Create pockets of habitat with native plants

Plant sales, grants, and design support

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With native plants and bumblebees and monarchs all in a row?

Bumblebee on anise hyssop

According to the people who tabulate these sorts of things, Minnesota is home to 146 species of butterflies and more than 400 species of native bees. 320 species of birds use the St. Croix River Valley as a migratory corridor and 40% of the waterfowl in North America use the Mississippi River as a flyway. Minnesota is also home to 162 species of fish, 80 mammals, 29 reptiles, 14 frogs, and 8 types of slippery, slimy salamanders.

Do you see what I see?

Unfortunately, it not always easy being green, or furry, or covered in feathers and scales these days. As Minnesota’s human population continues to grow, much of what used to be natural habitat has given way to farm fields and residential neighborhoods. As a result, a wide variety of animals – from monarch butterflies to rusty-patched bumblebees, cerulean warblers, and spotted skunks – have become threatened or endangered species.

Happily, Minnesotans can help to restore habitat for wildlife by planting native flowers, shrubs and trees in our yards to create pocket oases and connected corridors near larger parks and natural areas.

For example, monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants. So, to bring all the monarch butterflies to your yard, be sure to plant marsh milkweed, butterfly milkweed, or common milkweed, as well as favorite nectar species like blazing star, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, and New England aster.

Monarch butterflies on rough blazing star in a raingarden in Cottage Grove. The garden helps to protect water and create valuable habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

For the rusty patched bumblebee, now our official Minnesota state bee, strive to include a mix of native plants that will bloom throughout the growing season, such as wild bergamot, Virginia bluebells, goldenrod, blazing star, giant hyssop, columbine, and asters. For ruby-throated hummingbirds, try scarlet bergamot, cardinal flower, and scarlet runner bean.

The rusty patched bumblebee is a federally listed endangered species, native to grasslands and tallgrass prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast. This one was found in a residential garden in Oakdale near a wetland. (Photo by Elizabeth Welty, Honey Bee Club of Stillwater)

Native plants also provide an important source of food for birds, but in a different way than you might expect. Nearly all songbirds rely on insects and spiders for food during spring, summer, and fall. Native plants, particularly shrubs and trees, that act as host species for native insects also act as living buffets for birds.  Two of the best trees for birds – bur oak and white oak – attract 518 species of larval insects and can feed dozens of different kinds of birds. Smaller trees like serviceberry, redosier dogwood and nannyberry host more than 100 species of larval insects and also produce berries for birds to eat. Even perennial wildflowers like aster, wild strawberry and goldenrod support nearly 100 species of larval insects each, in addition to attracting butterflies with their colorful blooms.

Oak savanna contains a mix of prairies growing amidst oaks, which provide food and habitat for native insects and birds.

Where to buy native plants

Finding native plants for your yard can take a little extra effort, but there are actually several local growers in the Twin Cities and Western Wisconsin. The Landscape Revival, an annual event sponsored by St. Paul Audubon Society and Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water, brings together eight native plant growers in one location. This year’s Landscape Revival plant sales will be held on:

  • June 5, 9am-1pm in Shoreview (Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, 3920 Victoria St N)
  • June 12, 9am-1pm in Oakdale (Oakdale City Hall, 1584 Hadley Ave N).

Resources + Design Support

Need help getting started? There are also resources available through the Washington Conservation District and Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water partnership:

Washington Conservation District ( free site visits & “Planting for Clean Water” downloadable print materials, videos, and presentations

Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water ( native plant selector tool, workshops, and guidance for pocket plantings, turf alternatives, and other native planting projects.

Andy Novak, Washington Conservation District, talks about potential planting projects at a Townhome Association in Woodbury. Site visits are free and typically last one hour.

Plant Grants

Watershed Management Organizations in Ramsey and Washington Counties offer plant grants and cost-share grants to help homeowners with native gardens, habitat restoration, raingarden, and shoreline planting projects. Learn more during a free site visit.

Brown’s Creek Watershed District

Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District

Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District

Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization

Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District

Rice Creek Watershed District

South Washington Watershed District

Valley Branch Watershed District