Graceful waves of ornamental grasses dotted with bright-colored wildflowers and perhaps anchored with an occasional evergreen is a landscape picture that I’m loving more and more these days.
Even before the drought, native plantings were becoming more common. The Kansas Department of Transportation has gone to planting wildflowers and native grasses along state highways for more interest and less maintenance. Some golf courses and businesses have gone native, with lovely results.
Holy Cross Lutheran Church has turned some of its property at 600 N. Greenwich Road, which includes two ponds and a walking path, into a natural area.
“We had a lot to mow” before, member Ted Helmer told me. Another member, landscape architect Jason Gish, designed it.
The drought is a good reminder of where we live, Gish said. “It is tough here,” he said of growing plants in Wichita. Once you start to lose plants, you see things differently, he said. With native plantings, “here’s a way we can make things easier. At church, there’s this area we’re not utilizing for any activity, and so far it’s served well for that purpose.”
Perhaps the home landscape is the final frontier for native planting. You don’t have to turn your yard into a prairie to move in that direction.
There are at least a couple of area places to buy plants. One is during the FloraKansas native plant sale next weekend at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston. Not only can you buy native plants there, you can get adaptable plants — non-natives that perform similarly — and advice from horticulturists about how and where to use the plants in the landscape.
Another source is Nathaniel Barton, a truck driver and Howard farmer who with his wife has converted a double lot just southwest of downtown Wichita into an outlet for his hobby: growing native plants. His 2-year-old passion has grown so out of bounds — “I bit off more than I can chew. A lot of seeds go a long way” — that he has started selling plants. He’s available by appointment at 316-258-8237.
“I like sharing plants,” Barton said, and his love for them apparently has no bounds. He can’t bear to throw away a seedling, or keep his green thumb out of his friends’ houseplants.
When planting a yard in natives, “you don’t have to pay somebody to mow it,” Barton said. And a prairie planting doesn’t require the water or fertilizer. You do have to pull weeds and do some watering initially, but eventually, when the plants thicken and fill out, they shade out the weeds and require less water.
The FloraKansas plant sale also is in the spring, and that’s when Dyck Arboretum sells more plants. But Scott Vogt, Dyck’s director, said he prefers to plant in the fall, when soil temperatures are warm.
Vogt advises getting plants in the ground by mid- or late September. There’s still a smidge of time to kill unwanted plants with Roundup, wait at least two weeks and more safely three for the residual poison to dissipate, and then put the new plants in by the deadline, he said. The Roundup fades more quickly when the weather is hot and sunny, he said.
Water them for the first couple of weeks, then keep checking on them periodically through the winter and watering if necessary, Vogt said.
“With as dry as it’s been, people are interested in getting rid of their lawn or area that struggled and put a lot of water on, and are looking for perennials and grasses that are more sustainable.” FloraKansas features not only flowers but shrubs, trees, vines and ground covers, and new plants that are not native but that are adaptable, meaning they behave similarly to natives. These include the new dwarf butterfly bushes. On the arboretum’s website, www.dyckarboretum.org, a plant picker can help you select plants; look for it under “Design Ideas and Growing Tips.”
If you’re seeding or reseeding a prairie using native flowers and grasses, Vogt recommends throwing the seed out on the ground in November, December and January, allowing the natural freeze and thaw cycles to cleave the seed to the soil for good germination.
Members will get first crack at the FloraKansas plants, from 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday. They also will get a 10 percent discount. You can join the arboretum that day if you’re not already a member; the cost is $30 for an individual. The sale will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 8, and noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 9.
A couple of wildflower tours also are coming up at the arboretum — at 6 p.m. Sept. 17 and Oct. 15. Vogt will talk about plants in bloom during the tour, as well as how to design flower beds, how to incorporate grasses, planting in sun vs. shade, and anything else that comes up. The cost is $5; call the arboretum at 620-327-8127 to register.
Keeping plants going this past summer at the arboretum has been “extremely difficult,” Vogt said, “but I shudder to think what it would be if I had a bunch of annuals. In the flower beds, we’re only watering once or twice a week. Still, plants are blooming in spite of how terrible it is. You wouldn’t need to water them, but no one wants to come to a public garden and not see anything blooming.”