Consider Native Plants
Whether you’re starting a new garden or adding to your established plantings, consider including native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers. Planting native species benefits your individual yard, neighborhood and greater region. Native varieties thrive because they have evolved in our climate, are accustomed to our temperatures, soils and rainfall levels. Once established, less water is needed which not only saves on water, but also on your water bill! Equally as important, native plant species have co-evolved with the native animals in our area. Native plants have the highest quality pollen, berries or seeds and provide the right insect host materials. You’ll find more butterflies and birds will come visiting as your native species grow!
An example of the importance of planting natives: A native oak tree is the single best tree that you can plant; some native oak species for our area include burr, white, swamp white, and pin oaks. Oak trees support over 600 different species of insects! Native maples also support over 400 species of insects and are another great native choice! The insects dependent on these trees go on to pollinate or feed up the food chain. Contrarily, ginkos are not native to North America and support zero insects. What does this mean? Why does this matter? Raising just one clutch of chickadees to adulthood requires 6,000-9,000 caterpillars. Without native trees and plants supporting native insect populations, then native wildlife such as the chickadees will have no food source. Native choices matter. (Doug Tallamy)
Nurseries have remarkably increased their offerings of native flowers and plants over the past several years. See our list of local nurseries.
Plant suggestions can be found in our sections on Butterfly Gardens or our plant list. A great online resource is the Native Plant Finder created by the National Wildlife Federation.
Creating a Butterfly & Pollinator Garden
One of the greatest things you can do is choose plants that benefit our pollinator friends, specifically insects such as butterflies and bees, as well as hummingbirds. The key for a successful pollinator garden is to utilize many native species of flowers, as not all flowers are created equal. Native flowers from our region have the highest desired nectar for our indigenous insect population. Hybrid flower varieties often have lesser quality nectar, as well as possible petal structures that inhibit insects from accessing the nectar.
Planting for pollinators involves planting nectar-rich flowers as well as host plants for insect (usually butterfly) larvae. It can be as simple as planting a pot with a few native selections, or as involved as planting native flowers throughout your yard! This doesn’t mean ripping out wonderful cultivars that are already established in your yard. Natives can integrate beautifully into existing gardens.
If you desire to plant for butterflies, milkweed is a must for Monarchs. For the yard, Swamp Milkweed (asclepias incarnata) and Butterfly Weed (a. tuberosa) are highly recommended rather than Common Milkweed (a. syriaca), which is a very aggressive spreader. Black Swallowtails are common residents which prefer parsley, dill, fennel and rue. Cone flower (echinacea purpurea) is one of the best nectar sources for butterflies. Once you've created your butterfly garden, visit MonarchWatch.org to register it as a Monarch Waystation! (Certain requirements need to be met.)
Planting gardens for bees simply requires a variety of nectar-rich flowers that span the seasons, from early spring when they wake up to late fall prior to winter. Early pollen sources are essential and include flowering bulbs in addition to native trees such as dogwoods, redbuds, serviceberries, witch hazel, and pussy willow. Good additions for late fall nectaring include black-eyed Susan, sedum and the aster family.
Hummingbird attraction requires much of the same, with emphasis on red, tubular flowers, such as Cardinal Flower (lobelia cardinalis), red petunias and bee balm. Salvias and butterfly bush (which is non-native) are also attractive to hummingbirds.
Establishing a Compost Bin
Composting is easy. Many people have a misconception that a compost pile smells bad. On the contrary, it smells great!
Compost Bin Location: It can be anywhere, but it's convenient to set the bin closer to the back door. That way it's accessible to dump kitchen waste all year around. Many make the mistake of putting it in far corners of the yard which is difficult to reach in inclement weather. Ideally, it should receive 4-6 hours of daily sun, but shade or sun can work, too.
Building a Compost Bin: Anything can be used that allows for air circulation. Homemade versions can work as well or better than commercial varieties. It can be made with 3 wooden pallets, or 4 metal poles that have hooks that hold green plastic snow fence. A three-side design is nice to hold your pile, leaving one open side for access. The bottom should be loosely dug dirt allowing earth worms access to the pile. You’ll also need a pitchfork.
Spring Start: In the spring, trim down all your perennials, then rake, or blow, the remaining fall leaves, to the center of your lawn. Mow over this many times. This is your compost starter! The first cut grass of the season is especially long and thick and can be composted (but after that you should leave the cut grass on your lawn). Turn the pile weekly with a pitchfork.
Adding to your compost:
Materials: Some grass clippings; weeds*; dead headed flowers; plant thinnings; fruit and veggie kitchen scraps; leaves; bush trimmings; small branches; paper; cardboard; soil from old pots; crushed egg shells; coffee grounds; dead house plants; nut shells.
Note: A diverse mixture is best to create rich compost.
