In the Garden | Try going native

In the Garden | Try going native

Native plants offer a whole suite of ecosystems services that are often taken for granted.

The faunal associations with our native flora run deep and, through this plant-animal connection, support the ecosystems of the natural world here in central Illinois. Planting native species, even on a small scale, can have a profound impact on the wildlife of Illinois if gardeners and landscapers start to adapt their designs to include more native plants.

For the past five years, the East Central Illinois Master Naturalists have hosted a native-plant sale to supply folks with high-quality native-plant material and spread the word about the need for you to "Go Native." This year's sale includes 12 species of native trees and 11 species of native shrubs.

These natives offer a wide variety of shapes and sizes, flowers, fruits and interesting bark. From smaller, understory trees that are more shade tolerant to majestic shade trees, there is truly something for everyone in this sale. The selection of native shrubs offers a great variety of beautiful flowering ones as well as many that will produce valuable berries for wildlife.

Each species on the list does have specific planting requirements, but there is likely a tree or shrub that will thrive in nearly all conditions. To see the 2018 plant list or place your order, please visit our online registration at

If you are interested in learning more about the individual needs of plants in the sale this year, I will be giving a presentation from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Champaign County Extension Office. My talk will discuss the importance of planting native species and proper planting techniques as well as care and maintenance needs after your tree or shrub is in the ground.

I plan to focus specifically on the list of plants in our sale and detail the individual needs and characteristics of each plant so you can select the perfect tree or shrub for your yard.

The presentation will last approximately one hour, with plenty of time for questions. This event is free and open to the public, but we do ask participants to register online at or by calling our office at 217-333-7672.

Since 2005, the East Central Illinois Master Naturalists have been contributing to stewardship and conservation projects throughout central Illinois. This group of over 230 dedicated volunteers has contributed more than 60,000 hours of service to central Illinois communities, valued at $1.3 million. Much like the native tree and shrub sale, many of the Master Naturalists activities are focused on ecological restoration and education.

Are you interested in joining this group of plant enthusiasts, birders, wildlife advocates and all-around conservationists? In the tradition of great naturalists and conservationists such as John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, you can have an impact on conservation at the local level that translates into our much larger, national tradition of environmental stewardship and preservation.

Anyone can become a Master Naturalist; it does not require years of experience or advanced degrees. Your journey begins with a 12-week course of classroom instruction and field study led by local experts. The University of Illinois Extension and our wonderful sponsors and partners offer this training course once a year in Champaign County.

The Master Naturalist course provides training in many different facets of the natural world, such as archaeology; environmental ethics; geology and soils; wildlife, prairie, forest, wetland and aquatic ecosystems; climatology; and many other concepts in central Illinois ecology.

The 2018 Master Naturalist course begins Aug. 14 with our annual pizza party, where new Master Naturalists get to meet our sponsors and partners to learn about the many projects Master Naturalists contribute to throughout the community. Current Master Naturalists will be in attendance as well, to welcome new members and discuss their experiences in our program. It is a fun night of socialization and learning to kick off the 2018 Master Naturalist course.

If you are interested in registering for the 2018 Master Naturalist class, please complete an online registration at or call the Champaign County University of Illinois Extension Office at 217-333-7672.

Ryan Pankau is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.

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