Going Native

Local horticulturalist Matt Phillips will get your yard back to its roots

“Joe-Pye Weed is a great butterfly magnet. Mine is swarmed with monarchs. Same goes for orange butterfly weed.”

Matt Phillips, general manager and horticulturist at Phillips Garden in Minneapolis, owns and loves many native plants—and can help you find space for some in your garden.

Define native. For North America, the plant must have existed here before the transoceanic migration—that means nothing the Europeans brought. There are records by early botanists that confirm what plants are native.

Benefits. Native plants are deeply rooted, take little or no fertilizer, and are good for improving water quality and soil fertility. They deal with runoff and drought better. They are more sustainable. Gardening with native plants is a more holistic approach.

Location, location, location. We’re on the edge of where the Great Plains start and big deciduous forests end. You can plant prairie plants for a big, bold aesthetic in sunny, wide-open areas and smaller woodland plants in the shade.

Caveat emptor. Deal with reputable plant growers. Most nurseries will have a record of where plants come from. Growers should produce them through tissue culture and propagation. They shouldn’t dig them from the wild.

Buzz off. All plants are susceptible to pests, but most natives don’t have as many problems as hybridized garden plants. Natives are more rugged. They aren’t as susceptible to as many diseases.

Flora and fauna. Native plants attract birds, bees, and butterflies. If you look closely at a Joe-Pye Weed, there are beautiful, tiny, crab-like pink spiders living inside them.

Stay open. I’ve seen people who won’t plant anything but native plants. It’s admirable, but it’s limiting, too. Not all non-native plants are invasive species. And a garden is not a natural thing—it’s not a wild ecosystem. People create those conditions: water, weeding, whether they neglect the garden or not. Natives respond well to benign neglect.

To contact Phillips Garden, call 612-721-1221, phillipsgarden.com