Native Plants Are for Everyone

Did you know that the Community Garden Coalition began in 1983 to help lower-income families in Boone County meet their nutritional needs? Since then we have expanded to include anyone who is interested in being part of a community garden. What better way to create friendships and understanding between people from different walks of life? 

After almost 40 years of working to improve the health of thousands of members of our community with healthy foods, exercise and a sense of belonging, we are expanding our efforts to improve our environment. Our gardens already benefit Columbia and the surrounding areas by reducing impervious surfaces, the use of pesticides and the carbon footprint of our gardeners. While the mere presence of a garden is a boon for many creatures (especially deer, woodchucks and rabbits) we are hoping to make many of our gardens a refuge for native pollinators by encouraging the addition of native plants.

Monarch Butterfly on Swamp/Marsh Milkweed Flower
Monarch Butterfly on Swamp/Marsh Milkweed

This will benefit not only pollinators such as bumblebees, honeybees and solitary bees, but the yield of many of your fruit and vegetable crops! Fruit plants that require pollinators include strawberry, peach, blackberry, raspberry, elderberry, pear, cherry, apple, apricot, persimmon and quince. Vegetables that require pollinators to produce fruit include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers (there are some self-pollinating varieties), summer and winter squash, okra and green beans. 

Pollinator photos in gallery, left to right: bumblebee on button bush, gray comma on slender mountain mint, zebra swallowtail on butterfly milkweed, monarch on meadow blazing star

If you decide to add native plants to your garden it will require a separate sunny space that some members of the garden are willing to tend in addition to their own veggie plots. Unfortunately native plants need weeding too–especially in the first year or two when they put the majority of their growth into deep roots rather than leaves and flowers. This means that if you’re interested in helping our pollinator friends you should pick your spot carefully as those deep roots make many species of native plants poor candidates for transplanting. The garden coalition is in the process of offering free native plants that some of our member gardens will plant this year. If you are part of a member garden and are interested in natives, please let us know.

For anyone in the community interested in adding native plants to your personal garden or yard, find more information with the following websites and videos:

Grow Native:
Native plant database  
Native landscape plans 
Pollinator card menu  
Butterflies and their host plants

Missouri Department of Conservation: Native plants

Nadia Navarette-Tindall, local native plant expert on KBIA’s Paul Pepper ShowPlanting Native Wildflowers
Ideas about Host Plants for Pollinators

Nadia also has a Facebook group, Native Plants and More, where she shares seasonal info on natives and answers questions.

Pipevine Swallowtail on Garden Phlox
Pipevine Swallowtail on Garden Phlox

Thanks to Lindsey Smith for contributing to this article!

Native Plants Can Help Your Garden Thrive

The Missouri Prairie Foundation and the Grow Native initiative have put together a fact sheet about the relationship between native plants, pollinators and fruit and vegetable production. See which native plants attract the pollinators your vegetables need.

Did you know? Native plants help fruits and vegetables thrive. (Handout from Missouri Prairie Foundation.

Perhaps there’s a corner of your garden plot, an area around the edges of the garden or a communal plot that could be home to some of these important native flowers. The CGC can help connect you and your community garden leader with a native plant consultant from the City of Columbia and our group may be able to offer some funding for native plant projects. Just get in touch with us at info@comogarden.org.