Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea)

View PDF (preferred for printing)

Ecological Impact

  • Tenaciously invades disturbed areas
  • Produces a heavy layer of thatch which suppresses other vegetation
  • Reduces diversity of native plants and insects
  • Provides little shelter or food for wildlife

 

Characteristics

Reed canary grass is a perennial Eurasian grass originally planted for forage and erosion control. It grows from extensive rhizomes to form dense monocultures. The leaves are broad—as much as 0.4 inches—and are flat and rough. They are 31/2″ to 10″ long. Plants can reach to over 6-feet tall. A cool season grass, reed canary is one of the first grasses to sprout in spring.

leaves and rhizome structure
Broad leaves and rhizome structure of reed canary grass.

The plant produces leaves and flower stalks for 5 to 7 weeks after germination in early spring, then spreads laterally. Growth peaks in mid-June and declines in mid-August. A second growth spurt occurs in the fall.

ligules
Large, thin, membranous ligules protrude from the nodes where the leaves are attached to the stem.

The shoots collapse in mid to late summer, forming a dense, impenetrable mat of stems and leaves. The seeds ripen in late June and shatter when ripe. Seeds may be dispersed from one wetland to another by waterways, animals, humans, or machines.

seed head
Late-season seed head: tan, closed.

Habitat

Reed canary grass is found in dense stands along roadsides, in wetlands, ditches, stream and pond banks, moist fields, and wet meadows. It can grow on dry upland soil and in wooded areas, but it grows best on fertile, moist, organic soils in full sun, especially in disturbed wetlands.

 

Reed canary grass
Reed canary grass infestation along Flint Creek in Barrington

Similar Species

Non-native
Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) is an alien with narrow leaves (<0.1 to 3 inch) and a wider, less pointed seed head with short, stiff side branches at the bottom.

Native
Blue joint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) is a native that is shorter than reed canary grass and more draping rather than upright. It is not invasive.

Control Methods for Reed Canary Grass

Phalaris arundinacea drawing
Phalaris arundinacea. USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 170.

Reed canary grass reproduces primarily through spreading rhizomes. It is much easier to control small populations than to try to remove large, established infestations. Reed canary grass can also spread by seed. Any control method requires 5-10 years of monitoring and follow-up treatment to deplete the seed bank. Re-infestation is likely unless there is a population or seed bank of native species to provide competition. Use care to protect native species.

Large Populations

Prescribed burning in late spring should be followed by mowing or herbicide treatment to prevent seed production. It might be necessary to apply herbicide both in spring and in fall. Burning can enhance growth of reed canary grass if there are no native species present to provide competition. In wet conditions, first top kill reed canary grass with 1.5% active ingredient glyphosate, then burn.

Mowing in early/mid-June and in early October removes seed heads and exposes the ground to light to encourage growth of natives (if present).

Herbicide (glyphosate) applied in spring and fall (when other species are dormant) may be sprayed or wicked. In wet areas, be sure to use glyphosate which has been formulated for use near water. Use caution to protect native species. Cut back last year’s dead leaves in spring to improve effectiveness of herbicide.

In the absence of native species or a native seedbank, remove severe infestations of reed canary grass 12-18″ deep with a bulldozer. Reseed with native species.

Small Populations

In early stages of invasion, hand-pulling or digging may be successful. Remove new plants before they can reproduce vegetatively.

Cover small patches with black plastic for at least one growing season. Be sure rhizomes don’t spread beyond the plastic. Remove plastic; then seed the area with appropriate native species.

In July and August, tie large clumps of reed canary grass; then cut stems and immediately spray with glyphosate. Follow up with burning or mowing. Monitor for resprouting.

Wetland Protection

Careful monitoring of wetlands, especially following disturbance, can prevent major infestations. Reduce infestation from seeds from surrounding slopes by using erosion control on hillsides or by using catch-basins. New plants are easiest to spot in spring. Protect native species when removing reed canary grass.

Citizens for Conservation
459 West Highway 22
Barrington IL 60010
847-382-SAVE (7383)

2011

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Impact on Forests

  • Out-competes many tree seedlings and other native vegetation.
  • Adversely affects native insects and other wildlife.

First-Year Plants

Garlic mustard is a biennial; it has a two-year life cycle. Seeds germinate in April.

