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Growing Green: Native Plants for a Sustainable Landscape

Douglas county sits just on the eastern edge of what once was a vast prairie; 18 million acres that stretched across the state from southeast to northwest.  Early settlers crossing this part of the state encountered a sea of grass and unbroken soil stretching as far as the eye could see. However, fertile prairie land was ideal for growing crops, and much of the prairie fell under the plow.  The remaining remnants of this wide grassland exist in areas the plow couldn’t reach.

Today, many landscape architects, university horticultural departments and plant growers are promoting a return to the native plants that were found in our prairies.  By selecting plants native to your particular area, you will have a garden that takes less care and energy and will be healthier than non-native gardens. Native plants provide ideal habitat for the birds, insects and wildlife found in your area.  Prairie plants also have deep root systems, some as deep as 9 feet, which strengthen the soil against erosion. The drawback to native prairie plantings is that they take a little longer to establish than more common annual and perennial beds.  Once established, the deep root systems make it almost impossible to move plants, so careful garden planning is essential.

These herbaceous native plants are great in full sun. They are hardy, do not require fertilizer once established, and provide food and habitat for native animals. 

Prairie Blazing Star Liatris pycnostachya: is a perennial plant that belongs to the aster family. They are well-known for their colorful, feathery flower-heads which are densely clustered on stems covered with slender, grass-like leaves. This feather-like look is why the blazing star is commonly known as gayfeather.

Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum: is a native North American perennial commonly called Prairie Smoke, for the appearance of the wispy seed heads. Hardy in zones 3-7, this prairie and open woodland wildflower in the rose family (Rosaceae) can be locally abundant on upland prairie sites.

Bergamot Monarda fistulosa: Wild bergamot, commonly called Bee Balm or Horse-Mint, is a popular and showy perennial with lovely violet blossoms and a distinctively aromatic foliage.

Thimbleweed Anemone cylindrical: This perennial’s erect, multiple stems, rising 2-3 ft., are topped by a greenish-white flower with a slightly elongated center resembling a short thimble. After frost, the thimble matures to a cottony tuft. Leaves are deeply cut and clustered in a whorl halfway up the stem.

For more information on native plants, visit:

Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.