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Make native plants part of landscaping plan

The cold, gray months of January and February are prime planning times for avid gardeners and landscapers who have nothing else to do but stare out the windows at their snow-covered yards. One person who wants to convince armchair gardeners to rip out the exotic species they've planted and replace them with native plants is Bob Grese, associate professor of landscape architecture in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Grese (pronounced GRAY-zee) also directs the Nichols Arboretum, where in one portion of its 36 acres he has been working to recreate a remnant of the prairie and savannahs that originally covered the Ann Arbor area.

Grese, who has created a prairie in the front yard of his own home in Ann Arbor, directs much of his energies to researching the work of pioneering landscape architects who advocated the use of native plants. He deplores the "lawn mania" which, he says, is very expensive to the environment.

 

Plan now, plant later

While the wind blows and the fire burns brightly, settle back in a comfortable chair and start planning next season's garden. Although seed and plant catalogs provide pictures of glorious blooms, seldom do they answer all the gardener's needs.

The Matthaei Botanical Gardens maintains a Website that offers specific advice for gardeners, including pages on creating a wildlife sanctuary in the backyard and establishing a butterfly garden in Michigan. One page of the site, http://www.lsa.umich.edu/mbg/gardenforum/butterfly.html , provides information on how to plant a butterfly-friendly garden. Included are tips on what plants attract and provide food for the caterpillars that will become butterflies. There are tips on butterfly viewing, lists of the insect's favorite flowers and references to a variety of books on the subject of butterfly gardens.

To create a wildlife sanctuary in the backyard requires water, food and shelter. At http://www.lsa.umich.edu/mbg/gardenforum/wildlifesanctuary.html one can find tips on providing these basics, as well as what plants to include and which to avoid. By using native shrubs, trees and perennials, gardeners can "conserve and promote the aesthetics and health of southeastern Michigan plant communities."

The Matthaei Website also has links to other pages where gardeners can find information ranging from horticulture around the world to sites specific to bamboo, carnivorous plants, daylilies and water gardens. Visit http://www.lsa.umich.edu/mbg/resources/sites4plants.htm for information on a variety of gardening skills and issues. For the Matthaei home page, see http://www.lsa.umich.edu/mbg/.

"Emissions from lawn equipment such as weed whips, lawn mowers and leaf blowers contribute about 5 percent of the total air pollution," Grese says. In addition, he says, the chemicals that are sprayed, spread or injected to keep the grass green are polluting streams, rivers and wetlands with too many nutrients, helping promote an invasion of non-native plants, and changing the water's chemical structure.

Instead, Grese advocates having just enough lawn to meet the needs for games or other activities and planting groundcovers in the remaining space. The challenge, he says, is to find out which plants grew locally and will grow again without reseeding.

"Using native plants is also a way of preserving and celebrating our local natural heritage, such as wetlands, prairies, savannas and woodlands once dominant in Southeastern Michigan," he says. "In my mind, there's a direct link between 'native landscaping' and broader conservation efforts."

Grese was honored recently by the Ann Arbor Chapter of Wild Ones. The group, which advocates the use of native plants in landscaping, created the Bob Grese Deep Roots Award and made him the first recipient.

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