Want a lower-maintenance landscape in time for summer?

One option is to go native. Native plants thrive naturally, requiring less water, chemicals and all-around baby sitting than non-native plants. With sustainability on many minds, it's no mystery why native plants have become a hot garden trend in recent years.

"People are tired of mowing, or want to reconnect with nature," said Evanne Hunt, spokeswoman for the Prairie Enthusiasts.

You can learn what's involved at "Planning a Prairie," a Feb. 25 workshop sponsored by two local chapters of the nonprofit. "People have a lot of questions about where to start, whether they can do it themselves or need a contractor," she said.

The Prairie Enthusiasts have snagged some high-profile national experts for this event. Stephen Packard, a director of the National Audubon Society and author of the "Tall Grass Restoration Handbook," will be keynote speaker. Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home" and a guru of the habitat gardening movement, will be the after-dinner speaker.

Incorporating native plants doesn't have to mean a shaggy, overgrown landscape. "A lot of our members have native flowers in formal gardens," Hunt said.

The workshop is designed to "lead people through the process, so they can make intelligent decisions," said Hunt. Experts will lead discussions about site analysis, plant diversity and how to select plant species for your particular conditions. Homeowners who have turned their landscapes into prairies also will be on hand. "They'll talk about what went right, what went wrong and what they wish they'd done differently," she said.

"Planning a Prairie" is part of an all-day conference, with three different tracks planned to target everyone from beginners to experienced native-plant enthusiasts.

The Feb. 25 conference and workshops begin at 9 a.m. at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie (about 70 miles east of Minneapolis). The early-bird cost, if you register by Feb. 10, is $85, which includes lunch. After Feb. 10, the cost is $95. There is an additional $50 charge to attend the banquet and Tallamy's presentation. To register, visit www. theprairieenthusiasts.org.

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784