We asked landscaping professional, Laurel Voran, left, to share her insight to help make your spring planting choices carefree and fruitful. Voran, who has enjoyed gardening her entire life, has worked in the field professionally for 21 years. She worked at two public gardens near Philadelphia including Longwood Gardens, where she studied and graduated from their two-year professional gardener training program, and Chanticleer gardens as a section horticulturist for 13 years. She has seven years running her own local business after relocating to northern Michigan. Her business includes work in garden maintenance and design, and invasive species monitoring and control. Voran also especially enjoys working with and “saving” our endangered species, like the Michigan Monkey Flower. Although working primarily with private clients, Voran also does work at the Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park. She loves the artistic and creative nature of her environmentally-focused job that keeps her active outside. 

Here’s her advice for spring planting:

To develop a natural, northern feel to your property, start by working with what plants are already present. Edit out the non-native competitors, encouraging already present natives to multiply. If you can’t wait for them to multiply on their own, plant more of whatever is already naturally occurring. If there are non-native plants you feel you can’t live without, choose ones that are adaptable to our soils and conditions and that are “well behaved.” Remember, plants spread not just by roots or by flowers going to seed, but also by berries or other fruits eaten by birds, digested and then the seed eliminated elsewhere- perhaps quite far from the original plant. Also, seed pods hitch-hike to new places in animal fur – and on human feet!

Reconsider the urge to clean up every leaf. Look for areas where you can mulch-mow leaves in place before the perennials emerge. Or lightly rake only the largest wads off. Perhaps there are areas you can allow to return to woods – first step: just let the leaves accumulate. It’s free organic matter that feeds the soil, and ultimately the plants, and helps keep roots cool, retains moisture in the soil, and helps keep weeds down.

Keep the water clean! Plant species that will thrive without fertilizer. Choose plants with extensive roots that will help stabilize soil along the water’s edge. Create a “no mow” zone directly next to the water rather than mulched beds or mowed lawn to the water’s edge. This will help slow and filter run-off prior to entering the open water, as mulch in beds close to open water could wash in during storms.

Educate yourself on what plants are considered non-native invasives. Search your property for any existing populations and remove them, as they out-compete our native species critical for supporting our native critters. Be aware that non-native invasive plants are, unfortunately, still for sale. Educate yourself so as to not accidentally introduce invasives to your property by purchasing them at nurseries.

As for plants, here are some of Laurel’s top choices for varying sun/shade locations and moisture conditions.

Dry Sun: Coreopsis lanceolata (sand coreopsis); Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa); Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium);  Spotted beebalm ( Monarda punctata). These will attract many pollinators!

Wet sun: Brown Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoides); Marsh marigold, at right, (Caltha palustris); Sandbar willow (Salix exigua) and Pussy willow (Salix discolor), which have good roots for stabilizing soil. Can keep low by cutting to ground. Also, Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum).

Dry shade: Spring ephemerals: Trillium, (Trillium grandiflorum); Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria); Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica; Bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia); Big leaf aster (Eurybia macrophylla); Ivory sedge (Carex eburnea).

Wet shade: Purple Joe Pye Weed (Eupartorium purpureum); Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica); Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii); Winterberry (Ilex verticillata).