‘Sustainable’ plants get nod over Missouri natives in gardens
Some of the most popular birds in any back yard probably won’t stay long if you don’t offer their favorite foods. Fortunately, that’s not complicated.
Two of the easiest plants to grow are purple coneflowers and sunflowers, but if you want the goldfinches at your feeder throughout the winter, finch blend in your feeders will do the trick.
Scott Woodbury, curator of the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, and Grow Native columnist for Ozarks Living Magazine on behalf of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, says goldfinches go crazy over purple coneflowers.
“It’s their favorite food,” says Woodbury.
Their second favorite: Texas green eyes, with its bright yellow flowers that show up in June and continue well into September and even October
in the Ozarks.
Both are native plants, said Woodbury, although he shies away from using that term because of the negative connotation many people have of it.
The word wildflower isn’t any better, in his experience.
“Sustainable” seems to attract more positive attention, he said. Yet all of these descriptions mean, in essence, the same thing.
The term native plant means just what its name implies — any plant that is native or original to an area. All of the plants in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden, give or take a few, are native plants to the Missouri area, said Woodbury.
They are ideal plantings for homeowners, schools, churches and other commercial landscaping projects because they are relatively low maintenance (depending on the variety of plants and how manicured an appearance is wanted), tolerant of local weather conditions and also provide habitat and food for hundreds of species of native insects, birds and mammals.
Yet for a variety of reasons, the term “native plant” has become associated with something undesirable, said Woodbury.
“I think there is an automatic response — you hear the word native plant or the word wildflower, and automatically think, ‘It’s a weed,’ ” he explains. “All you have to do is look at gardening catalogs over the last 70 years, and you will see tons of native plants being sold, but they never say they are native plants.”
Woodbury describes the benefits of native plants without using that term, instead substituting one of the hottest terms in landscaping and garden as people look for more carefree plants that won’t require massive amounts of water and fertilizer.
There are several myths some of us have about native plants, and one of the biggest is that they are low maintenance to the point of not requiring any work to look their best, says Woodbury.
Another is that natives don’t require pruning. Deadheading and trimming spent blooms are curtail with nearly all plants.
“The result is a fuller plant that maybe isn’t as tall, which would be good for many home gardens,” explains Woodbury, “to make it more compact, fit into the space better.”
“We do encourage people to consider lower maintenance landscapes,” adds Woodbury. “Think about ground covers, larger scale masses of plants, having a big mass of one thing here and a couple others. Three kinds of plants taking up the same amount of space equals a lower maintenance garden.
“We promote that to people and places that don’t have the resources to take care of a garden — schools, churches, colleges . . . To throw them a complicated landscape plan can be devastating because the custodial staff is already busy.”