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Native Plants

Updated: Jan 19

An animal, plant, or another organism living in its “natural” range — the ecosystem in where it evolved and has specially adapted to survive — is considered native. Piping plovers nesting on the shores of Lake Michigan or purple coneflowers growing in Midwestern prairies are both examples of native plants.


Non native species - sometimes labeled "exotic" - are organisms living in an area where they were not naturally found (typically) due to human introduction. Examples of non native species include peach trees (China) or house sparrows (sectors of the Middle East) in the US, though native to the Asian continent.


When a non-native species spreads aggressively through an ecosystem, causing ecological, environmental, and/or economic harm, which is considered invasive. You might be familiar with Asian carp, which are currently pushing up the Mississippi River basin towards Lake Michigan. Garlic mustard is another invasive species from Europe, which disrupts the understory of American forest ecosystems.


Projects

The Edgewater Environmental Coalition has enacted projects to address the issue of invasive species. The following listed are currently operating programs:

  • Parkways for Pollinators- A program to transform public parkways into natural spaces for pollinator forage and habitat, including efforts to remediate soil and capture carbon.

  • Andersonville Native Plant Planters Program- In collaboration with business stakeholders, we're growing native plants in dozens of planters along Clark St. in the Andersonville area, and embedding educational resources into the plantings.


Benefits of a Native Garden

  • Requires less maintenance: Since native plants are well-adapted to local conditions and wildlife, they more readily thrive (once established) without human interventions such as fertilizer, pesticides, and watering. This saves you time, effort, and money! Native plants are generally easy to grow and resilient to adverse conditions; so you can enjoy them year after year with minimal fuss.

  • Reduces flooding and erosion from stormwater: Most of the native plants in this starter kit grow deep roots, which means they can soak up and store lots of water from the soil like a sponge. This helps to reduce flooding from storms and takes pressure off Chicago’s sewer system! It also prevents soil erosion, since the root systems better hold fertile topsoil in place.

  • Beautifies your neighborhood: Native plants come in a diverse mix of shapes, colors, configurations, and vibes. They provide a variety of blooms from spring to fall, not to mention interesting textures and colors during the winter — much more interesting than turf grass! They also possess lovely aromas that entice other senses.

  • Improves biodiversity and environmental health: Local wildlife require suitable habitats in which to feed, shelter, and mate. Many are specially adapted to the conditions afforded by native plants. In urban settings, native gardens are essential destinations for all sorts of critters — especially pollinators like birds, bees, and butterflies. Native plants also help to improve soil quality, regulate local climate, and reduce the prevalence of toxic chemicals in the environment.

  • Promotes sustainable stewardship of nature: Though we may forget, humans are intrinsically connected to and dependent upon our natural environment. Cultivating and maintaining a native garden fosters a deeper connection to the land, enriches your sense of place, and provides an instructive example in achieving success through balance and diversity.


Establishing a Native Garden

  • Variety: Select seeds for particular sun exposure levels, medium to dry soils, and various desirable traits such as hardiness and pollinator-friendliness. Seed germination can be unpredictable, and even after sprouting, certain species may do better or worse than others depending on the specific conditions of the planting site. In short, each native garden’s plant variety will be unique — and that’s okay! If by chance, your garden becomes unusually unbalanced, you should feel empowered to supplement the original plantings with new ones.

  • Development: Patience is key! Native plants typically prioritize root growth before blooms, so they may take a couple of seasons to become established and show their full potential.

    • Season 1: Wildflower seedlings will emerge in springtime as the soil warms, but they’ll grow low to the ground and few will bloom. Remember that most of the action is taking place underground! Weeds may out-grow the native plants, so you’ll have to keep them under control.

    • Season 2: Wildflowers will grow faster, larger, and denser this season; many will bloom, and some prolifically. Grasses may still be a bit under-developed. Weeds should be much less of a problem.

    • Season 3: If all goes well, you will see a dense and diverse mixture of wildflowers blooming from spring through fall, drawing a variety of pollinators to your garden. Grasses will fill in gaps and clump together, providing cover for more wildlife.

  • Maintenance: Once established, native gardens are very low-maintenance, but they do require some care and attention in their first couple of seasons to get going. Early on, the most important thing is to ensure that the plants get enough water by giving them a soak once or twice a week (unless nature obliges with a decent rain). Controlling/removing weeds during the first two seasons is also crucial, as it will reduce competition for resources and allow the native plants to thrive. Longer-term, some amount of trimming may be required, but that’ll depend on your aesthetic tastes and how well the plants take to your site.


Where to Buy Supplies

  • Gethsemane Garden Center: Family-owned and -operated gardening store located in Andersonville, stocked with a huge variety of plants, seeds, soil supplies, gardening tools, and more. Probably has what you need, but is a bit expensive.

  • Prairie Friends: Up-and-coming native plant nursery located here in Edgewater — owned and operated by an EEC member!

  • Native Plant Nurseries list, assembled by the Illinois Native Plant Society


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