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  • These are five native plants you still can plant this summer

    If you thought you missed your window to add some native plants to your landscape this year, think again. We don’t typically think of summer as planting season, but it’s not too late to add some color to your yard with summer-blooming native plants. Native plants are a good choice for home landscapes because they require less maintenance and upkeep. They are well adapted to our climate and soil because they are meant to grow here. Native plants that bloom from late summer into fall can still be planted later in the growing season. Keep in mind, though, that the plants you add to your yard now might not bloom this year or even next. Native plants can take a few years to grow and become established, so it might take a year or two before the fruits of your labor this summer pay off with colorful displays in your yard. Once they do, though, they will be full of activity, providing food and shelter for all manner of insects plus some birds and other wildlife. The plants listed below and many more will be for sale at The Nature Foundation’s Summer Blooms Popup Native Plant Sale on Saturday, Aug. 3, and Sunday, Aug. 4, at Isle a la Cache , 501 E. Romeo Road in Romeoville. Asters Many people love asters because they provide a nice pop of purple or bluish-purple late in the growing season, when yellow can be the dominant color both in the prairies and in the forests as leaves begin to change color. These late-blooming plants are beneficial to pollinators too  because they provide an important food source late in the growing season. Good native aster species to grow in northern Illinois include aromatic aster, New England aster and smooth blue aster. All three bloom from late summer into fall, with some flowers even lingering into November. Aromatic aster and smooth aster both do well in sunny spots, but smooth aster can tolerate part shade. New England aster grows best in spots that get partial shade. Blazing stars Blazing stars, also called gayfeathers, produce spikes or stalks of feathery purple flowers, adding a different texture to your landscape. They can have a long bloom period, with flowers sometimes lasting from mid-summer into October. They will attract a variety of insects and are particularly of value to native bees as a food source. The blazing star family include 45 species, all native to North America. Some good choices for your yard include meadow blazing star, northern blazing star and prairie blazing star. All do best in sunny locales with well-drained soil. Prairie blazing star grows to be the tallest, sometimes reaching heights of up to 6 feet tall. Northern blazing star reaches heights of 5 feet, while northern blazing star typically tops out at 3 feet tall. Goldenrods Goldenrod is the quintessential late-blooming native plant, creating a palette of yellow in the prairies when late summer begins to give way to fall. Goldenrod produces a lot of pollen and nectar, which means it supports a lot of bees, beetles, butterflies, moths and more as the growing season begins to wind down and these food sources dwindle. Among the native goldenrod species to consider for your yard are Ohio goldenrod, showy goldenrod and zigzag goldenrod, all three of which produce clusters of small yellow flowers. Showy goldenrod can reach heights of 6 feet tall, while zigzag goldenrod typically grows to between 2 feet and 4 feet tall and Ohio goldenrod grows to about 3 feet tall. Ohio goldenrod and zigzag goldenrod prefer sunny spots but can tolerate partial shade. Showy goldenrod does best in a spot that gets partial shade. Joe-pye weed If you’re looking for a native plant to take up a lot of space in your yard, look no further than Joe-pye weed. These plants can grow to be more shrublike, reaching heights of up to 7 feet tall and 3 feet to 4 feet wide. They will typically bloom from July into September. Two Joe-pye weed species are good choice for northern Illinois: spotted Joe-pye weed and sweet Joe-pye weed. Plant them in a spot that gets full sun or part shade. They will grow best in moist soil. Spotted Joe-pye weed produces deep pink blooms, while the flowers of sweet Joe-pye weed are a much more pale pink, almost white in color. Milkweeds Milkweed gets a lot of buzz because it is the host plant for monarchs. The caterpillars only eat milkweed plants, and the butterflies only lay eggs on them. Simply put, without milkweed there would be no monarchs. This family of plants — which includes many species native to Illinois — will attract much more than just monarchs, though. Milkweed plants are often buzzing with insect activity, everything from bees to butterflies to beetles, including red milkweed beetles. Among the milkweed plants you can buy for planting this summer include butterfly milkweed, prairie milkweed, swamp milkweed and whorled milkweed. Butterfly milkweed is a bushy plant that produces clusters of bright orange flowers, while prairie milkweed and swamp milkweed produce pink or pinkish-purple bloom. Whorled milkweed produces smaller flower clusters than other milkweed plants, and its blooms are white. All these milkweeds prefer sunny spots, but swamp milkweed and whorled milkweed can tolerate some shade.

