President’s Note: Native Plants in Beds

native plants beds

I read an article recently entitled, “America’s love affair with the lawn is getting messy,” by Julia Rubin. It was interesting, and reminded of a comment made by one of my college professors years ago. I’m not going to say when, or what decade, but it was a long time ago.

He would volunteer to pick up foreign exchange students at the airport and take them to their host homes. He was a philosophy professor and studied in Europe, and understood how different it was to visit the United States. He said he would take them through our subdivisions and let them see the houses and lawns. They were shocked at how large our lawns were compared to what they were used to.

It made me realize the concept of a large unbroken lawn with grass was somehow a unique part of the American landscape. Think how much time and effort we invest in maintaining lawns. Mowing, irrigation, fertilizer, herbicide, and all to maintain a monoculture of grass in a large area. If you think about it, that’s not a very sustainable model.

The article pointed out that grass landscapes in some form will always be part of culture, but some individuals are breaking it up with beds for more shrubs, trees and flowers – especially native flowers to help pollinators.

Eliminating grass can lead to a reduction in irrigation, fertilizer, and herbicide usage, as well as less time spent mowing. I have seen western landscapes around homes just covered in small rock.

I worked to add beds to my landscape, and it’s nice, but trying to maintain a bed in eastern Oklahoma can be a challenge. The lawns are mostly bermudagrass, which grows up into the beds over time if you don’t maintain some sort of barrier or spray a grass-killer herbicide on the border.

I also don’t try to maintain a weed-free lawn. Clover, dandelions, and plantain don’t bother me. But if you have burweed or puncturevine, you can have a problem. With these two you don’t want to go barefoot in your lawn. They can also bother pets. However, I think if you have problems with these weeds it would be an incentive to decrease the lawn and add beds.

Adding beds to the landscape doesn’t eliminate yardwork, but it tends to focus the work on certain times of the year. Beds need maintenance. Annual plants are replaced yearly. Weeding, repairing irrigation systems, adding mulch in the spring, pruning and removing plants that have outgrown or are in decline are part of bed maintenance.

But in many ways, beds can be a nice way to add some variety to your landscape. I enjoy the variety of plants added when beds are part of the landscape.

The Kerr Center is currently renovating beds around the office and focusing on native plant landscaping. Once established, irrigation is not needed unless you have wetland or moisture-loving plants. It attracts pollinators and does well in Oklahoma ever changing weather.

Unless you hire someone or can design the landscape yourself, I recommend slowly adding beds and plants. This lets you watch the landscape evolve over time.

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