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Wednesday - September 02, 2009

From: Ellison Bay, WI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Septic Systems
Title: Native flowers for Door County, Wisconsin
Answered by: Janice Kvale

QUESTION:

We recently were required to put in a new septic system on our vacation property in Door County, WI. This left us with a clearing on our wooded lot where the septic field is now located. The installers said it was too late to plant wildflowers on this plot(weeds as he called them) so they planted grass seed instead. My question is, are there native varieties of wildflowers (such as Queen Anne's Lace, Wild Phlox or others) that could have been planted as late as July or could still be planted this coming Fall? If so I would welcome your suggestions. I am definitely not happy with the stringy unnatural-looking lawn I see emerging in the middle of our nicely wooded lot.

ANSWER:

Wasn't it Erma Bombeck who claimed that grass grows greener over the septic tank? Nevertheless, I wouldn't be happy with the grass you describe either. Flowers native to your area should grow well. They are adapted to the climate and require less maintenance that exotic species. You describe your site as "wooded", so I have assumed a dry, shady or part-shady location for the plants listed below.

The first thing to do before those roots get too deep is discourage the grass. You may or may not want to till the grass into the soil. Even if you till the area first, lay something over the area to block the sun. This can be thick layers of newspapers, purchased black plastic, or landscape cloth. You may want to secure the cover with rocks and leave it there all winter. However, if the seeded grass is native, it may co-exist well with native flowers as described in this article on Meadow Gardening. In northern climates, most seeds and plants are planted in the spring. I was able to note two possible exceptions.

Measure your space so you can plot out your flower garden based on the plants you select. One you suggested and among the earliest to bloom is Phlox pilosa (downy phlox). If you are able to locate them, root cuttings of this species may be started in the fall. On the heels of the phlox and lasting most of the summer is a favorite, Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine). Other native flowers appearing in April and lasting variable lengths of time are Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed) and Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower). Seeds for the coneflower might still be found on commercial seed racks and their instructions are to plant these seeds in the fall. Following in May are Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed), Lupinus perennis (sundial lupine), Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot), and Penstemon digitalis (talus slope penstemon). Summer bloomers include Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), Campanula rotundifolia (bluebell bellflower), Rudbeckia triloba (browneyed Susan), Lilium philadelphicum (wood lily), and Filipendula rubra (queen of the prairie). While a number of the above mentioned species carry on into the fall, the Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (aromatic aster) and Salvia azurea (azure blue sage) do not commence blooming until September and continue into November, depending on the weather.

Queen Anne's Lace or wild carrot (Daucus carota) has widely naturalized in the United States, but it is an European native; therefore it is not in our native plant database. While it is attractive and may be available, it is an invasive plant (Could we call it a weed?). For an amusing history of this plant, check out this blog.

I had such a good time browsing for plants for your site that I want to share with you how to do it. You probably will want to plant your selections in drifts of color and won't use all or possibly any of the above selections. There are so many, many more choices and you may find alternatives. So click on Plant Database and then Combination Search. You will select Wisconsin, herbs, and perennials. You can indicate whatever the light and soil requirements are for your site and click Search. Narrow your selections down by color and size as noted in the descriptions. Most of my suggestions are between 1 and 5 feet tall at maturity. Then you may need to find suppliers near you, and we have that on our site also.

What a great project! In a couple years when you have a gorgeous flower garden, take a picture and send it to Mr. Smarty Plants at the Wild Flower Center.


Phlox pilosa

Aquilegia canadensis

Coreopsis lanceolata

Echinacea purpurea

 


Rudbeckia triloba

Filipendula rubra

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

Asclepias tuberosa

Lupinus perennis

Monarda fistulosa

Penstemon digitalis

Asclepias incarnata

Campanula rotundifolia
 

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