You’ve probably heard the buzz: that planting native plant gardens is the ‘thing to do’. And you’re probably wondering: “Aren’t they weeds? What difference does it make what I plant in my little garden?”
The short answers are “No. And a big difference.”
What is a Native Plant
Native plants occurred in the region before settlement by Europeans. They are uniquely adapted to the soil and climate of the area, and play an important role in plant and animal communities. Since they evolved here, they evolved hand-in-hand with insects, birds, butterflies, and wildlife. They evolved together — they co-evolved. They all depend on each other for survival. (We have another blog post that mentions the specific relationships between some pollinators and the spring ephemeral plants. Check it out here.)
What Does a Native Plant Garden Do For Your Landscape?
Native plant gardens provide important food and shelter for beneficial insects, songbirds and wildlife. Of particular concern are the many beneficial insects. They require native plants for their food and shelter. These insects pollinate our crops, feed the birds, and are essential to the ecosystem for all the services they provide, from decomposition to food for predators.
Habitat is food or shelter. And native plants provide both. Food in the form of berries, nectar and leaves. (Yes, let the insects chew the leaves). Habitat in the form of nesting sites, protection, and nesting material.
The vast majority of pollination is done by wild insects. Native insects rely on native plants for survival. Pollinating insects are essential to our own survival. One-third of all the food we eat has been created with the help of a pollinator.
Introduced plants, no matter how beautiful, are of little interest to native pollinators. If insects aren’t around to pollinate our crops, the task will fall to people. It’s already happening in China, where they have resorted to costly hand pollination for some fruit crops.
If the story of pollination doesn’t convince you that we need native plants, think back to the food chain we learned about in middle school biology. Remove the little critters at the bottom and watch the effects ripple up to the top. Then look around and see who’s at the top. (Hint — we are.)
Adapted to the Climate and Soils
Native plants were living here long before we arrived with our fertilizers and pruners. There are native plants adapted to thrive in any naturally occurring condition from wet, soggy clay to dry, gravelly soil, and from hot sun to full shade. If you choose the right plant for the right place, they will not require supplemental watering, fertilizer or pesticides once established.
Right plant, right place is the native plant ‘mantra’. All it means is that we should consider the soil type, water conditions, and sunlight before choosing a plant for a particular location. Once that’s done, the hard work is over! Plant it and enjoy.
A well-chosen assortment of natives plants requires no fertilizer. They are relatively disease free and once established, require no watering except in extreme drought.
Of course, sometimes its trial and error before finding the right plant. But there is no such thing as a green thumb, a black thumb, or anything in between. Right plant, Right place.
Native plants provide four seasons of visual pleasure in your landscape — flowers in the spring, berries in the summer, brilliant colors in the fall and interesting bark and twig patterns in the winter. The non-stop show of visiting butterflies, birds and beneficial insects is added entertainment.
Just Do It 🙂
With a little planning, a small plot of earth can play a big role in sustaining a healthy ecosystem. Native plantings will delight and entertain you. They provide visual evidence of their environmental benefit: birds eating berries and gathering nesting material, butterflies flitting from plant to plant sipping nectar, and insects nibbling on the leaves.
And there’s another other benefit of a native garden: No frantic worrying when you see insects, no more running for the spray. We need those insects a lot more than they need us, and sharing your garden with them is well worth your while.
If all this is too much of a science lesson for you, no worries. Enjoy all that a native garden has to offer and watch birds, butterflies and blooms unfold season by season. Add a native plant or two, and let the show begin.
To learn more, Check our our list of helpful links and some of the many great books about native plants and conservation landscaping. If you are ready to get started, check out this information on our plants and then head on over to the nursery. We’ll be happy to help you.