’s worth of space. Besides, a gardening how to book could explain it better than I could.
I will tell you a bit about the Tall Grass Prairie Center, though. This center focuses on preserving and restoring Iowa’s native prairie plants. They do a lot of work in seed saving and are instrumental in roadside prairie growing, or what they call ‘roadside vegetation management’. This basically means that prairie seed mixes are planted on highway and other roadsides. This slows farm runoff from reaching water systems as the water is filtered by the dense roots of the prairie plants. It’s also helps stop erosion and provides habitat for local species. Plus, it’s nice to look out your window and see black-eyed-susans, purple coneflowers, thistle, and goldenrod.
The Cedar Falls Public Library is offering more workshops and lectures on gardening this spring. Please visit their events page to learn more.
To learn more about landscaping and gardening with native plants please visit Plant Iowa Native.
To learn more about prairie restoration efforts please visit the Tall Grass Prairie Center for more information and resources.
To learn about starting your own small garden please visit my article on preparing a planter for a miniture or fairy garden