Leaves: Clusters of 3-8 rounded to kidney-shaped leaves develop at ground level during the first growing season. They have scalloped edges, a wrinkled appearance, and remain green all winter.

Leaves
Leaves. Photo by John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers

Second-year plants

Flowers: Small (1/4 inch), white, 4 petals, on the end of the main stem and side branches, blooms April through June. (see top of page)

garlic_mustard_petals_small
Four petals. Photo by John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers

Leaves: Heart-shaped to triangular, 1-3 inches wide, coarsely toothed on edges, alternate on the stem, give off a garlic odor when crushed.

Height: Flowering stalks grow 1-4 feet tall.

Roots: Taproot is slender, white, and often has an S-shaped bend near the top.

Seeds: Capsules appear soon after flowering and quickly lengthen. Seeds are small, produced in a row inside the capsule, and black when ripe. More than 100 seeds per plant.

Garlic Mustard
Garlic Mustard. Photo by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Similar Species

Violet: leaves resemble first-year plants, but flowers bloom low and have 5 petals, leaf surfaces are less crinkly. No taproot.

Ground ivy: (creeping Charlie) spreads along the ground as a vine and has purple flowers.

Control Methods for Garlic Mustard

Control strategies must be applied for eight or more years until the garlic mustard seed bank is depleted. Methods may vary over time, depending on the extent of the invasion. Vulnerable areas, especially woodlands, should be monitored each spring to promptly detect new invasions and prevent re-occurrence. Mark areas where plants were found to aid in future monitoring.

Hand Pulling

For smaller infestations or where large groups of people are involved, hand pulling or digging garlic mustard can be effective.

If plants are pulled or dug before budding begins, they may be scattered about the area to dry out, preferably off the ground.

Do not put pulled plants in piles where roots may stay moist and development can continue.

Seed pods
Seed pods

Once flowering has begun, all plants must be bagged. Garlic mustard seeds can still ripen after plants are uprooted! (using energy stored in stems and leaves.)

Pulled plants may be put in plastic bags or large paper bags.

Bagged plants should be disposed of by burning, burying deeply in an area that will not be disturbed, or landfilling. (Please, do not burn plastic bags.) Let garlic mustard collected in paper bags dry thoroughly before burning.

Do not compost garlic mustard. Few compost piles produce enough heat to destroy all garlic mustard seeds.

To send bagged plants to the landfill, label the bags as ‘Invasive Plants – approved by DNR for landfilling’.

Cutting

Cutting plants a few inches above the soil surface just after the flower stalks have elongated but before the flowers have opened can be effective in preventing seed production and may kill garlic mustard plants. However, some plants may send out new flower stalks that require additional cutting. Monitor site regularly.

Herbicides

Extensive infestations – if too large for manual methods – can be controlled by using a 1% or 2% solution of glyphosate (there are many brands). Apply to the foliage of individual plants and dense patches in fall and/or very early spring. At these times most native plants are dormant, but garlic mustard is green and vulnerable. Glyphosate is a nonselective herbicide that will kill or injure all green non-target plants. Use caution during application, and spray so that herbicide neither drips from the garlic mustard leaves or drifts onto adjacent desired vegetation.

Use herbicides only when necessary. ALWAYS read the entire herbicide label carefully, following all mixing and application instructions. Wear recommended protective gear and clothing.

Weed Torch (for Wet Conditions)

Another method for spot-killing patches of newly germinated seedlings in spring is to “flame” them with a propane weed torch. Flames quickly kill tender seedlings, usually without permanently damaging nearby perennial plants. Use the weed torch cautiously, and only when conditions are wet. ALWAYS contact your local fire control agency prior to using this method. Burning permits may be required.

Preventing Further Spread

Clean shoes, pockets, pants cuffs and equipment thoroughly after walking or working in infested areas. Garlic mustard seeds are tiny and are often carried off in clothing, shoes and mud.

Survey your area for green garlic mustard plants. Plants can be spotted any time they are not covered by fallen leaves or snow.

When you find an infestation, remove plants that are producing seed first, working from the least infested to the most infested area. Then remove other plants, again starting with the least infested areas.

Monitor non-infested woodlands carefully and frequently. Removing one or two plants before they go to seed is much easier than removing hundreds or thousands later on.