Note: Meat cannot be added to a compost pile. Similarly, pet waste cannot be added.
*Weeds: Weeds that have gone to seed, or propagate by runners, should be added with caution. Similarly, plants with disease should not be added to compost piles.
Kitchen Scraps: Keep a plastic container in the freezer for kitchen scraps, adding to the pile when full. This helps to keep fruit flies away by not having the scraps on the counter.
Turning the pile: Keep a pitchfork in the pile and try to turn it weekly. Don’t fret if you can’t get to it. It will break down on its own eventually. Compost Helper can be bought at garden centers, which helps speed up the process.
Multiple Piles: It helps to have 2 piles: one from the previous year to use when planting in the spring, and one to be adding material to during the growing season.
Using the Compost: Shovel from the bottom of the pile to use for planting. It will be beautiful, dark, rich soil. You'll wonder why you didn't start a compost pile years ago!
More helpful information can be found at: www.howtocompost.org
Creating a Rain Garden
If you have an area in your yard that remains soggy after rains, a low spot that floods, or a downspout that ejects torrents of water, a rain garden might be a solution. If you have extensive flooding or water flow that needs to be slowed down, you may want to consult a landscape architect or rainwater expert.
Rain gardens are comprised of plants – typically but not necessarily natives – that have extensive root systems and a high tolerance for wet conditions. Some plants have roots that extend down almost 16 feet! Besides absorbing some of the excess
water, this deep root system opens the oft-compacted soil which allows water to filter down and away more efficiently. Rain gardens can be quite lovely, but plant choices need to be determined based on the area’s sun exposure.
Planting a water-loving tree or shrub is an alternate solution, but should be chosen carefully for appropriate tolerance of moisture and sun exposure.
Using Rain Barrels
Rain barrels are designed for catching rainwater from gutters, called rainwater harvesting. This water then can be used at a later date to water plants (inside and out), add to a pond during hot months, and even wash the car or windows. Setting up a rainbarrel system provides double benefits: (1) keeps rainwater out of the overtaxed rainwater sewer systems; and (2) uses less municipal water for gardens and landscaping. The village of Glenview has a rainbarrel program, which is not currently listed on their website; call the Village for more information.
A word of caution that water collected is not potable. Caution should be used if water is to be added to a pond with fish, and/or if used to water vegetables and other edibles.
Plants We Love
Local Places to Visit
The Grove, a National Historic Landmark - Glenview
Techny Basin – Glenview
Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie – Glenview
Wagner Farm Museum & Community Garden Plots - Glenview
Chicago Botanic Garden - Glencoe
Morton Arboretum - Lisle
Garfield Conservatory – Chicago
Lincoln Park Conservatory - Chicago
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum – Chicago
Middlefork Savannah Forest Preserve - Lake Forest
Elawa Farm – Lake Forest
Wilder Park Conservatory - Elmhurst
Friendship Park Conservatory - Des Plaines (managed by Mount Prospect Park District)
Oak Park Conservatory - Oak Park
Cantigny Park - Wheaton
Anderson Japanese Gardens - Rockford
Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden - Rockford
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens - Rockford
Books about Natives:
Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L. (2011). The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants. Ohio University Press.
Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L. (2017). Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees: Gardening Alternatives to Nonnative Species: An Illustrated Guide. Ohio University Press.
Information about Monarchs:
Xerces Society, The. (2021). 100 Plants to Feed the Monarch. Storey Publishing.
Hurwitz, Jane. (2018). Butterfly Gardening: The North American Butterfly Association Guide. Princeton University Press.
Doug Tallamy has written fascinating, understandable books that challenge us to think of restoring our lost habitat one yard at a time. Consider reading:
Tallamy, Douglas W. (2009). Bringing Nature Home. Timber Press.
Tallamy, Douglas W. (2020). Nature's Best Hope. Timber Press.
Tallamy, Douglas W. (2021). The Nature of Oaks. Timber Press.
Books & Website Resources
Local & Online Retailers
Chalet Nursery -Wilmette
Pesches Flowers - Des Plaines
Reds Garden Center -Northbrook
Lurvey Garden Center – Des Plaines
West End Garden Center – Evanston
Weiss Ace Hardware – Glenview
(Weiss Ace Annual plant sale: Mother's Day Weekend)
Leider Greenhouses and Garden Center – Buffalo Grove
Pasquesi Home and Gardens – Lake Bluff
Gethsemane Garden Center– Chicago
Al’s Autobody and Arboretum – Hostas beyond your imagination in Walworth, WI
Neighboring Garden Club Plant Sales:
Many neighboring garden clubs host sales. We are happy to post them on our calendar of events. Contact us with your garden club's information.
Online or Catalog:
Gardener’s Supply Company (online and catalog)