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5 Native Plant Things To Do In April

Updated: Apr 14

Waiting is hard.

We had a mostly mild winter, and after a quick burst of snow in late March, we are back to what appears to be an early spring. However, after last year's May 1 snowstorm that dumped feet of fresh snow on top of our plants, we know we have to exercise patience. The greenhouse is jammed to the vents as we resist the temptation to set up the outside storage yards.

Waiting is hard, so here are some fun ideas to help you get through the end of April and into May.

1. Plan

Whether you are looking for a quick, easy way to add a few native plants to your landscape, or designing a full-scale native habitat that will be the envy of the HomeGrown National Park people, now is the time to do your planning. Since you are already here, why not start your research on our site? Filter your search for shade, sand, wet soil, shortness, tallness... If the filter doesn't get you the information you want, try typing in a keyword in the search field, like "clay" or "rocky". Hint: be sure to read the plant descriptions to make sure it doesn't say something like "not recommended for clay".

Planning for Beginners

For super easy ways to start with native plants, try container gardening or get a garden kit.

Little sunny flowers in a pot
Sundrops for Containers

Container gardening can get some plants into your habitat without you having to worry about matching plants to your site conditions or preparing a bed. Fill a large pot with Wild Petunia, Nodding Wild Onion, Rose Mallow Hibiscus, Ivory Sedge, Harebell, Hairy Beardtongue, Sundrops, or Columbine for your deck or balcony. The pollinators will thank you.

Want to plant a composed bed, but don't want to do a lot of research? Try a garden kit. Garden kits are pre-designed to suit your soil type (e.g. sandy) or gardening goals (e.g. attract and support butterflies). Garden kits come arranged in the tray with tall plants in the back and shorter, showy plants in the front or center. Each 38-plant kit comes with a tip sheet for planting and maintenance. Plunk them into an existing flower bed and you are on your way to the wonderful world of native plants!

Planning for Native Plant Enthusiasts

For those that love ALL the details.

If spending the rest of April researching plants sounds like your cup of tea (Hello, My People), cut and paste the scientific plant name from our website into your browser search field followed by the word "Missouri". That should bring you to the Missouri Botanical Garden plant finder, which is an excellent resource on how native plants work in garden settings. To find out about habitat preferences, insect and animal affiliations, and ranges of heights, do the same cut and paste followed by "Illinois" and "Minnesota" to get to the Illinois Wildflower and Minnesota Wildflower sites. Don't forget to go to and paste the scientific name into the scientific name search field there to get guidance on historical range and local habitat preferences. Michigan Flora is run by the University of Michigan (Go Blue) so of course as an alumna I look there first, but if you are a Michigan State fan (or want a good overview of the plants in entire Michigan ecosystems), you can also go to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory and search for references to your plant.

2. Prep

Prepare your bed, if you haven't already. If you prepared your planting site last fall or even earlier, pat yourself on the back! You should be good to go. But, if you didn't prep yet and would like to get started, there is still time.

First, deal with invasive plants. Do you have Birdsfoot Trefoil, Creeping Charlie, Lily of the Valley, Goutweed/Bishop's Weed/Eastside Weed, Creeping Bellflower, Vinca/Periwinkle, Japanese Barberry, or anything else nasty in your planting area? If so, hit Pause. Planting into those species will just make it more difficult to remove them and they will likely overwhelm your new plants. Decide how you want to handle invasive species on your particular site. Contact your local Conservation District and see if they can take a look or connect you to your county's Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area - CISMA. There are some native plants, like Golden Ragwort and White Snakeroot, that can make life tough for certain invasive plants, but you will need to do some research to see what might work for you.

If you are blessed with a site that doesn't have the invasive Eurasian plants pushed by the past and present conventional nursery industry, go ahead and prepare your site by removing grass. There are many methods, and they all have pros and cons.

  • Tilling: It's familiar and it's fast, but tilling tends to break turf grass into live clumps that regrow and can bring up weed seeds. I have had more customers bemoan the side-effects of tilling than of any other method. Hand-weeding is another method of mechanical removal, but the soil agitation necessary to take out the grass roots will likely bring up a quantity of weed seeds similar to tilling.

  • Lasagna Composting: My favorite method is a variation on lasagna composting. Lay cardboard in your planting area, wet it, and mulch thickly with untreated wood chips, sticks, and/or leaves. Periodically check to see if the cardboard is breaking down and the grass is dead. Then, thin out the mulch and plant right through the residual cardboard into the dirt below. How long this process takes depends on how vigorous you lawn was, rain and sunshine levels, and your soil type. Water your cardboard and mulch in dry, hot areas to facilitate it breaking down.

    • Lasagna composting for veggie gardens usually uses more layers, along with layers of compost to enrich the soil. Skip those steps - native plants want native soils, not enriched garden soil. Rich soil can cause native plants to flop or even just die.