Websites

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Garlic Mustard information includes a photo gallery and sections on identification, distribution and control.

Vegetation Management Guideline
Fact sheet from the Illinois Department on Natural Resources (2007)

Illinois Wildflowers
Page on website managed by John Hilty includes information and photos from Illinois locations.

Source

This page is adapted from Garlic Mustard – A Major Threat to Wisconsin’s Woodlands, by Paul Hartman and Sharon Morrisey, Univ. of Wisconsin-Extension, 2002. It was revised by Colin Kelly, David Eagan, Eunice Padley, Kelly Kearns, and Colleen Matula, WDNR, 2006. Photos from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Common Reed (Phragmites australis)

PDF of flyer (for printing)

Ecological Impact

  • Common reed has become a destructive weed, quickly displacing desirable plant species. Its high biomass blocks light to other plants and occupies all the growing space below ground so plant communities can turn into Phragmites monocultures very quickly.
  • Invasive stands of common reed eliminate diverse wetland plant communities and provide little food or shelter for wildlife.
Phragmites
Phragmites make a grassy forest.

Characteristics

Common reed is a tall, perennial wetland grass ranging in height from 3 to 20 feet.

common reed height
Common reed height relative to minivan

Strong, leathery horizontal shoots called rhizomes growing on or beneath the soil surface give rise to roots and tough vertical stalks. Cane-like stems 1 inch in diameter support broad sheath-type leaves that are .5 to 2 inches wide near the base tapering to points at the end. Plants produce large, dense, feathery, grayish-purple plumes 5 to 16 inches long in late June through September. The reeds turn tan in the fall and most leaves drop off, leaving only the plume-topped shoot. The root system is comprised of rhizomes that can reach to 6 feet deep with roots emerging at the nodes. Common reed reproduces by these spreading rhizomes and forms large colonies.

stems and leaves
Common reed stems and leaves.

 Habitat

Common reed thrives in sunny wetland habitats. It grows along drier borders and elevated areas of brackish and freshwater marshes and along riverbanks and lakeshores. The species is particularly prevalent in disturbed or polluted soils with alkaline and brackish waters but will tolerate highly acidic conditions. It can grow in water up to 6 feet deep and also in somewhat dry sites. It can be found along roadsides, ditches, open wetlands, riverbanks, lake shores, dredged areas, and disturbed or undisturbed plant communities.

roadside mass
Common reed in North Barrington

Similar Species

In this area, no other plant is likely to be confused with Phragmites australis although similar plants do exist in other parts of the country. It is distinctive in northeastern Illinois. This tall, plumed plant growing in a wet ditch or marsh is easy to identify.

Control Methods

Property owners wishing to deal with stands of Phragmites australis should contact a company that is licensed to perform this type of service.

If you have a very small amount of common reed, the following methods will help prevent it from spreading.

Manual

You can dig up very small populations if you are careful to remove all root material and surrounding soil. You can cut common reed and dig the rhizomes, but physical control is difficult because the plant can reestablish from seed or remaining rhizomes.

Frequent mowing is sometimes an effective control of common reed.

illustration
Phragmites australis. USDA PLANTS Database. USDA NRCS PLANTS Database. Bugwood.org

Chemical

Common reed can be effectively controlled with a general use herbicide such as glyphosate. Follow label directions and state requirements.

If common reed is growing in a wet area, the herbicide must be one approved for use in areas of standing water. This is a job for a professional. The appropriate chemical treatment will be a challenge and may require a permit.

Suggested Replacements

Immediately upon removing a stand of common reed from a dry site, install replacement plants or cover the bare soil with several sheets of newspaper and wood chips. Leaving bare soil encourages other weeds to invade.

After removing common reed, replace it with a native grass that grows in the same habitat. It should thrive.

Sources

459 West Highway 22
Barrington IL 60010
847-382-SAVE (7383)

Photos by CFC Community Education Committee.

Invasives: Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

PDF of flyer (for printing)

Ecological Impact

  • Dame’s rocket quickly escapes cultivation because of its prolific seed set.
  • Many people think that it is a native wildflower because dame’s rocket is often sold in wildflower mixes. Dame’s rocket eliminates native vegetation with its profuse plant density.

