Getting back to native roots, plant sale gives gardeners wild variety

Katie Schmidt, Dyck Arboretum of the Plains horticulturist, examines one of her favorite native plants, baptista, as it blooms right before the FloraKansas Plant Sale on April 23 through 26.

By Jackie Nelson

HESSTON—Gardeners looking to add more than just beauty but biodiversity to their property can find plenty of native plant varieties at the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains FloraKansas Spring Plant Sale. The sale will take place from April 23 to 26, with a special April 22 date for arboretum members.

Grounds manager and horticulturist Katie Schmidt has been a proponent of residents finding ways to incorporate native plants into their well-manicured gardens and lawns.

“We must balance our love of flat, green, monoculture lawns with the urgent need for diverse native plantings. By converting some areas of your lawn to forbs, shrubs, native grasses and ground covers, you gain interest and beauty and ecological benefits,” she said in an arboretum blog post about introducing native plants into daily landscaping.

In the most recent lecture series, Prairie Restoration Expert Brad Guhr and guest speaker Tony Capizzo discussed the threats native tall grass prairies face. The need for private conservation efforts as well as cooperation with landowners to replant native prairie species was made evident. As one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth, less than 1% of tall grass prairie remains of its original expanse.

Office manager Janelle Flory Schrock said, with warm weather returning, she believes many residents are ready to get back to creating beautiful spaces.

“It’s been a long winter. It feels like winter started in December 2019. I think folks are really excited to get their hands in the dirt and plan for the future,” she said.

Flory Schrock said, as the arboretum adapted to the changes brought by COVID-19, interest in the arboretum has also grown.

“We’ve had a huge response to our online native plant school classes and winter lecture series. People are interested in knowing more about Kansas native plants, prairie ecosystems and what that means for us and how to incorporate it into their yards,” she said.

This season, Schmidt said she has “had a lot of good luck” germinating prairie clover seeds harvested at the arboretum. While the plants are still small, Schmidt hopes they will be ready for the fall FloraKansas Sale.

This spring, Schmidt said there is a wide variety of Baptisia, also known as false indigo, ready for nearly any gardening or landscaping application.

“It looks good as a foundation planting in landscaping; it takes no maintenance. It blooms before the sale, but it gets me excited to get people in here,” she said.

Flory Schrock said, like last year, there will be more ways for gardeners to shop the plant sale, with online and contactless options available. Flory Schrock said members and non-members alike can utilize the online shopping option.

“We will have curbside in place. We will also have distanced in-person shopping in the greenhouse. We are going to maintain a limited number of shoppers in the greenhouse to be cautious, as we know we are not entirely out of the woods yet,” she said.

Schmidt said, in preparing for the sale, native plant enthusiasts and first time planters can prepare for their new arrivals by doing minimal research around their homes and landscapes to find the best possible plants for their gardens.

“Take a few days to notice what kind of light the area gets. Know if it is full sun, partial sun or shade. Check at 8 a.m., noon, at the heat of the day and in the evening and get a good idea what the sun is like. Also, is that soil really dry? Or is it near a downspout. Know the sunlight and moisture,” she said.

Native plant owners, she said, should get their new plants into the ground as soon as possible, and with plenty of watering in the first weeks to help establish a healthy, hearty plant. When it came to fertilizer, Schmidt said native plants “shouldn’t need it. Change the plant, not the soil. If you have to add fertilizer, you need to choose a different plant.”