Including native plants in your landscape can be as simple as adding a native plant or two to existing flower beds or as challenging as starting with a blank slate. The basic steps, however, are the same for both.
Know your sun and soil conditions
If your site receives six to eight hours of sun, it’s sunny—less than that, it’s shady. There are three basic types of soil structure: sandy, clay and loam. Much of Missouri is cursed with clay soils that are sticky when wet, form hard lumps when dry, and crack in hot weather. Sandy soils let moisture drain away quickly, taking nutrients with it. Both sandy and clay soil can be improved with the addition of organic matter such as composted plant material.
Consider your purpose and your property
If you’re adding native plants to an existing bed, you need only to look for plants that will thrive in that location. If you have a blank slate, evaluate your space. Walk around your house and sketch existing trees, shrubs and flower beds, if they exist. Sketch in walkways, patios, driveways and make note of easements and drainpipes that might limit your landscaping.
Develop a plan
As you design your native plant garden, think in layers. Begin with trees, which form the highest layer. Next consider small trees, shrubs, and vines that will thrive in the filtered light of trees and create the second layer. Finally, consider the third layer (the floor), which you can fill with perennials.
An area with full sun has no layers and is perfect for a prairie planting. Continue by considering the birds, butterflies, and small mammals you want to attract to your property. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted by nectar-producing plants; songbirds are attracted by fruit-producing shrubs in the summer and the seed heads of flowers in the fall.
Choose materials and methods
Follow this simple, tried-and-true adage: “Put the right plants in the right places, at the right time, in the right way.” For example, a glade species planted in a boggy area will “drown,” and prairie plants seeded into live sod will fail. Once you’ve determined the soil conditions on your planting site, select a species appropriate for those conditions.
For large projects, work in phases
Native-plant conversion projects take time. Seeding a few acres of prairie involves distinct phases and seasons of installation: preparation, seeding, and weed control. Plans that call for new features such as rain gardens or shrub rows should be undertaken one project at a time.