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Native and Nice: Michigan’s Indigenous Plants Flourish for Gardeners

Stores stock up with Great Lakes beauties; upcoming program teaches how to cultivate them.

You’ve likely heard or read all about the benefits of eating locally-grown food and supporting area farmers. Flower enthusiasts can also jump onto this regional wheelbarrow of sorts by cultivating local, as in native, blooms.

"The benefits of growing native plants are many,” said Maureen Tobin, manager of the Garden Mill in Chelsea. “They are hardy and flourish with less fertilizer and watering, provide food and habitat to wildlife and contribute to biodiversity. Also, they're beautiful."

Tobin’s favorites

(Available at the Garden Mill in Chelsea):

• Primroses
• Bluebells
• Cardinal flowers
• Blackberry lily
• Jack in the Pulpit
• Trillium

Native picks to get started

Ready to get started with a native-plant garden? Jen King, a spokeswoman for stores, recommends red twig dogwood and yellow twig dogwood, which are already in stores. “We have plants and shrubs being delivered to stores starting now,” King said.   

King’s other favorite native picks (available at Home Depot):

• Arborvitae shrub
• Blueberry, blackberry and raspberry shrubs  
• Hypericum shrub
• Physocarpus shrub
• Potentilla shrub
• Flowering crabapple and dogwood trees
• Red oak and red maple trees
• Redbud tree
• Spiderwort
• Panicum ornamental grasses

Easy to grow, attract butterflies

“Native plants are easy to grow because they’ve adapted well to area soils and climate," said Michael Saint, advanced master gardener and owner of Good Earth Landscape Institute.

Saint’s favorite native picks that also attract butterflies (available at various garden centers):

• Red twig dogwood, “which blooms multiple times throughout the season.” About 4 to 8 feet tall, the plant features white berries “and  lovely white flowers.”
• Swamp milkweed blooms with pink blooms. “This can be invasive, but it’s worth it for all its benefits to Mother Nature,” he says.
• Spiderwort opens with a purple-blue flower. “Scientists have discovered that it is a good indicator of pollution and radiation, as the flowers’ stamens change colors when the soil is contaminated.”
• Whorled milkweed features delicate leaves with green-white flowers. “This makes a great companion plant to the giant white allium.”   

For more on Michigan wildflowers, visit www.wildflowersmich.org.  

A garden featuring native plants

A great garden that exemplifies this type of gardening is on the The Kresge Foundation grounds in Troy. Once Washington Stanley’s 1852 farmhouse, the facility, located on Big Beaver Road, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Here, about 72 percent of the site is covered with plant life native to this area. It requires little maintenance. 

Native plants presentation

Michael Saint will present his hourlong “Native Plants: Nature's Path to a Beautiful Garden” program at 2 p.m. March 31 at the Bloomfield Township Public Library.

Saint, who lectures throughout metro Detroit and offers classes through the Daily OM, will provide ideas at the program on how you can create a garden where plants native to Michigan not only serve the eye for beauty but also are functional and help keep Michigan wildlife, insects and the native plant community thriving for future generations.

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