She’s planted prairie dropseed grasses, grayheaded coneflower, prairie smoke, little bluestem, anise hyssop, alum, milkweed and other native plants to attract those species and to help the declining populations of honeybees and monarch butterflies get back on track.
An added plus: She seldom has to water, fertilize or prune — the plants are already adapted to the local soil and seasons.
The city of Burnsville wants to encourage more people to become native gardeners and is holding its first Native Plant Market on May 30. The sale will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot across from City Hall at 100 Civic Center Pkwy.
Numerous specialized vendors will be able to help customers select wildflowers, grasses, ferns and shrubs for areas where cultivated plants or even grass might not grow.
“Look! You can see all the birds in there,” Stevesand said while giving a tour of her gardens. There are serviceberry shrubs and elderberry — “The birds go crazy over this,” she said — plus Jacob’s ladder, red twig dogwood, and cup plants, whose leaves form cups the birds can drink from. There are pussytoes, a host plant for American lady butterflies, and pearly everlasting, attractive to the American lady and painted lady butterflies.
There’s a small bur oak, which supports 400 or more insects that the birds eat. There are native geraniums and lots of milkweed, the host and only source of food for Monarch butterflies. Next to the house, there’s native clematis, wolfberry (another butterfly host), bellwort and more.
Hummingbirds drink the nectar of the flowering plants, and the bees help pollinate.
In the areas where grass once burned to a crisp from the summer sun, Stevesand planted prairie gardens full of plants with deep root systems.
A close friend, Roberta Moore, turned Stevesand on to native plants in the mid-2000s.
“I was a birder,” Stevesand said. “She said if you want more birds in your yard, you have to plant native plants. Now I’m just a complete addict.”
The only tending Stevesand’s gardens need is “a little bit of weeding” and a little clean out — but not until at least the end of May. “You have larvae from butterflies, all kinds of awesome creatures that’ll go into the stems of plants. You don’t want to clean out the garden before those come out,” she said.
Last year, Stevesand said, she raised 174 Monarch butterflies indoors in cages to save them from predators like wasps. After watching the Monarchs lay eggs in the milkweed, she took them inside, where they grew into caterpillars, all the while eating more milkweed. When they became butterflies, she released them.
“I never would have done that if I hadn’t done native gardening,” she said.
Caleb Ashling, Burnsville’s natural resources technician, said native plants also help reduce groundwater runoff. And reducing the need for fertilizer helps reduce pollution, he said.
“It really makes sense for residents in this area to use native plants,” Ashling said. The sale Saturday will make it easier for people to get them, he said, and “If people can get them, they will use them.”
Native plants have been a priority for Burnsville “for a while now,” he said. But they can be difficult for people in the south metro area to find. Although the city has done a limited native plant sale alongside its annual tree sale, the Native Plant Market will provide a much wider variety and more knowledgeable vendors.
But don’t native plants look like weeds?
That sort of question raises a touch of ire from Stevesand.
“There’s so many beautiful choices that there’s no reason you can’t find a native to plant in whatever spot you want,” she said.