Back-to-School Challenge

Crowd-Sourcing Native Plant Ideas for School Landscape

By Michael Leach

Please put on your thinking caps. We’re looking for plants native to central Ohio that meet several requirements. The goal is a more environmentally friendly and educationally enhanced school landscape.  Yes, we have our native go-tos – I adore oaks, Deb loves royal catchfly, native ferns and spicebush, and Teresa is a fan of coneflowers and Joe Pye weed. But, for this project, we’d love to hear from you.

A new middle school is to be built near my home. Fortunately plans call for preserving a 200-year-old oak tree. Already there’s an orange, plastic mesh fence around this grand tree.

The schools superintendent is open to my making suggestions to the landscape planners for native Ohio plants that may be used on the site. We discussed the possibility of white pines to screen the football field and track. These trees have been used before on school sites. It’s a toehold.

For now there’s little chance of doing more than a few trees and perhaps some shrubs, the typical local school landscape. Low maintenance — primarily mowing — is preferred. So no pollinator strips, recreated prairies or woodland preserves need apply.

Plant parameters are:

Toughness — Have to tolerate full sun, wind, little care and Midwest extremes common in Central Ohio, Zone 6;

Coexistence — Must be able to handle competition from lawn and withstand mowers running over root zones;

Visual appeal — Seasonal interest, such as fall color, a plus, because people are using the school, but no  messy fruits;

Acquisition — Be readily available in 2-inch caliper plants;

Education — While school gardens offer diverse learning opportunities, these tend to flourish only with teachers who are also gardeners. No outdoor classroom is on the horizon at the moment. Ideally trees and shrubs should be those that: had/have a variety of uses for Native Americans and/or European settlers, support a range of wildlife, and have other qualities that make them resources for creative teachers.

Please send your suggestions and comments by August 20. 

3 responses to “Back-to-School Challenge

  1. Leland Cyprus grows fast, requires little care, and is beautiful. Relatively short lifetime (15-20 years is the only drawback, but in this application, may be an advantage age.

  2. Karen Middendorf

    I love redbud trees. I googled “did native Americans use redbud trees?” The bark was used medicinally. The wood was also used to make bows.

  3. Annabel Weidinger

    We recently visited Smith Cemetary. I loved the mix of grasses (bluestem, prairie cord grass and Indian grass) with coneflowers mixed in. Low maintenance, fits with the local theme, looks like it belongs.

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