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Putting Native Plants to Work

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

If you're a gardener or farmer, you know the value of a well-stocked toolbox. Imagine a set of tools that improves your ability to cope with drought and flood, produces great summer forage for cattle and provides habitat for quail, deer, turkey and songbirds.

Native plants are tools that every homeowner, landowner, gardener and farmer can use. Missouri's native plant toolbox includes trees, shrubs, vines, grasses and wildflowers that are able to endure drought, disease, for-aging, flood and fire. People all over the state are using them to solve problems and enliven their landscapes.

Natives for neighborhoods

In Belton, neighbors Ray Gann and Jan Jones share a love of wild things, and their adjoining properties show it.

Gann stopped mowing his three acres about 12 years ago. "I got more tired as I got older, " he said, "and I thought, 'this is really stupid.' I decided to stop mowing and see what would happen."

What happened is that a lot of native prairie and glade plants popped up. They included rattlesnake master, little bluestem, Indian grass, yellow and purple coneflowers, wild indigo and black-eyed Susans. Gann continues to mow the area along the north side of his house to keep honey locusts at bay, but he leaves the brambles in the field to benefit wildlife. He has enjoyed an impressive response to drought from his "no mow, let it grow" approach.

"After 2003, with not one molecule of moisture and 100-degree temperatures, I thought I wasn't going to see a thing, " Gann said. "But what I got was more species. This year I saw a cast of pink, orange and yellow. It's that tall echinacea."

Gann's neighbor, Jan Jones, began restoring her property to native plants in October 2001. That's when she called Ruth Wallace, the Conservation Department's urban watershed conservationist for the Kansas City Region, with a simple request:

"My neighbor has this beautiful natural area in his backyard," she said, "and I want my backyard to look just like his. Can you help?"

Wallace visited the Jones' property and wrote a plan for restoration. Jones' biggest challenge was fescue. The backyard was full of it.

Because the city of Belton prohibits landscape burning, Wallace and her team used herbicides to remove the fescue from the Jones' two acres. They then seeded the area with a wildlife habitat seed mix.

Before long, both backyards (about seven acres) will be seen as one prairie field--a vision from Missouri's past.

Making every

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