Native Landscaping in Michigan
Creating Your Own Wildlife Preserve
by Diane Andreassi
There’s a growing trend in using native plants in Michigan not only for their beauty, but for environmental reasons, too.
"The native landscape movement started in Wisconsin in the 1970’s and quickly spread to Northern Illinois and Indiana and is now gaining momentum across the country," explains John DeLisle, who with his wife Liz DeLisle, own Natural Community Services, LLC, an ecological services firm in West Bloomfield. They focus on native plant landscape designs, invasive species, erosion control, forestry and other services.
"Planting native trees," says DeLisle, "like oaks, hickories, maples, serviceberry, hackberry, bladdernut or flowering dogwoods are much better for the environment than using popular exotic invasive plants like buckthorn autumn olive, honeysuckle, black locust and Asian bittersweet."
"Butterfly gardens are another big part of native landscaping," he says, "and they are cropping up in backyards and at community gathering places across the state. In order to have the most butterflies, gardeners want host plants that caterpillars eat and nectar plants that feed adult butterflies. Butterflies like cone flowers, sunflowers, violets, asters, coreopsis, black-eyed susans, milkweed, dogwoods, willow and wild plum among other trees, shrubs and perennials."
"Native landscaping also focuses on promoting bee populations," Delisle says, "which pollinate fruit and vegetables. They are attracted by food garden borders of the same nectar flowers that attract butterflies. Pollinator seed mixes are also available and can be used easily on large plots."
According to Delisle, Bioswale, or rain gardens, are a great technique to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water and to provide drainage to absorb water.
"Gardeners," he says, "should avoid adding invasive plants to their landscapes, because they damage ecosystems. It is being emphasized and grants are available from the state of Michigan that help landowners control invasive species on their properties.”
Some of the most common invasive specifies found in residential areas are honeysuckle, buckthorn, burning bush callery pear, barberry, English ivy black locust and Norway maple.
"Traditional nurseries are being discouraged from producing invasive species," says Delisle, "but some are still sold."
Some native alternatives to replace invasive ornamentals include: Lobelia, iris, turtlehead, sedges, wild ginger, Canada anemone, willow, chokeberry, ninebark, sycamore for moist areas, wild strawberry, columbine, smooth aster, serviceberry, pasture rose, basswood, lupin, coreopsis, sunflowers, bluestem grasses, oak sedge, hazelnut, black oak and hickory.
"Choosing native plants," says DeLisle, "also helps sustain native animals, prevents stormwater pollution and flooding, conserves resources, saves money on water, gas and fertilizer, purifies the air and water and can improve the aesthetics of the area. Residential property can be like a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the United States.”
He adds that the costs of planting native landscaping are much cheaper, because of direct-from-grower sales, and the freedom from patent royalties.
"Cultivated flowers at garden centers are typically patented," he explains, "where royalties go to the original propagator. Michigan native plant producers, like Native Plant Nursery and Wildtype, sell direct.
"The trend toward using native plants is supported by municipalities across Michigan that are incorporating native landscaping on their properties," says DeLisle. "One hurdle, however, is that native landscaping goals sometimes conflict with existing nuisance laws. In ecosystems, animals favor native plant communities with layers of plants, but some communities still have height restrictions on landscapes."
DelLisle suggests that residents who plan to implement native landscaping in urban areas should check with their city planner, and involve close neighbors, because building shared interest helps grow the conservationist landscaping mind set.
"It's also recommended to include cues as needed along property lines, such as more formal borders with mulch or flagstone paths," he says, "to help encourage interest. To address these challenges, a new generation of landscape ordinances is being structured to overcome these regulatory hurdles."
The trend in using native plants continues to thrive and is promoted by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. Additionally, the North Oakland chapter of Wild Ones offers education programs and field trips.
“If our towns can be re-landscaped with meadows, prairies, thickets and forests," DeLisle says, "then water will sparkle, fish will be good to eat again, birds will sing and human spirits will soar."
Michigan State University Extension provides a myriad of ideas for native landscaping. For more information, visit: msue.anr.msu.edu/pages and search "native plants," or visit
For more information about the North Oakland chapter of Wild Ones visit NorthOakland.WildOnes.org.
Natural Community Services is located at 6410 Upper Straits Blvd., West Bloomfield, MI. For more information, contact John and Liz DeLisle at 248-672-7611 or visit their website at: NaturalCommunityServices.webs.com.
Diane Andreassi is a Michigan-based writer for Natural Awakenings.