Resources for Gardeners

Interested in learning more about native plants? Here are a few resources to help you get started (and keep you going).

Facebook groups
Got a question? These folks have answers.

Native Plant Gardens in the Upper Midwest

Wild Ones Native Plants Group (members only)

North American Native Plant Society

Getting started

Gardening with Native Plants: A Guide for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is a super primer for anyone getting ready to take the plunge into native gardening, plus there are lots in tips for experienced gardeners as well. It’s written by Maria Janowiak, a Michigan State University Extension master gardener who just happens to be a member of the Keweenaw Wild Ones.

Rain gardens

How bad is runoff? Let me count the ways: it can rip out infrastructure, wash pollutants and (ahem) dog poop into lakes and streams, flood your basement, erode hillsides, and generally make a nasty, expensive mess of things. Rain gardens catch runoff in shallow basins, giving it a chance to sink back down into the earth before it can get into mischief. Native plants are perfect for rain gardens, because their deep root systems direct runoff where it belongs.

The Wisconsin DNR and University of Wisconsin Extension Service have produced a great booklet on building your own rain garden, which also includes some handy plant designs. It’s called “Rain Gardens: A How-to Manual for Homeowners.”

Plants for Stormwater Design: – Will the plant you want for your rain garden be suitable for your conditions? Find out!

Become a Master Rain Gardener! Washtenaw County Water Resources offers an online course, and by the time you’re done, you’ll have built your own rain garden—and qualify for a cool t-shirt.

Picking the right plant

Upper Peninsula Regional Plant List—Put together by the Michigan State Extension Service, this handy little list is a great place to start if you are wondering what native plants will work in your landscaping.

Audubon Native Plants Database—Type in your ZIP code and find the best native plants for birds in your area.

Native Plants of North America—Maintained by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas, Austin, the layman’s definitive guide to American wildflowers. Yes, it’s geared toward Texas, but them’s the breaks.

Missouri Botanical Garden—An awesome reference for all kinds of plants. If you are debating whether or not to grow a plant in your yard, this is a go-to, unbiased source of information.

Michigan Flora—Highly technical; a great tool for finding out if a plant is native in your area. Click on “Search” to figure out if a plant is native to your county or to search for plants native to your area.

Grow Native (Missouri Plant Foundation)—Lots of good information on midwestern natives, many of which grow in the Upper Great Lakes Region. There’s a neat section that offers native alternatives to nonnative plants.

Designing with Natives

Michigan Native Design for the Birds – from the Michigan Audubon Society, see the design for a shrub border with Upper Peninsula plants.

Wild Ones Garden Designs – The national Wild Ones organization partnered with landscape designers around the country to come up with usable design plans for many ecoregions. Check them out!

Battling the Invasives

Getting Rid of Buckthorn Tips

Goutweed, periwinkle, English ivy . . . Once you start gardening for life, you almost always have to contend with invasive exotics, which provide about as much ecosystem value as a parking lot. One of my favorite native plant gurus is Nancy Lawson, author of The Humane Gardener. In this blog, she outlines how she battles invasives with tough native spreaders. Be sure to check out the comments; somebody might just have the perfect solution to your problem.

Goutweed/Bishop’s Weed/Snow on the MountainThe Laidback Gardener recommends smothering for a full year, and even then, you have to be vigilant. Why can’t we just ban the sale of this miserable cancer of a plant??

Woody Invasives of the Great Lakes Cooperative—Lots of info on identifying and getting rid of woody invasives, plus some nice alternatives to plant in their stead.

KISMA—The Keweenaw Invasive Species Management Area spearheads invasive species management in our region and is a great resource for identifying the bad guys and offering native replacements.

On the waterfront

Natural Shoreline Landscapes on Michigan’s Inland Lakes: A Guidebook—The Michigan State Extension Service published this comprehensive guide for managing a waterfront property, and I would consult the whole 74 pages if I actually had waterfront property to manage. It gently guides the reader away from riprap and lawn-up-to-the-shoreline toward a native-plant buffer zone, which prevents erosion and (bonus) discourages geese.

Wisconsin Native Shoreline Planting Guide – Although focused on healthy lakes, the last resource has designs for six different purposes, only one of which is shoreline specific: lakeshore edge, bird/butterfly, bare soil, low growing, deer resistant, and woodland. Most of the six have regionally native plant lists for both dry-medium and moist-wet soils and include lists of woody plants, grasses & sedges, and wildflowers.

Shoreline Habitat Creation Manual: – This document from “Watersheds Canada” describes the many ways homeowners can protect shoreline habitat for birds, fish, amphibians, and mammals.

For the pollinators (and all their buggy kin)

Xerces Society—This invertebrate conservation group is an excellent source of information on saving “the little things that run the world.” Check out their publication on pollinator plants for the Great Lakes Region.

National Wildlife Federation Plant Finder—If you want to nurture wildlife and make the most of your limited space, this is the place. Search by ZIP code to find plants that host the highest numbers of butterflies and moths to feed birds and other wildlife where you live.

Pollinator Partnership—Dedicated to promoting “the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research.” Fine and dandy, but they also have super nifty booklets on how and what to plant for pollinators in your neck of the woods, wherever that might be. In our case, it’s the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. Who knew?

How to Protect and Increase Pollinators in Your Landscape—This Michigan State University Extension document is free, easy to understand, and comprehensive. Bee nice and check it out.

National Programs and Initiatives

Climate Victory Gardens—  “Climate Victory Gardens are inspired by the collective action of Americans taken during the WWI and WWII victory gardening movement, when 20 million gardeners produced 40% of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the country at the time. We’re bringing victory gardens back. This time, it’s for the climate.” It’s an effort similar to Homegrown National Park, but for food gardens that regenerate the soil.

Homegrown National Park – Doug Tallamy’s grassroots “call to action” to regenerate biodiversity.


Toxic Pesticides— published this review of a variety of pesticides with emphasis on their potential harm to human health.

Understanding Neonicotinoids—The Xerces Society reports on the extreme danger these pesticides pose to native bees, aquatic insects, and other beneficial species.