Bring Your Yard to Life: Plant Door County Native Species

As the days get longer and warmer the county comes to life. Grass is growing, flowers are blooming, tree buds are bursting open, and people are getting their yards and flowerbeds ready to plant. As you go through this annual routine, consider how much wildlife is dependent upon your yard for survival. No matter how manicured or wild it may be it is an important habitat to many plant and animal species.

Door County harbors so many endangered and threatened plant and animal species that it is essential to maintain the ecological health and maximize the available habitat for native plants and wildlife. The best ways to do this are to minimize or eliminate the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers and to introduce diverse native plant species into your gardens, flowerbeds and along the edges of your yard. An excellent option for your lawn is a low-maintenance or “No Mow” grass seed mixture of fescues. These lawns are becoming very popular because they require very little watering or mowing once they are established. Beware, though, of generic native seed mixes – read the labels because there are often non-native and even invasive plant seeds in these mixes.

The larger the area you plant with native species the better, but the size of the area may not be as important as the number of different native plants you incorporate into your landscaping plan. Native plants accomplish many landscaping goals: they are beautiful, require little maintenance and watering once established, and they attract butterflies, birds, and other native wildlife.

If your property is located near a stream, shoreline or wetland – considered critical habitats for wildlife – it is especially important to incorporate native species. The water that moves through these areas transports invasive plant seeds and spreads them to other locations, thus compounding the problem. Invasive plants, introduced by humans, are able to take over the habitat of native plant species because they have fewer natural predators, allowing them to out-compete the native species for habitat.

Invasive species have become so common in many areas of the county that they are often mistakenly thought of as signature native wildflowers. For instance, local artwork depicts many abandoned farm fields in Door County with stone fences and waves of purple and white “flowers.” Ironically, the waves of purple are spotted knapweed and the white are Queen Anne’s Lace, both of which are ecologically invasive plant species that have taken over many open fields in the county. Several landowners around the county have waged war on these fields of invasive plants and have converted them to prairies. This conversion increases the beauty and wildlife habitat in these fields. While prairies are not native to Door County specifically, they are native to Wisconsin and are typically found in the southern part of the state. However, introducing species that are at least native to Wisconsin is an ecological improvement.

So, whether you are planting a new garden or flower bed, landscaping a resort, restoring a field full of invasive plant species with native plants, or simply doing your spring yard clean up consider how many living things are depending on you for survival.

Common Invasive Plants:

Fields: Spotted Knapweed, Japanese Knotweed

Forests: Garlic Mustard, Buckthorn

Wetlands/Shorelines: Phragmites, Reed Canary Grass

Common Door County Native Species:

Sunny Fields (Forbs/Flowers): Native yarrow, Butterfly weed, Drummond’s Aster, Frost Aster, Sand coreopsis, Early Sunflower, Wild Bergamot, Evening primrose, Smooth Penstemon, Yellow Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Hoary Vervain.

Grasses/sedges: Canada Wild Rye, June Grass, Side Oats Grama, Prairie Sedge.

Shady Woodland Edges (Forbs/Flowers): Purple Hyssop, Wild Columbine, Smooth Blue Aster, Bellflower, Woodland Sunflower, Early Sunflower, Wild Bergamot, Smooth Penstemon, Obedient Plant, ZigZag Goldenrod.

Grasses: Bottlebrush, Canada Wild Rye, Silky Wild Rye.

Moist Meadows, Lowlands, & Wetlands (Forbs/Flowers): Red Milkweed, Spotted joepye weed, Boneset, Sneezeweed, Great Blue Lobelia, Wild Bergamot, Yellow Coneflower, Ohio goldenrod, Purple Meadow Rue, Blue Vervain.

Grasses/sedges: Blue Joint Grass, Fringed Sedge, Bottlebrush Sedge.

Contact the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department, (920) 746-2214, for more information on native and nonnative, invasive plant species.