PHOTO: Tom Schroeder, a master naturalist, collects seeds from native plants at Jerry Smith Park. Photo by Jill Draper

South Kansas Citian teaches others to garden naturally

By Jill Draper

South Kansas City resident Tom Schroeder will be one of more than two dozen national and local speakers at the inaugural Plan It Native Landscapes Conference on Sept. 18-20 at the Country Club Plaza’s Intercontinental Hotel. His talk, “Let Pollinators Help You Control Pests in the Garden,” will focus on creatures we can encourage in our yards to control unwanted bugs.

 For example, the larvae of hoverflies, which resemble small bees or wasps, can each eat up to 50 aphids at night. To attract the adults, try planting flowers and herbs such as spiderwort, oregano, alyssum, garlic chives, golden Alexander, black-eyed Susan, aster or goldenrod.

Schroeder is a Missouri master naturalist who volunteers as a seed collector with Bridging the Gap. He visits places like Jerry Smith Park on a weekly basis between August and November to bag native seedheads and pods, using GPS coordinates and searching for pink flagging tape to locate plants identified earlier during their blooming period.

 “You mark a lot and you come back to find a few,” he says. “It’s a tough world out here.”

 Recently he gathered purple milkweed pods (more rare than the common milkweed) and pale purple cone flower seeds. He’ll return later for blazing star, native rye grass and bluebell seeds.

 In January he’ll meet with some 50 other volunteers to sort, weigh and mix the seeds—140 pounds of them after cleaning—for use in replanting prairies, glades and other wildland sites in the area. Last year he says the group collected 223 different species of grasses, sedges and flowering plants with an estimated value of $100,650.

 After special blends of the seeds are mixed, volunteers plant them in designated areas, often right before a snow or on top of it. At other times, the seeds are raked and stomped into the ground. In large fields a combine is used.

 One place that has benefitted from seeding is the entrance triangle at Jerry Smith Park near the trailhead. “I’ve seen it go from basically a soccer field to this,” says Schroeder, as he stands waist-deep in native grasses and flowers. Unlike other parts of the park which are undisturbed remnant prairie, it was grazed and mowed for hay in the past. Now it supports a great mix of plants, butterflies and birds.

Schroeder, a retired psychotherapist, says anyone can be trained to be a seed collector. Email Linda@bridgingthegap.org for details. For information about the conference he’ll speak at, see planitnative.org.

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