Special Reports

December 16, 2011

Experts can help you design a native landscape for your home or business

As the seeds from my backyard prairie provide winter food for the birds, it’s not too early to begin planning native landscapes for spring planting.

As the seeds from my backyard prairie provide winter food for the birds, it’s not too early to begin planning native landscapes for spring planting.

I was reminded of this, when a reader stopped me last week to ask about the column I’d written in May on planting my backyard with Kansas native prairie plants. Of all the columns I’ve written so far, that one especially resonated with readers.

Perhaps it’s the love of this state’s natural wonders and the beauty of the Great Plains. Or perhaps it’s just a wonder about what kind of person would choose sunflowers and coneflowers for their yard?

Brad Guhr, prairie restoration and education coordinator with Dyck Arboretum in Hesston, can answer both those questions. He’ll even send someone to help you design a landscape of your home or business with Kansas plants.

“We’ve worked on all sizes of projects, including schools, churches, businesses and homes, showing them how you can do prairie projects of all sizes,” Guhr said. “If they want it more wild looking, we can do that. If they want to go with a more horticultural plan, we can space out the plants differently and make it more pleasing for a more traditional European type of look.”

Such planning might even make a good neighborhood project.

The initial consultation is $50. Creating the design costs $40 an hour. Guhr estimates three to five hours of design time.

Advantages include getting plants that are supposed to grow in this climate, so they will survive droughts and hot summers like the one we experienced this year. Because they’re supposed to grow in these soils, you also save on water and fertilizer.

“No, you don’t want to overwater these plants, because you will kill them,” Guhr said. “And no, you don’t want to use fertilizer, because all you’re doing is feeding the invasive weeds around them.”

That improves water quality by helping prevent and filter stormwater runoff.

“Can you imagine if we used native landscaping with all new construction, how much runoff we’d prevent?” Guhr said.

Such building practices are being used from Austin to the Chicago area.

The folks at the arboretum will also help you with a management program, such as burning for larger areas or how to mow smaller yards.

Burning prairies is best. But I have yet to have the city of Wichita allow me to set fire to my backyard in College Hill. I have asked.

“Burning heats up the soil and it will grow back faster,” Guhr said. “But you can do much the same thing by mowing. With businesses, churches and schools, we can get permission to burn because it’s educational. We haven’t tried that with homeowners.”

You can also do your own research:

The arboretum provides an online plant picker for various types of landscaping, or you can browse the plant database.

Kansas State University also offers a searchable wildflower and native grasses site.

60 mph update

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a driving experiment capping my speed at 60 mph.

Last time at the gas pump, I was getting 26.5 mph in the Chevy HHR, up from 21 mph when I was driving the speed limit.

Jeff Witherspoon, executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Services, e-mailed me to say I’m not imagining saving money this way.

“I teach a lot of classes to our community about easy ways to save money, and this is one of my favorite tips,” he wrote.

Witherspoon also wasn’t surprised at some of the flaming comments I received online from that column.

“It is amazing the pushback that I receive from people about how they will not even consider doing it even when it puts money back into their own pockets,” he said. “I have read statistics that show if people would slow down and not drive so aggressively it could save them up to 30% in fuel costs.”

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