Characteristics

Dame’s rocket is an erect, herbaceous biennial or perennial in the mustard family (Brassocaceae) growing 1.5 to 3 feet in height. The leaves are oblong, sharply toothed, and alternate. Leaves decrease in size as they ascend the stem.

Dame's Rocket
Dame’s Rocket flower and leaves

The pink, purple, or white four-petaled flowers form large loose, fragrant clusters that bloom from May to June.

Dame's Rocket petals
Four petals on Dame’s Rocket
Dame Rocket flower colors
Dame’s Rocket flowers in their multiple colors

Long, narrow fruits produce many seeds which spread mechanically when the seed pods open. Ground-foraging birds eat and disperse the seeds as well.

Dame’s rocket generally produces a basal rosette during the first year and flowers the following year. The plant blooms prolifically and produces large quantities of seed from May into July. Each plant may have several clusters of flowers at various stages of development, enabling the plant to produce both flowers and seeds at the same time.

The seed pods of dame’s rocket strongly resemble the seed pods of Garlic Mustard—another plant in the mustard family that is invasive in the Chicago  metropolitan area.

Habitat

Dame’s rocket grows in moist woodlands, woodland edges, roadsides, railroad rights-of-way, disturbed sites, waste ground, thickets, and open areas.

Similar Species

Non-native

  • Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) has opposite leaves that are not toothed and flowers with five petals not four.

Native

  • Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) blooms April-June. Flowers have five petals. Height is 12-20″. Leaves are mostly opposite and oblong with a blunt end, 1-2″ long. Thrives in woods and forests.
DamesRocketSimNatv_5petalPhlox
Five petals on Phlox divaricata
  • Marsh phlox (Phlox glaberrima) is 1½–2½’ tall with opposite leaves. Flowers are about ¾” across with 5 rounded petals. Prefers moist soil in light shade to full sun.
Native similar to Dame's Rocket
Five petals on marsh phlox (Phlox glaberrima)
  • Wild sweet William (Phlox maculata) is 1-3′ tall with opposite leaves. Fragrant mostly lavender flowers are about ¾-1″ across with 5 rounded overlapping petals.
Native similar to Dame's Rocket
Wild sweet William (Phlox maculata)

 Control Methods for Dame’s rocket

Locating and removing plants immediately before seed sets is the best way to prevent the spread of dame’s rocket. Be sure to check the contents of wildflower seed mixes for this species, and do not purchase or plant mixes that carry it. As a general practice, avoid all “meadows-in-a-can.”

Dame's Rocket drawing
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 175.

Manual

Pulling or using a dandelion digger is most effective when the soil is moist. If you pull blooming plants, do not compost them as the seeds can still ripen and spread.

It is important to remove the whole root and not just to break off stalks at ground level. Roots left in the ground can sprout new plants the following year that may be even larger or more robust.

You can cut the flower heads off established plants after bloom so the plants do not set seed. Flower heads should be bagged for the landfill or burned where permissible. Do not allow the plants to dry before burning as seedpods may burst open and spread seeds when dry. Where there is sufficient leaf litter or other fuel, burning has been found to be an effective control method.

Chemical

Dame’s rocket can be effectively controlled using any of several readily available general use herbicides such as glyphosate. Follow label and state requirements. To avoid damaging adjacent native vegetation, apply herbicide in late fall when native plants are dormant but the dame’s rocket basal leaf rosettes are still green and vulnerable to sprays. Avoid getting the herbicide on other plants. Repeat control measures for a few years until seeds in the soil are depleted.

Education

Tell your family, friends and neighbors about dame’s rocket. Many people mistakenly think of this plant as “wild phlox” and are unaware of its invasive potential. Leaving the plant to grow and disperse seed will create a bigger invasive problem in the years to come.

Suggested Replacements

Immediately upon removing a patch of dame’s rocket, install replacement plants or cover the bare soil with several sheets of newspaper and wood chips. Leaving bare soil encourages garlic mustard and other weeds to invade.

Most native grasses and forbs that grow happily in the habitat from which you are removing dame’s rocket will thrive in its place.

Sources

http://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/invasive_plants/weeds/dames-rocket.pdf

https://pddc.wisc.edu/wp-content/blogs.dir/39/files/Fact_Sheets/FC_PDF/Dames_Rocket.pdf

http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Invasives/fact/DamesRocket.html

Photos by CFC Community Education Committee.

