If you’ve been hearing about native plants and native gardens but don’t know how to get started, this is the webpage for you! Native plants are important because they are locally adapted to an area and support the local wildlife. Some species, like the Monarch butterfly, only lay their eggs on one group of plants, Milkweed species. We call these plant species host plants because they serve as the essential source of food that a given organism depends on. Without these native plants in the landscape, you will not be able to support those species. In addition, most wildlife species either need or better utilize native plant species, compared to non-native or invasive plants. So, here are a couple easy steps to get you on your way to go native!
Step 1: Assess/Plan
Before getting started, it is a good idea to get to know your property. Walk around your property and catalog your existing plants. You can use the template on the Knox County Goes Native page here. Plant identification apps (like Plant Snap, Seek by iNaturalist, Picture This, and Google Lens) can be useful in finding suggestions when you are stumped, but the most accurate (and arguably fun) way is to key out a species or look it up in a field guide. Environmental conditions like amount of sun, soil quality, and water availability are also good things to gauge around your property.
Next, you may find it beneficial to plan out potential landscaping changes before digging right in, such as listing or mapping/drawing out proposed plans to either reduce invasive plants and/or plant native plants on your property. Make sure to match the native plants to the correct environmental conditions where they will thrive.
Step 2: Prep
If you are just adding native plants to the existing landscape or replacing non-native species with native plants, the site preparations are very easy–just dig a hole and put the plant in!
Now, if you are wanting to create a new landscape bed for native plants in a lawn area, there are a couple options for site prep. First, you can use a translocating herbicide like glyphosate to spray on the area and wait 1-2 weeks before planting. Second, you can solarize the area by placing a black tarp over the area and wait about a month before planting. Third, you can use a sod cutter or shovel to remove the existing lawn sod and can plant immediately in the area. Finally, you can can the lasagna layer method to start the area. This method involves placing cardboard over the lawn in the fall, placing organic matter on top to break down over time (grass clippings, leaves, etc.), and can plant into that the following spring.
Step 3: Plant
The fun part: getting those native plants in the ground! Make sure to match the plant to the environmental conditions it is used to. For example, a prairie plant will not thrive in a shady spot, and a wetland plant will not do well in dry, sandy soils. You can find some recommendations and facts about Knox County native plants on our webpage here.
Also, if you are wanting to attract a particular species or make sure it can complete its life cycle, make sure to have the correct host plant. Here is a list a couple host plants and the species they support:
- Milkweeds (Asclepias species) – Monarch butterfly
- Wooly Pipevine (Aristolochia tomentosa) – Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly
- Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) – Zebra Swallowtail butterfly
- Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly
- Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) – Black Swallowtail butterfly
- Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor) – Painted Lady butterfly
- Northern Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) – Sulphur butterflies
- and the list goes on…
Step 4: Maintain
Make sure to water your plants as they get established. Even prairie plants can perish if they aren’t regularly watered after planting. Once your native plants have a growing season under their belt, they should be fine on their own. Just monitor for abnormally dry conditions, if those occur.
Utilizing mulch is a good way to prevent weeds, retain moisture, and add nutrients for your native plants. You can use hardwood mulch and/or leaf mulch for your native plants. Woodland plants especially like a layer of leaf litter to grow through, as they would in the wild.
And the most important part… enjoy! See what cool wildlife you can attract with the native plants now in your landscape.
Back to CISMA Homepage.