Tend your native plant garden as neatly, or as informally, as you like. Keep in mind, we’ve never yet heard a bird, bee or butterfly mutter “I wish they’d tidy up this place.” Many insects require leaf litter, birds nip seed from dried seed heads, and some butterfly life stages look like garden debris.
Tidying up is a balancing act between aesthetics and habitat. The first step in creating this balance ia allowing plants to re-seed throughout the bed. This creates a living tapestry and eliminates the need to mulch around every perennial.
The second step: give up control. The plants will tell you where they want to be. Say you pick a perfect spot for an aster in your garden. But, about a few feet to the left, there are micro-differences in the soil that create an even better spot. The seed will fall, germinate, and thrive in the best spot for the plant. The original plant may remain, or it may languish. No worries: they have it under control.
Each season plants will shift in response to the weather and soil. Follow their lead, tidy up after them as you need, fill gaps with new plants, and sit back and enjoy the show.
Here are 5 things you can do this spring to help make this happen:
- Trim perennials and gently rake out excess leaf litter in spring. If you see delicate seedlings popping their heads up, consider returning the blanket to them as they gradually end their long winter nap.
- Learn what the native seedlings look like so you don’t unwittingly weed them out. If you aren’t sure, let them be. Once they bloom, you will know what they are. Be sure to yank undesirables before they set seed.
- Do not over-apply mulch. The goal is to allow the plants to spread throughout the garden — mulch will inhibit this. A half inch or so to help preserve moisture and cool the roots of the plants is enough.
- Don’t use a pre-emergent herbicide (such as Preen) to keep weeds at bay – it will keep your native plants from spreading by seed.
- Let the plants tell you where they want to be. If you see a ‘hole’ in your garden, perhaps the plant you put there was not suited to the site. Replace with a different species.