gif image 1            WEHR WILD ONES


Prepared by Oney Sattell, WWOs Member

---------- Introduction

We Wehr Wild Ones Members want you to have a positive experience growing your native plants, so we are offering you nuggets of knowledge that we’ve gained that hard way; by trial and error. Read on! We have other ways to help you, too. Just as a wheel isn’t totally reinvented each time improvements are made, there’s no need for each person who starts a prairie planting to begin totally from scratch, learning by trial and error.

Here’s a comment made by a Wehr Wild Ones Member, overheard by this writer at a Wehr Wild Ones Meeting: “The former owner of our property had put a bird bath in the back yard. We put a couple plants around it and hung a hummingbird feeder that a friend had given us. Our lives haven’t been the same since. Even my husband couldn’t stop watching the birds. We keep planting, and more birds and butterflies keep coming.”

WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES AND BIRDS COME. . .They will, and you’ll be able to enjoy them in many ways.

---------- Planning

Growing native plants is somewhat different from growing a “normal” flower or vegetable garden. Planning ahead will help you avoid mistakes, saving you time and money. Mentors at Wehr Wild Ones will help you get started with this planning by visiting your yard if you’re in the Milwaukee area and offering suggestions. In addition, they’ll share information and informational sources that will start you off on the right path.

“Take the time to really understand your yard. How many hours of sun does each area get daily? Where does the water pool? Where is it dry? Then learn about which plants like the conditions you have. Making good matches results in success.” -- Patty Gerner

“Know your conditions – soil, sun, water. If you know your conditions, you’ll have success.” -- Tom Koss

“I liked to plan for birds and butterflies then I found out that native plants are used for rain gardens so you have wildlife, low maintenance, conservation, ecology, beneficial insects, attractiveness.” -- Bonnie Maciole

No matter how big a hurry you are in do not plant faster-growing perennials (like vinca !). Don’t dig little patches of bluegrass and plant in natives. It was a popular idea for awhile. It doesn’t work! I still like this plan: Smother sod with stacks of newspapers, then chips, wait, and then plant. Let things (plants) move themselves around to where they want to be. It may not turn out with high ones in the back and short ones in front and that is okay! Anthills are good. Let them be. Ants move the seeds around -- I think.” -- LuAnne Thompson

My goal is to attract butterflies into my garden. I plant many herbs directly into my garden and among the wildflowers and shrubs. Also, I plant some strawberries into my beds, which attracts the little creatures and birds.” -- J. Sather

“I have learned to start small but I have dozens of natives –- both prairie and woodland. Plant for continuing bloom. Plant for three-season beauty and interest. I could help people with smaller yards.” -- Carol Hehn, 26 year member, lecturer, expert on small gardens

“Big and Little Bluestem are very hardy prairie plants that have stood up to continual dumping of snow (w/salt) on the prairie! They come back every year and each year they are more beautiful than they were the year before!” -- Laurie Statz, UWM Student

”I am continuing to experiment and share information about attracting butterflies to my yard. It is important to have the nectar plants and trees for the larva to eat. Butterflies put their eggs on the plants their babies can eat. For Monarchs, you need the milkweed family. (Butterfly weed and swamp milkweed are less apt to spread too much.) The Black Swallowtail chooses the carrot family for their young. (Dill, fennel, parsley, Queen Ann’s lace and more are chosen). The Tiger and Eastern Swallowtail use Elm, Birch and more trees. There are many more plants for your Butterfly Garden. The native plants do have more nectar and require less care.” -- Betty Braun

---------- Site Preparation

Your land may have been used for many years or may be virgin soil. Whatever the soil you have, it’s very likely to have non-native plants growing on it, as well as having a bank of seeds from these plants. To help avoid future problems with these plants, read these suggestions.

“I’ve had very good results killing turf-grass with two applications of Round-up in early June when everything is growing good, the days are warm, and the plants are absorbing liquids like crazy. Follow this in 5 to 6 weeks with a second spraying, just hitting the bad spots this time. In about two weeks, apply 5 to 6 layers of newspapers. On a rainy day, I put these newspapers in stacks of 5 or 6 so that they go in place quickly when the sun is shining. Cardboard works, too. To hold the newspapers in place, I use shredded wood. Stakes from Menards here and there will prevent having the whole thing blow away on a windy day. Doing this by August first will give paper and chips time to start breaking down into a good seeding medium by the time you plant. Plant seeds in November unless you want to share them with starlings. To put in plants, dig your hole right through chips, newspapers and soil beneath. Whenever you do this, get rid of the soil somewhere else and replace it with purchased seedless topsoil or compost from your municipality, as there will still be weed seeds in the soil beneath your newspapers and shredded wood. For good-neighbor relationships, plant lots of Black-Eyed Susans along the street and next to your neighbors’ yards as they’ll start blooming the first year. Don’t plant Canada Goldenrod!” --John Kreznar

“Getting rid of garlic mustard is a tough part of maintenance when a stand has become established in one’s yard, and there are many ways to work at it. I have just one to offer you. It’s a technique that I use, not only for garlic mustard, but sometimes also for sweet clover, catnip, Queen Ann’s Lace, black mustard, and even tiny buckthorn trees. Most of these plants, when pulled, will break off where stem meets roots when the root is large, many-fingered and/or the soil has become compacted, but None of these plants will grow new plants from the root system, You know what happens then; many little shoots grow out at the break, making every effort to flower and set seed before the wintry winds blow. Sometimes they succeed and the seed bank is replenished because these new stems are too small for us to find when we make later trips through the infested area. I carry a sharp serrated steak knife in a pocket of the denim bag that I hang on my belt and use that to cut the root below the stem. That plant is a goner, and the soil has been disturbed little. For masses of tiny plants, I run the knife about a quarter to a half inch under the soil they’re growing in, then brush the plants away. There’s no magic bullet. Your knife has to be sharp. You need to wear leather gloves so that you don’t cut yourself. And knives won’t work for kids.” -- Oney Sattell

---------- Planting

Planting seeds is the most economical way to start native forbs, grasses and sedges. When you join Wild Ones, you’ll find that your local Chapter will have a seed exchange during the December meeting. Seeds are free from other members and you may find some that you lust after!

”I push the seeds in scattered spots around the prairie. The seed has to make contact with the soil. I toss the seeds in areas that I just burned also. I put them in different areas at different times of the year to hope the conditions are right. Still learning.” -- Teddy Porada

“When planting baby plants that rabbits like, I sprinkle baby powder on the plants until they get established. (It works because who likes salad with powder on it.)” -- Anonymous

We need suggestions for both initial plantings with purchased or shared plants and for adding plants to an established native planting. We also need an “initial seeding” enhancement here. From you? Send it to

---------- Maintenance

Mulching native plants conserves water and helps plants grow -- especially the first year.” -- Susan Archer

When native plants have become established they will require little water, no fertilizers or herbicides and little maintenance. Further, you’ll enjoy the quiet and beauty so much that you’ll give your noisy lawnmower to St. Bennie’s for a tax deduction and create a Neighborhood Share Co-op that owns a hand push mower. You’ll see health improve markedly in the neighborhood!

”One thing I found helpful was to buy a chipper/shredder (Patriot brand). In the spring, after I cut down the old growth from all my gardens, I run it through the shredder. This gives me bags of mulch to use around my plants, or for making paths.This eliminates the need to haul away the plant material. I love the recycling part of this process.” -- Judy Kesser

“When passing my garden I always give my plants a little shake just to disperse the pollen. One good organizer is my husband’s old golf cart. -- J. Sather


Latest update: 2/3/07