Just three years ago, our family moved to a 20-acre property in central Missouri. We were thrilled to have our own patch of land. Being native plant enthusiasts, we promptly set about adding a broad variety of plants to encourage more wildlife. Our big project was converting the 12-acre former horse pasture to the shortgrass prairie parcel of our dreams.
Shortly after we began the process, one of our neighbors greeted us at church. "What kind of crop you growing?" he asked
We had recently applied herbicide to the pasture to eliminate the Sericea lespedeza, fescue and assorted weeds that had encroached over the years so the vegetation was now brown.
I explained that the mixture of native grasses and wildflowers, along with shrubby tree and shrub seedlings bordering the woods, wasn't a crop for us. I told him that we were converting the field to native plants in order to create a diverse habitat that would attract more songbirds, turkey, rabbit and quail.
"Quail? We don't have those around here much anymore," he said.
He was right, of course. Since the boom time of the 1960s, quail numbers have steadily declined. His comment led to a discussion about a new program I was promoting called "Grow Native!" I told him it could help rural landowners like him, as well as urban dwellers, improve wildlife habitat, control erosion and soil loss, and reduce maintenance on their property.
And it will help bring back quail.
Grow Native!, a program of the Missouri Department of Conservation, encourages landowners to use native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, vines and trees to provide a more natural landscape for personal enjoyment and for the benefit of wildlife.
The program is unique in that it not only does everything it can to increase demand for native plant materials, it also promotes Midwestern retail nurseries that offer nursery-propogated, Missouri-native species.
Grow Native! promotes nurseries that offer a good selection of native plants, and it provides them with training and support materials about native gardening. It also refers customers to member nurseries. The referral program is expanding this year to include landscape architects, contractors and other related professionals with demonstrated expertise in native landscaping and ecological restoration.
By allying itself with private sector businesses that support the Conservation Department's mission of restoring biodiversity, Grow Native! hopes to ensure that Missourians will have abundant local native plant materials and service support for years to come.
Grow Native! can help people connect to conservation