Citizens for Conservation
459 West Highway 22
Barrington IL 60010
Phone: 847-382-SAVE (7383)

www.citizensforconservation.org
August 2011

Invasive Species: Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

(PDF version of this page)

Ecological Impact

  • Casts dense shade which reduces the growth and survival of native shrubs and trees;
  • Leafs out so early that even spring ephemerals are impacted;
  • Changes soil characteristics making soil inhospitable to other plant life;
  • Works like a laxative on birds which spread the seeds and stain outdoor furnishings.

Characteristics

Common buckthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree that can reach 22 feet in height with a trunk up to 10 inches wide. Its bark is gray to brown and looks like that of plum or wild cherry. A spine often tips the twig of common buckthorn. Buckthorn’s inner bark is yellow, and the heartwood is pink to orange.

Buckthorn heartwood

Leaves are dark green, broadly oval, and may have pointed or rounded tips with toothed edges. A reliable indicator for identification is its green foliage late in autumn after native shrubs have lost their leaves.

Buckthorn leaves
Buckthorn leaves

Buckthorn has a long growing season, leafing out before native plants have broken dormancy and retaining its leaves until late fall. Its foliage creates dense shade in which wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs are unable to thrive. Buckthorn’s shade also prevents growth of young oaks and hickories.

Buckthorn in growing season
Buckthorn choking trees along roadside

Prolific seed production allows buckthorn to flourish. Female specimens produce numerous small, black, berry-like fruits most of which fall directly under the shrubs creating an impenetrable mass of seedlings; birds eat other fruits and carry them far beyond the mother shrub. Because birds have difficulty digesting the fruits, they rapidly expel the seeds (note the species epithet, cathartica). Thus, the shrubs reproduce and spread rapidly.

buckthorn berries
Buckthorn berries

Habitat

Common buckthorn prefers lightly shaded conditions. It invades open oak woods, deadfall openings in woodlands, and woodland edges. It is also found in prairies and open fields. It tolerates many soil types. Buckthorn respects no boundaries. It is probably in your yard if you have some bushes and a little shade.

 Similar Species

Invasive

  • Glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) does not have a spine at twig tips; the leaf edges are not toothed; and the undersides of the leaves are hairy. Glossy buckthorn typically invades wetlands but also occurs in upland habitats. Both common and glossy buckthorn are capable of growing in full sun as well as heavily shaded areas.

Native

  • Native plums and cherries have similar bark.
  • Black chokeberry, gray dogwood and many species of viburnum have a somewhat similar appearance.

Control Methods for Common Buckthorn

Before you kill buckthorn, be certain that you have identified it correctly. The native species that are routinely mistaken for buckthorn are: American plum, black chokeberry, black cherry, hawthorn, nannyberry and gray dogwood.

Hand Pulling

Hand pull small plants and use a weed wrench to pull plants up to 1½ inches in diameter. Hand pulling removes the roots, preventing resprouting. Remove plants gently to prevent uncovering buckthorn seeds stored in the soil.

Cutting

If buckthorn is larger than 1½ inches, saw or clip the stems near the ground. Unfortunately, buckthorn will resprout. You can repeatedly clip the new sprouts which will weaken the plant, but that is a long process. To prevent resprouting, paint cut stumps with glyphosate (Roundup®) immediately after cutting, being careful to avoid other plants since glyphosate kills all growing vegetation. The best time to use herbicide is in the fall when buckthorn is one of the few actively growing shrubs.

Herbicides

Herbicide container treatments are least effective in the spring. Glyphosate and triclopyr are both effective against buckthorn.

Immediately after cutting, apply herbicide to the stumps with a bristle paint brush or single-use foam brush.

  1. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup®, Rodeo® and others. 10 to 25% active ingredient is needed for stump applications.
  2. Triclopyr is the active ingredient in Garlon® 3A, Garlon® 4, ORTHO® MAX™ Poison Ivy & Tough Brush Killer, Crossbow®, Pathfinder® II and others.

Follow all the usage directions and safety precautions on your herbicide’s container.

Burning

First check to see if burning is allowed in your community. Burning buckthorn is usually not an option for homeowners.

