Kentucky native plants are valued in the restoration of large natural areas, but many grow successfully in small backyards where they conserve water, attract wildlife and reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides.
“Some are truly great plants for Kentucky landscapes, but they can be hard for people to find because they’re not carried by large retail nurseries and garden centers,” said Winston “Win” Dunwell, professor of horticulture at the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center at Princeton, Ky.
“Some are easy to propagate, but others, the reason they’re not in the trade, is they are extremely difficult to propagate,” he said
Trillium, for instance, is challenging to grow from seed.
“The way to handle trillium is get a clump and divide it, like you would day lilies,” Dunwell said. “Plant those clumps; they thicken up, and then you’re on your way.”
At a lecture Thursday at UK’s Gluck Equine Research Center, Dunwell will talk about the selection and care of Kentucky native plants, and give tips on propagation.
“There are a lot of plants out there, not readily available in the trade, that homeowners can have in their landscape if they know how to propagate them,” he said.
Like all plants, natives need to sited properly for their particular needs when it comes to sun, shade and soil types. “Bald cypress and buttonbush, for instance, are capable of growing in water or dry upland soils. But they also do well in disturbed, difficult landscape soils,” Dunwell said. “Of course, rhododendrons and a few of the oaks have very specific soil preferences and may not be trouble-free in some Kentucky landscapes.”
Native plants are not always easy to find. The Kentucky Native Plant Society, on its website at Knps.org, lists nurseries in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio that specialize in native plants.
The Kentucky Division of Forests operates two seedling nurseries to provide free trees. One is at Gilbertsville in Marshall County, the other at Grassy Creek near West Liberty. These nurseries offer 51 species of hardwoods and conifers suitable for planting on crop or pasture land, developing a Christmas tree farm, enhancing wildlife habitat, improving urban areas and reclaiming surface mining sites.
Dunwell cautioned against collecting plants from along roads or in woodland areas. Instead, he recommended rescuing plants from land targeted to become construction sites.
Beverly Fortune is a former Herald-Leader reporter. Reach her at beverlyfortune123@gmail or (859) 948-7846.
If you go
Kentucky native plants: selection and care
When: 7 p.m., March 24
Where: UK Gluck Equine Research Center, 1400 Nicholasville Rd.
Cost: $5 for public; free for Friends of The Arboretum members, students with ID.