For years the mantra of many business people has been to “work smarter, not harder.” In recent years gardeners have taken up the cry of gardening smarter, or environmentally savvy gardening!

Gardening smarter was the siren call for those who attended the March 5 annual Smart Gardening conference in Grand Rapids, held in conjunction with the annual Home and Garden Show.

A stellar lineup of presenters included two keynote speakers:

  1. Ruth Rogers-Clausen of Easton, Maryland who talked about Smart Plants that Deer Don’t Eat. Rogers-Clausen is a horticulturist, author and lecturer.
  2. Jeff Epping of Olbrich Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is the Director of Horticulture. His talk was on Designing a Sustainable "Smart Garden

The program was opened by MSU Extension’s Duke Elsner who did a State of the Monarch Address – Conservation for a Favorite Butterfly. Elsner talked about the life cycle of a Monarch, reproduction and mortality factors, the annual migration cycle, threats to Monarchs and conservation of the species.

Key points included:

  • The natural larval mortality rates of the Monarch have been documented at over 90%.
  • Just a 0.5% survival rate to adulthood (assuming half are female) would produce a stable Monarch population.
  • Monarchs are more at risk due to migration, the habitat destruction in over-wintering sites and that their principle larval host plant is a significant weed in agricultural settings.

Our own Mary Wilson addressed the assembly on Native Plants with Bling! Her presentation proved that native plants are not dull and boring and have a real place in the landscape. Highlights of her talk included ideas for the landscape for small shrubs (3’ or less), small to medium shrubs (3-10’), large shrubs and small tress (10-30’), medium trees (30-60’) and large trees (60’ and above.)

For more ideas on native plants for your yard, click here. This site offers ideas for native plants in Southern Lower Michigan, Northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. More information can also be found on

MSU Extension’s Rebecca Finneran and Abi Saeed talked about Smart Plants for Pollinators! They addressed some of the concerns that many have about the bee population and listed a series of factors that are threats to bees including:

  • Parasitic mites
  • Stressful management (including moving bees between states)
  • Diseases
  • Habitat loss

They talked in detail about things smart gardeners can do to make their gardens great places for bees and provided several Smart Gardening articles on making gardens a place that bees will want to visit.

If you’re interested in native plants but weren’t able to attend the Smart Gardening conference there are lots of great resources online. Check out MSU’s native plants website. On that page you’ll also find links to articles on plant selection, pollinators, biological control, fen restoration, ecosystem services and resources.