Conduct burns as soon as leaf litter is dry. Buckthorn seedlings are vulnerable to fire due to their immature root structure. Fire will top kill a mature plant, but resprouting will occur.

It is difficult to burn a dense buckthorn stand because buckthorn shades out understory plants allowing minimal fuel build-up. Buckthorn leaves rarely provide fuel since they disintegrate too rapidly. In dense stands, buckthorn trees and saplings can be cut and dropped on site, creating fuel for future fires.

Education

Inform your family, friends and neighbors about buckthorn. Remember, birds feeding on your neighbors’ buckthorn berries will drop seed in your yard too. Encourage neighbors to remove their buckthorn and maybe even offer to help.

Suggested Replacements

Immediately upon removing buckthorn, be ready with replacement plants, or cover the bare soil with several sheets of newspaper and wood chips. Leaving bare soil encourages garlic mustard and other weeds to invade.

Many native trees and shrubs serve as great replacements for buckthorn, providing the same level of privacy along with other benefits. The plants listed below provide excellent nesting sites and cover for birds and small mammals and shade for us. Their flowers provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators while birds eat their fruit.

  • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
  • Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
  • Blackhaw viburnum, (Viburnum prunifolium)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

Sources

Fact Sheet: Common Buckthorn from Plant Conservation Alliance’s Alien Plant Working Group at http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/rhca1.htm;

Chemical Control of Buckthorn by Janet Van Sloun Larson, Natural Resource Specialist, City of Minnetonka, MN; http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/invasives/fact/commonbuckthorn.html.

Photos by CFC Community Education Committee.

Citizens for Conservation
459 West Highway 22
Barrington IL 60010
Phone: 847-382-SAVE (7383)
www.citizensforconservation.org

Pollinators and Birds

Woody Plants for Birds, Lepidopteran Host Plants provides a list of native species that will provide for the needs of birds and butterflies.  Species are listed in order of benefit for nesting birds (Tallamy and Shropshire 2017), with additional information about food and nesting value for adult birds.

Perennial Plants for Birds, Lepidopteran Host Plants.  A companion to the list of woody plants that are host plants for moths and butterflies,  here is a list of perennial plants that are host plants for moths and butterflies and which provide food for the adult birds.

Monarchs Resource Page.

Invasive Plants

Citizens for Conservation has shared resources on invasives found in metropolitan Chicago.

Here is a ‘Top 6‘ list of invasive plants, with identification and eradication guidelines:

And here is a ‘Top 12‘ list of invasive plants.  A 2-page printable PDF guide for these invasive plants is available for download.

Buckthorn, Common Reed, Dame's Rocket

Garlic Mustard, Honeysuckle (Bush), Multiflora Rose

Norway Maple, Purple Loosestrife, Reed Canary Grass

Teasel, Thistle (Bull), Thistle (Canada)

 

Resources provided by Citizens for Conservation

Plant Lists

This section of Resources includes lists of Midwest native plants.

Sample Yard Plans
The WPPC (The Wildflower Preservation & Propagation Committee) has sample yard plans you can use with their plant lists.  WPPC yard plans and plant lists include: Dry Mesic Prairie, Moist Prairie, and Savanna / Woodland.

Getting Started

Getting Started

getting started 01You may be just exploring whether to take the leap into planting native plants or maybe you are a convert and need to learn how to do it.  So first, here are some considerations. Gardening with native plants is still gardening.  It requires choosing a site and determining the size of the area you are ready to take on.  It means deciding on the appropriate plants for those conditions, preparing the site, and perhaps removing unwanted plants from the area.

Benefits

Planting native plants and creating habitat provide many benefits to the environment, wildlife, water quality and retention, and aesthetics. Plants native to our area tend to be hardier and require less maintenance than exotics or cultivars.  They evolved for hundreds of years here and so are used to our cold winters and hot, dry summers. They have coexisted with our local birds and insects forever, forming mutually supportive relationships.  For example, native bees gather pollen of native plants, and in so doing pollinate the plants for development of seeds.  Ants spread the seeds of their host plants and help the survival of those specific plants.

painted ladyLocal ecotype species are resistant to some of the detrimental pests that plague cultivars, so do not require application of pesticides.  Planted in the appropriate environment, they need no fertilizer and less watering than introduced species. Native plants — trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs (blooming plants) — create essential habitat for the desirable wildlife that may be endangered.  We have all heard about how the loss of milkweed plants has endangered the Monarch butterfly that requires those species to lay their eggs.  We are losing many species of native birds because of predation and loss of required habitat.

