Homeowners: Natural Landscapes
Restoring the earth, one yard at a time
Want to "go natural" but not sure where to start? Start by changing your perception of your yard and its relationship to the natural areas in your community.
In ecological restoration, a natural area is more than the sum of its parts. So, a woodland is more than just a collection of trees. It's an ecosystem, where plants, insects, and animals have evolved together for thousands of years.
Start thinking about your slice of land as part of an ecosystem—a woodland, savanna or prairie, for example—and read about the types of plants that belong there. Then plant a few, and see how they do. You may never plant another thirsty petunia again!
More adventurous gardeners can try natural or sustainable landscaping:
The term describes many schools of thought, but the idea is to use deep-rooted native and hardy non-native plants that are adapted to urban setttings.
Natural landscaping recognizes that some non-hardy exotic plants have high maintenance requirements that enlarge your carbon footprint and use more water resources.
It's truly an American aesthetic, unique from the English lawns and formal French gardens we inherited from Europe.
Natural landscaping makes the most of our environment now, attempting to create a better balance and recognizing that we'll never be able to return to the natural state that we disrupted over the past two centuries. We can, however, learn from what nature shows us.
So you love the idea of native plants, but don't have the space for a 75-foot bur oak in your front yard? Would a hedge of hazelnut shrubs overtake your garden in a heartbeat? No worries! There are native plants to fit any home landscape. The Arboretum also promotes the use of hardy non-native plants that can fit into an attractive design that works in harmony with nature.
Native Shrubs of the Midwest
Native Trees of the Midwest
Spring Wildflowers of Arboretum Woodlands
Summer Prairie Plants
Plants for Shady Sites
Plants for Shade Gardening
Swamp White Oak: Promising Urban Tree
Illinois Maple: A Special Blend
Landscaping with Native Plants FAQ
www.vPlants.org, Herbarium records of The Morton Arboretum, Field Museum, and Chicago Botanical Garden
New Elms for the Landscape and Urban Forest
Tree Selection: The Right Tree for the Right Site
More Hardy Tree and Plant Selection recommendations from the Arboretum
Treat your trees with "TLC"–Tree Loving Care! While well-meaning, many homeowners don't realize that some common lawn care practices can damage trees. Think about the forest floor, where trees naturally thrive. One of the "greenest" things you can do is mulch your trees to the drip line. Learn other tree care basics to give them the best shot at a long, healthy life.
Root, root, root for healthy tree planting (Sun Times - 10/3/2008)
Take care when mowing around trees (Sun Times-8/1/2008)
It's mulch better (Sun Times-2/1/2008)
Mulching Trees and Shrubs
Watering Trees and Shrubs
The Challenge for Increasing Rainfall Infiltration in Urban Landscapes
Tree vs. Lawn: Uneasy Coexistence July 2004
"Granddaddy" health (Sun Times-11/16/2007)
Soil Considerations for Growing Trees
The Importance of Mulching
Nature's gold: Don't throw those leaves away, love 'em and leave 'em (Sun Times-11/23/2007)
While most city or suburban lots are too small to be considered "ecosystems" you can design a home landscape that attracts and nurtures wildlife. By providing water and native plants that can be used for shelter and food sources, you can make a home for birds, butterflies and other pollinators, small mammals, fish, and amphibians.
Water conservation and quality, as well as storm water management are growing problems in urban areas. You can do your part by creating a rain garden. It's like your own mini-wetland that captures water in your yard and helps it filter back down into the water table. Rain gardens are not only functional, they are also very attractive.
Many landscaping covenants and ordinances prevent natural landscaping. Citizens can lobby their municipalities to make changes that allow for tall grasses and mass plantings. Some communities are going beyond that and writing rules that promote the planting of natural landscapes.
Illinois town with native plant-friendly ordinances:
Here are some useful home landscaping resources from university extension services and reputable environmental organizations.
University of Illinois Home, Yard & Garden Pest Newsletter
Ohio State University Buckeye Yard and Garden Online
Wild Ones Native Plants, Natural Landscapes
EPA Greenacres Natural Landscaping
Midwest Ecological Landscape Association
Illinois Arborist Association
Illinois Landscape Contractors Association