    • Also, keeping to a single layer of cardboard and mulch avoids the main complaint about lasagna composting, which is that it can kill the soil life beneath. In my experience with this method, the soil below the single layer of moist cardboard shows visible life such as fungus breaking down dead grass and a variety of insects - all good things that suggest the soil microbiome is unharmed.

  • Solarization: Placing a large sheet of black or clear plastic over your future bed is another way to easily kill grass. However, this method definitely affects soil life and can reduce or destroy the soil microbes, fungi, and insects that help keep soil healthy. Solarization basically cooks the grass to death while excluding moisture. It requires a certain level of warmth and sunshine to be effective, and may not be the best for early spring site preparation. It also generates a large quantity of plastic waste that will release microplastics to your site and eventually end up in the landfill.

  • Herbicide: Herbicide is a method favored by many professional native plant installers. Their argument is that a once or twice application of herbicide doesn't affect long-term soil health any more than the other methods and is far more time- and cost-effective. It certainly is fast. Sites prepared in this way can usually be planted a couple of weeks after treatment, and the dead grass serves as a natural mulch around the new plants. I tend to favor herbicide only for sites with invasive plants, but the argument for limited herbicide use for site prep is tempting. You be the judge, are the evils of even limited herbicide use outweighed by a long-lived native planting that more is easily installed?

  • Mechanical Removal: Grass can also be removed by renting a sod-cutter and taking off the top layer of soil. My particular site has so little topsoil that I would never consider this method, but perhaps it makes more sense in the great plains where they have good soil under good soil. Perhaps there are areas in the U.P. where this also makes sense. If I tried it, I would end up planting in a sand dune.

  • Out With The Bad, In With The Good: One of my favorite methods to prepare a bed is to cut down non-native trees like Scotch Pine and plant into the empty duff layer beneath. It makes the perfect pre-prepared planting site, and bumblebees love nesting in the bare dirt around the new plants.

  • Make Lemons into Lemonade:

    • Did someone leave something on the lawn too long and the grass died? New flower bed!

    • Plow truck cut a strip of sod off the edge of your driveway? New flower bed!

    • Old rotten shed collapsed in the windstorm? New flower bed!

    • Need a new drain-field? Turn those (expensive) lemons into lemonade. New meadow of shallow-rooted native plants!

    • You can even look to the spots where you could never get grass to grow anyway, because of shade or drainage or whatnot, and find the native plants that would love to live there. New flower bed!

3. Reserve your plants

Plants selected and site preparation in the works? Now is the best time to get your plant order in. Do not wait. If you wait until mid-May to order, you will almost certainly not get your plants until late June. Our busy season, when plants are flying out the door by the hundreds, is late May and early June. Order now and secure your place in the queue. We fill the orders in the order they are received to the extent possible. However, plants and weather do what they do. Sometimes first batches of seed fail to germinate. Sometime plants, milkweeds in particular, just will not be coaxed out of dormancy until spring is warm and well underway. But this year <dare I say it?>, it looks like we may luck-out and have an early spring, with loads of healthy overwintered stock, and good germination of our seedlings <looks around furtively and knocks on wood, trying not to tempt fate.> If those wonders hold true, we will be putting out our first orders in record time - less than a month. Order now!

4. Indulge in a little in-person shopping

A collection of paper-cutout leaves and flowers with a flamingo and the word sale
Escanaba TV6 Business Expo April 20

We have a lot of overwintered stock which had a higher-than-expected survival rate because of the mild winter. I am bringing some of that in to the greenhouse (along with the plants that have been pre-ordered <hint, hint>) to break dormancy, and we are going to try a very early season plant sale at the TV6 Business Expo in Escanaba on April 20. We will have a nice selection of plants that broke dormancy early. If you aren't ready to plant, we will also be selling Gift Certificates, which just happen to make a perfect Mother's Day gift (it's coming up soon!). RSVP to the Expo Here to get email updates if things change, plus a cute reminder email just before the sale.

Stop by and say "Hi" - it's a great time to catch us and talk about your site.

5. Pick a plant sale

We have plant sales all over the UP this year. Pick the ones close to you and add them to your calendar! Life is always better when you can look forward to a plant sale, right?

Here is the list so far, but we will be adding and altering as the season progresses. You can browse the calendar on our What's Happening page. Click on the city name below for the sales that interest you and RSVP. An RSVP will notify you of any date or location changes and send you an automatic reminder email prior to the sale. Several of the sales are open for pre-orders Now, and the rest should be open for pre-orders soon.

a feather flag that says native plant sale in front of a market tent

Nursery News

  • New plants! We have Figwort, Mad Dog Skullcap, and more in our Shop.

  • We had <ahem> really good germination of White Snakeroot, so we are now offering that by the plug flat.

  • If the weather holds, we may be able to get orders out early, so make sure you have reserved your favorites!

  • State of the nursery in pictures:

Thanks for planting native plants!

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