native plants

Think Spring: Native Plants for a Healthier Chicago


The native plants in front of Moss HQ attract butterflies (and curious neighborhood children).  Here’s why we love growing them!

We’ve chatted about our love of gardens and gardening many times in the past, with a round-up post of great how-to-start-your-urban-garden ideasextolling the virtues of native planing in our sidewalk-side box, rapping about the pros of raised bed gardening here in Chicago.  Today we’re talking native plants  – a great choice for gardeners both urban and rural!

native plants are good for insects

Why Native Plants?

Americans are well known for our love of lawns but those wide expanses of green come at a steep price.  Researchers at NASA estimate that there are three times as much acreage of lawn in in the continental US than irrigated corn.  That’s excessive no matter how you slice it.  Plus it takes a lot of labor, chemicals and water to maintain.  So why not give yourself a break and explore replacing some of your lawn with native plants this spring?

Biodiversity: Native plants help support native species of insects, spiders mites and other invertibrates that are essential to a healthy ecosystem.  While we may not like all the creepy crawlies of the world, we need them to keep our micro and macro environment in balance.

If you need a cuter argument, Monarch butterflies “the bambi of the insect world” are entirely dependent on milkweed for the caterpillar part of their life cycle.  As farmers have gotten more aggressive with fighting weeds, Monarchs have sharply declined.

Water conservation: The typical suburban lawn consumes 10,000 gallons of water above and beyond rainwater each year.  Native plants are acclimated to local rainfall levels and should be able to survive with little or no extra water input saving you both precious water … and time spent watering.

Low impact living: Once established, a native plant garden requires less maintenance – less watering, less trimming, less weeding, even – than a typical yard would.  Save yourself some energy and time.

For more detailed reasoning, and input from several of Chicago’s foremost native plants experts, check out this detailed analysis of the benefits native plants in your yard can bring at  Remember, you don’t have to be a purist. Here at Moss we celebrate a combination of native plantings, tasty edibles, and shade friendly non-invasive plants to fill in the corners.

Native Plants and Chicago’s Shoreline

Native plants don’t only signify prairie flowers in a front yard.  Chicago’s shoreline also features native grass species that preserve (and create) our beloved sand dunes.  Just around the corner of Lake Michigan from here, we actually have a National Lake Shore dedicated to preserving and celebrating the intense diversity of this region. From the NPS website:

“The biological diversity within the national lakeshore is amongst the highest per unit area of all our national parks. Over 1,100 flowering plant species and ferns make their homes here. From predacious bog plants to native prairie grasses and from towering white pines to rare algal species, the plant diversity is rich.”

indiana dunes, portage

Read more about native dune grass in our post on this great little park in Indiana (look closely to see Chicago’s skyline at the water’s edge) where local interest groups have come together to restore native plantings in a former industrial brownfield site.

Want to get started?

Check out a native plants sale.  Seedlings are collected and donated by local enthusiasts who want to share their resources – and spread native plantings across the region.  You’ll be sure to find a lot of good advice as well as healthy baby plants.  Many of these are already done for the year but you can still find them locally:

May 14, Saturday

Lake Forest Open Lands Tree and Plant Sale, 8AM – 1PM.  Open Lands Tree and Plant Sale 2016 Lake Forest

Gardenology , 10AM-4PM.  Gardenology 2016 Geneva  Geneva.

May 21, Saturday  

West Chicago Blooming Fest, 9AM. West Chicago

Forest Preserve District of Will County Native Plant Sale 9AM – 3PM.   Will County 2016 Plant List  Joliet

May 22, Sunday

Greater DuPage Wild Ones. 1-4PM.  DuPage Orders. Lisle.

You can also hit local plant nurseries (here’s a list) or order seedlings and seeds online.  Prairie Nursery (located in central Wisconsin) is a personal favorite, and in addition to their great real nursery location they do a booming web business.  Make sure to check the native range maps to select plants that are native to your region.

native plants moss front yard

Buyer Beware

It is possible to try to support native plants and actually do harm rather than good.  A recent well meaning campaign to plant more milkweed to support Monarch butterflies actually backfired when people planted a non-local varietal of milkweed that was able to bloom all year.  The continuing food source cued the butterflies to stay in the midwest instead of migrating.

If your goal is to support local animal and insect species, make sure you consult with local experts to ensure you are choosing native plants that will do just that.

So what are you waiting for?  All this spring rain is going to make for a glorious summer.  Lets all get out there and start planting!