190303_HABITAT01

John Meland lives north of Milton and has spent the past 25 years growing native prairie plants on a half-acre of land in his backyard.

BELOIT

Believe it or not, the ground will thaw and greenery will emerge once again after one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent history.

The ground will likely be ready to plant in mid-May which gives home garden and landscaping enthusiasts time to choose what to plant this year.

If you ask members of the Rock County Conservationists, they’ll tell you planting native is the way to go.

The organization gave a backyard wildlife habitat presentation Saturday at the Welty Environmental Center in Beloit.

The guest speaker was Kim Johnsen, marketing director for the National Land Institute, a natural land conservation group based out of Rockford, Illinois.

The presentation gave gardeners tips on how to plant and maintain a backyard with flowers, grasses and shrubs native to the natural prairie landscape of southern Wisconsin.

Conservationists recommend a landscape with native plants because it is easier and cheaper to maintain than a normal yard; attracts pollinating insects and wildlife; creates a natural barrier for flooding; preserves water; and is aesthetically pleasing, Johnsen said.

John Meland, member of the Rock County Conservationists, has maintained a half-acre backyard prairie full of native plant life at his home on the north side of Milton for 25 years, he said.

It started because Meland had about an acre’s worth of land he did not want to mow or maintain, he said.

Starting a backyard prairie is time consuming and takes careful planning but once the prairie is grown, maintaining the land is significantly easier than maintaining a regular lawn, Meland said.

It took about five years for Meland’s prairie to be fully planted. He now saves time and money because the prairie does not need to be mowed and does not need to be watered very often, and the plants are perennial so there is no need to buy more plants or seeds over time, he said.

Invasive plant species such as garlic mustard, knapweed, European buckthorn and Canadian thistle can overrun native plant life. Those looking to maintain a prairie or garden should familiarize themselves with invasive species and remove them as often as possible, said Gary Hess, Rock County Conservationists member.

Meland and Hess recommend beginners start small and seek advice from members of groups such as the conservationists.

The organization hosts a plant sale each May—right as planting season begins—that offers only native plant life.

Development of buildings and roads prevents the state from ever being covered with natural prairie land again. But intermittent backyard prairies can make a huge difference in conserving the quality of land and wildlife in the region, Johnsen said.

Reporter - Milton, Edgerton, Albany, Brodhead, Evansville, Footville, Orfordville, health

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