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  • Valerie Just

Plant Native - Help the Pollinators


I went to the Des Moines and Garden Show this weekend. There was a new vendor - Freedom Creek Prairie. The owners, Rick & Julie Schafer are from Prescott, Iowa, and had a wonderful hand-out on planting native seeds. The following information is from their handout. To learn more about their conservation efforts, go to

Another resource to buy native seed is Allendan out of Winterset, Iowa. I have bought seed from them several times, and have been very happy with their products. They offer Iowa eco-system native seeds in some of the varieties.

Why Plant Native Flowers?

Our pollinators, butterflies, bees and a host of insects depend on natural nectar from flowers to survive. Due to many factors including loss of natural habitat, disturbance and the misuse of agricultural herbicides and chemicals, our pollinators are facing great dangers that threaten their very existence.

In addition to this, the garden centers are loaded with colorful plants that have been genetically altered, cultivated and hybridized. The genetic changes made to these plants have changed far more than the outward appearance. It has altered the nectar producing ability inside the flowers. They no longer provide the rich nectar found in natural plants. Many have little to no nectar or may be sterile and have no food value at all. In the effort to have compact, long blooming flowers with multiple color choices, we have reduced our gardens to a visual display that doesn’t provide a necessary food source to the visiting butterflies and bees. They come looking for it and appear to be working at it, but they do so for little reward. Native flowers have the nectar and pollen that will keep our butterflies, bees and all pollinators growing and sustaining.

Loss of our Prairie

Before human settlement, the flowers of the tallgrass prairie eco-system spanned from Canada on the north, to Texas on the south. As far west as Nebraska and east into Indiana. Iowa was at the heart of this lush prairie and it covered over 98% of the state. From the period of 1845 to 1900, when the settlers came, it all but disappeared. In the span of one human lifetime, what took nature over 8 million years to develop, was reduced to less than 4% overall and less than 1% in Iowa. The tiny little fragments that struggle to remain are called remnants.

Make a Difference – Plant Native!

But you can make a difference. You can make a difference in a rural setting; in an urban landscape setting. Plant native flower seed – and even better, focus on an Iowan eco-system seed. Patience is the key – think like nature when planting native seeds.

  • The mature plant flowers and blooms in the summer and early fall, then dries and develops a seed head.

  • The seeds have sun to dry them, wind to blow them around and winter months of freeze/thaw to seat them down to the soil below and break down the seed coat so they will germinate.

  • When the weather warms and seed reaches the right place in the soil, it will germinate and grow a seedling. They are not buried down in the soil, but rather just below the surface – no more than 1/8th inch.

  • Native seeds will focus energy into root development first. Often growing above ground only a few inches in the first year. They have survived adversity for centuries because they are deep rooted, some up to 12 feet. A few will bloom int eh first year of growing; others will begin blooming the second year.

  • By the second year, they will be blooming and continue to mature, ready to be enjoyed for many years to come by our bees, butterflies and all the important pollinators that depend on the food they provide.

Planting Instructions

  • Consider the location and site conditions. An established garden needs very little to get started – but a sod cover needs prepared before planting into it. No different than you would have to do for any new planting.

  • Keep in mind that if you are starting with a sod covered ground, it must be eliminated prior to planting. If you are planting into an existing garden bed that has weed barrier mat or mulch, be sure to make an opening in the mat and rake the mulch aside, so the seeds can reach the soil.

  • Recommend broadcast seeding into lightly worked soil. Toss the seeds over the surface of the soil lightly press them down and let the natural conditions of weather, rain snow and freeze/thaw, seat them down to the germination zone they prefer. Consider tossing your seeds onto fresh snow where the seeds will sink into the snow and be pulled down to the soil as it thaws – just like mother nature.

  • Most native seeds need cold stratification (winter) to break down the seed coat and stimulate them to germinate. If you don’t want to wait for winter to plant, you can look online for some methods to mimic this process in your freezer and refrigerator.

  • The seeds will germinate and grow when the soil reaches 70 degrees. Now you can begin to recognize the seedlings and remove any unwanted weeds. Refer to the resource from Grow Native for seedling identification:


  • Native gardening is no different than any other, weeds have to be dealt with no matter what kind of gardening you do. You just have to learn what the plant looks like so you can eliminate the weeds around it.

  • Patience! You will achieve personal connection that comes from saving a piece of natural history and appreciating the fascinating blooms on flowers that grew when the buffalo roamed free and prairie stretched as far as the eye could see.

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