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Introducing native plants

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Native plants tend to not be the first plants most of us put into our gardens and yards. Ironic, given their history and offerings.

Want a reliable, determined plant that’ll show up year after year, regardless of the weather?

Look to the native plants. They’ve spent thousands of years fine-tuning their growth habits to the specific growing conditions of the places they hang out in. Late dry spring, cool wet summer, early frost? Bring it on!

One of the reasons they survive climate extremes is that native plants have lots of genetic variation. When some succumb, others survive. Cultivars tend to be genetically very similar if not identical. They all succumb or all survive.

Cultivars though, offer bigger flowers, brighter colours, exotic scents, leaf variegations, the list is endless and enticing. Native plants stick with their tried-and true-colour, size, scent, and growing style. If spreading by underground roots is what they do, then spread they will. Take them as they are, they’re not about to change to suit the aesthetic whims of a gardener.

You’ve got to admire their resilience to both weather and whim. While you may not want to replace all your cultivars, there’s nothing wrong with incorporating one or two native plants.

While these plants will put up with climate extremes, it is best to locate them in their preferred growing conditions.

Some of the popular perennials for sunny, drier locations include Pussy Toes, Wild Bergamot, Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, and Three Flowered Avens. These are all lovely plants that we have seen photos of, if not the plants themselves.

In sunny, more moist spots, Wild Bergamot and Black-eyed Susan are good choices. If it’s a fairly wet spot, Wild Iris is the plant.

If you are a butterfly lover, the milkweeds will be on your list. Put Swamp Milkweed in sunny, dry locations, and Whorled Milkweed in sunny, more moist spots.

For a variation on trendy, try Solomon’s Seal, cousin to Variegated Solomon’s Seal which is the cultivar perennial of the year. It is perfect in shady moist spots.
Nannyberry and Highbush Cranberry are popular shrubs that prefer more moist soils and any kind of light.

A word of caution when purchasing native plants: Even well-behaved plants can wither or become invasive when moved to areas they are not native to. Our local native plants are available at Prairie Originals as well as many of our local nurseries.
 
Carla Keast has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and is a Winnipeg-based freelance landscape designer. She can be reached at contact@carlakeast.com

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