  • Oneok grant supports Teacher Appreciation program

    For a group of local teachers, the answer to the age-old question “What did you do on your summer vacation?” will include spend time relaxing at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon. The relaxation was part of the Forest Preserve’s Teacher Appreciation program, now in its fourth year. The program was supported by a $3,000 grant from Oneok, an energy company that operates natural gas pipelines in Will County. The daylong Teacher Appreciation program included outdoor yoga, kayaking and self-guided activities including a hike, crafts, games like "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" and an escape room. The grant from Oneok covered the cost of supplies, lunch and beverages as well as appreciation gifts for the educators who attended. “This is like the best day of the summer,” said Katey Perry, a staff member at Galloway Elementary School in Channahon, who attended with a group of coworkers. Perry and other Galloway teachers and staff said the program is a great way to spend time with coworkers away from the school environment. “ It’s nice to meet up with coworkers out of school and not talk about school,” said Danielle Feiner, another Galloway teacher who attended. The Teacher Appreciation program is also a way for teachers to learn more about what Four Rivers and the Forest Preserve have to offer by way of both educational opportunities and recreation and programming options for individuals and families. “Being here helps us see that we can definitely bring the kids,” said Christina Duris, who also works at Galloway Elementary School. “It helps us see all the different areas and how we would fit here on a field trip.” For Steve and Belinda Bair of Plainfield, the program gives them ideas for things to do as a family with their kids. It’s their third year attending, and they enjoy the opportunity to spend time together. “It’s everything we like,” said Steve Bair, an elementary school PE teacher in Bellwood. “I like being outside, she likes being outside. We both like the crafting. It’s just fun, especially since we’re married. It’s like a built-in date and teacher appreciation.” Belinda Bair, a high school English teacher in Oswego, said they appreciate that the program is offered at the beginning of summer, giving them a chance to decompress from the busy year. “It’s all planned, it’s all organized. You don’t have to think about it,” she said. And of course, local teachers deserve appreciation for the work they do, said Tara Neff, executive director of The Nature Foundation of Will County. “Teacher Appreciation is this really nice way to build relationships with the education system generally and all the teachers who come through there,” Neff said. “It’s a way to show our thanks.” The grant for the Teacher Appreciation program is not the first time Oneok has supported projects and initiatives at Four Rivers. In 2017, the Forest Preserve received $4,000 to create a Water Quality Lab field trip for students in grades 6 to 12, and Oneok has also provided additional financial support in subsequent years to enable the field trip to continue being offered.

  • Foundation earns Excellence in Interpretive Support award

    The Nature Foundation of Will County received the Excellence in Interpretive Support award from the National Association for Interpretation’s Heartland Region at an award ceremony this spring. The award is given to individuals and organizations that have “shown recognition of the value of interpretation through exceptional and sustained support.” The Nature Foundation was nominated for the award by the Forest Preserve’s Visitor Services department, including Visitor Services Director Lydia Pond, facility supervisor Jessica Prince and program coordinator Suzy Lyttle. As part of the nomination, Pond, Prince and Lyttle each submitted letters of support outlining the many ways in which the Nature Foundation has supported Visitor Services initiatives through its 10 years of existence. “The generosity and impact of The Nature Foundation of Will County on our programs cannot be understated,” Pond wrote in her nomination letter. “From helping fund STEM/STEAM interpretive supplies for each of our visitor centers to covering the costs of traveling exhibits that bring first-time visitors through our doors — no idea has been turned down by The Nature Foundation.” The Nature Foundation Executive Director Tara Neff said receiving the award from NAI, which outlines interpretation standards that the Forest Preserve aims to achieve, makes it more meaningful. “I feel like this is the pinnacle of our 10th year of operation, being recognized for all the hard work and development that went into the organization,” Neff said. Receiving the award is also recognition of the Foundation’s partners to support the work of the Forest Preserve, Neff added. “Long term, it shows an investment of our partners into our mission, which is to protect nature, inspire discovery and connect people and nature,” she said. Projects financially supported by the Nature Foundation that were cited in the letters of support from Prince and Lyttle include “The Buzz” nature television program; visitor center exhibitions; the Willy’s Wilderness nature website for kids; a field trip bus scholarship program; and programming equipment and materials. “The ultimate impact of The Nature Foundation of Will County’s support cannot be measured in contacts, dollars or visitor count,” Prince wrote in her nomination letter. “It is the intangible impact of interpretive programs that services that would be unrealized without their support.” Neff said she is pleased to see recognition for The Nature Foundation’s efforts to support Forest Preserve staff’s work to add value to what they offer the public. She said one of the goals of the Foundation is to make more things accessible to more people. “It is an investment in what they are trying to achieve, and that always feels really good,” she said. “The Foundation’s support is a way for them to capitalize on unexpected opportunities and enhance their offerings or bring an idea into fruition.” Pond said those opportunities to enhance offerings and bring ideas to fruition allow Visitors Services to add more value to their offerings than they otherwise would. “What The Nature Foundation does for us is it allows us to think beyond our budget,” Pond said. “We can do great things without them, but they allow us to do even more.”

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