Many Types of Native Habitat

So you can help create habitat, and along with many other property owners in the Chicago area, contribute to a habitat corridor to make a difference for the flora and fauna of our area.

img_9526

Based on the conditions in your yard, you may want to plant prairie plants for sunny, dry spots or woodland plants for shady wet or dry areas, or wetland plants for the soggy spots or water’s edges.  If you have a small space to turn native, you may prefer to create a tidy, landscaped bed.  If you have a larger space you may want to plan for a prairie to be developed over time, or a woodland in which you encourage a natural look with spring ephemerals and later summer bloomers.  You may be motivated by a desire to create a butterfly garden, or to solve a problem with a wet area in your lawn with a rain garden. Lots of choices!

If you are already a gardener, you may want to start by introducing some native plants along with the cultivars in your beds. Or if you have an area that needs to be re-worked, this might be an opportunity to start over with all native plants.  If you have lots of lawn, especially right up to the base of trees, you could begin by eliminating some lawn each year, making larger and larger rings around the trees, filled in with native groundcovers or other appropriate native shade plants. Problem areas (deep shade, dry sunny, soggy, masses of invasive plants) can be turned into beautiful gardens with appropriate plantings.

Check out some of the rest of the resources on this website for further help:

  • Guidelines and Criteria for creating habitat
  • Plant Lists of trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs for all conditions, including some that are easier to establish
  • Invasive Plants with photos and descriptions that can help you identify the bad guys to eradicate
  • Pollinators and Birds that identify the species of plants to attract particular valuable visitors and nesters.

Getting Help

If you are not already a member of an organization that encourages and educates people in the Chicago area about the value of native plants, plan to join one. (See this website’s list of partners and supporters of Chicago Living Corridors) Several of these organizations have programs to advise property owners in their area.  And once you are successful in creating valuable habitat in your yard, join the growing number of others whose properties become dots on the CLC Map  to connect  existing restored habitat to form the greenway we are calling Chicago Living Corridors!

CLC Map 2016

Guidelines and Criteria

GUIDELINES FOR ESTABLISHING OR ASSESSING HABITAT

Habitat can be defined as land that supports ecosystem services such as biodiversity, soil and water conservation, carbon sequestration, air quality and human benefit. Habitat can be multi-acre tracts, called mosaic, along waterways or right-of-ways, called linear, or small parcels when in proximity are called stepping stone habitat.

The value of habitat increases when enlarged and/or contiguous to form a greenway or corridor. Since so much land in the Chicago area is privately owned, there is more opportunity to expand habitat by engaging property owners to improve and link their land into viable habitat corridors.

Criteria for Viable Habitat

Habitat that provides ecosystem services includes:

  • Native plants- forbs, grasses, trees and shrubs
  • Water management-rain barrels, rain gardens, erosion control, water-loving plants, rain-permeable pavement/walkways, lake/stream bank buffer
  • Wildlife habitat-sources of food for birds, butterflies and other pollinators, nesting sites, water sources, shelter
  • Control of invasive species
  • Reduced/minimal turf grass lawn
  • Earth-friendly maintenance practices-minimal use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer, composting, appropriate mulching

The scope of these elements will vary with the size and location of the property. A small lot may have only a few native trees and shrubs, with perhaps a border garden of native plants. It could support a birdbath, a birdhouse and feeders and eliminate pesticides and fertilizer. A large lot- perhaps an acre or more- should aim to eliminate invasives and replace them with native shrubs and trees; over time replace the amount of lawn with native grasses and forbs and replace lawn under trees with native shade plants, native groundcovers or leaf mulch. In all cases, soil should be amended with compost, not fertilizer.

Resources

CLC will have available checklists of native plants for specific conditions, sources of native plants and seeds, maps of area preserves and privately-owned habitat restorations, established habitat development programs, and lists of experts to tap for advice or assistance in developing or improving habitat on private property.

Sample Criteria Checklist (PDF)