Native trees and plants

By Kathi Mecham

Planting native species is gaining in popularity and I often receive questions inquiring about the best native trees to plant and what are the best native plants to encourage pollinators. While this is a broad topic, there are some general ways to get started.

“Right plant, right place,” is a phrase used in the horticulture world and is important when deciding what and where to plant. To help with this, look at the space you have, consider the needs of the tree and how the trees will be used. Will they be used as a windbreak, or for erosion control? Maybe ornamental beauty and shade are needed. Or the goal is providing food and cover for wildlife. Whatever the reason, there are some primary considerations.

1. Hardiness. The USDA Hardiness Zone map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The wrong location can cause damage, decline or death to trees or other plants. Use this map to determine the hardiness zone you are in.

2. Light. Trees vary in light preference. Knowing the light requirement makes a difference in the health of the plants.

3. Moisture. Plants also vary in moisture requirements. Some do not tolerate “wet feet” or too much soil moisture. Knowing what they prefer can save time, money, and the health of the tree.

4. Size and Habit. Depending on the size of the yard, you may choose a large native tree. These include the Tulip Poplar, (Liriodendron tulipifera), White Oak, (Quercus alba) Sycamore, (Quercus alba) or Sweetgum, (Liquidambar styraciflua). These trees need a large space to flourish and grow. They all come with pros and cons and should be researched to fit personal needs.

Smaller native trees to consider include, American hornbeam, (Carpinus caroliniana), Red Buckeye, (Aesculus pavia), or Flowering Dogwood, (Cornus florida). There are many other native trees to consider. They range from very large to medium to shrub-like.

5. Placement. Consider how large the tree and other plants will grow. Plant them away from home or building walls and away from doors and gutters. Give them the space they need to thrive.

6. Soil Test. Knowing the soil pH and if the soil needs any amendments is important. Some plants are particular and have certain requirements. It’s easier to amend the soil before planting than after. You can get information on soil testing from your local Extension office.

7. Planting. Many trees are best planted in fall but there are some species that do better when planted in the spring. Red maple, flowering dogwood, birch, and hawthorn are a few that are better planted in spring. Properly planting a tree is critical. The University of Missouri has publications that provide step by step directions on this topic and more.

This may seem like a lot of work but it’s worth it to have beautiful healthy trees. Planting a tree is a rewarding experience that can include the entire family. It is something to treasure and

enjoy for years to come. Taking the steps to make the experience and the tree successful is worth the time and energy.

Native trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and grasses are all used to encourage pollinators to the yard. Grow Native is the native plant marketing and education program of the Missouri Prairie Foundation. They offer top-10 lists for pollinators. This includes top ten native plants to support bees in spring, top ten native plants for butterflies and top ten native plants for winter pollinators and many other top ten plant lists. They also provide landscape designs of native plantings to help you get started with butterfly gardens, rain gardens, gardens to attract birds and several other pollinator garden design plans.

The University of Missouri Extension website has publications on the benefits of planting to encourage pollinators. Below I’ve listed several helpful links from the university and other resources.

Missouri has many beautiful native trees and plants to consider. They are unique and offer features that non-natives plants don’t. Planting native species helps to encourage pollinators but it also protects our woods and forests. Non-native species such as the Callery pear, (Pyrus calleryana) burning bush, (Euonymus alatus) bush honeysuckle, (Lonicera maackii) and wintercreeper, (Euonymus fortune) are aggressive and choke out native species leaving them struggling to survive. When aggressive non-native plants are used in the landscape, birds and wind disperse the seed and the non-natives can take over our beautiful dogwoods, redbuds and abundance of native wildflowers. Some plants also spread vegetatively making some species very hard to control.

Please contact me with questions about planting native species, identifying and removal practices for non-native species or any other horticulture topic. mechamk@missouri.edu or 660-542-1792.

Kathi Mecham, Field Specialist in Horticulture, MU Extension