There is balance in nature. From the decomposing materials to the roots of trees, the entire ecosystem speaks to each other in a perfect melody of support. This symbiotic relationship ensures all plants and animals receive what they need as they simultaneously give back to the environment. In essence, this is the reason native plants are so important.
What are native plants?
Native plants are those plants indigenous to a region. They are well accustomed to the climate, soil and water availability. They grow and die in conjunction with the weather and changing seasons. Native plants have grown in the same area for a very long time and are perfectly acclimated to the conditions. Inasmuch, it’s their home. It’s where they thrive.
Native plant health
Native plants are robust, thriving in their natural environment. Therefore, they are more resistant to disease, drought and even fire in some cases.
Enhance the soil
Native plants bring balance to the soil by only taking what they need and giving back when they decompose. Inasmuch, they contribute to soil health through nutrient release.
We’re all familiar with the reasons we need pollinators. Without them, we’d be missing one-third of our food supply! The more ways we can attract pollinators the better. You can support pollinators with bat, butterfly and bird houses and bee hives, and naturally occurring plants to entice pollination.
Reduced water requirements
Native plants require significantly less water than a plant that’s been relocated to a region where it’s non-native. It goes back to the natural state of the ecosystem providing native plants with what they need. Not only does this save you time and money, but plants that thrive without excess to water are a friend to the environment.
Lack of fertilizer and insecticides
Once you understand the relationship between native plants and their native environment, it’s easy to see why fertilizers and insecticides aren’t necessary. Obviously, it’s great for the environment to escape these toxins. It’s good for humans too. Coming full circle, planting native plants means keeping chemicals from polluting the air and water.
Less mowing and weed wacking
A well-manicured lawn is not native. So maintaining that lawn requires additives such as fertilizer. It also necessitates mowing and edging. If you use a gas-powered mower this adds fuel emissions to the air. Although native plants are clearly better for the environment, planting them means no more weekend mowing for you too.
Protect the wildlife
Native plants give as much as they take. Since they thrive in abundance, they make a great source of food for wildlife. Think about native berries for everything from bears to birds. Deer munch on leafy green plants and trees. In fact, animals all the way up the food chain benefit from strong native plants. In addition, native plants provide shelter for animals, just the way nature intended.
Finding and planting natives
Start by identifying plants that will grow well in your area. The United States Department of Agriculture created a map of hardiness zones to help with this process. Simply click here and find your location. All major plant and seed sellers will be able to supply a similar hardiness zone classification. For example, if you are a zone seven, you would not want to purchase plants best suited for zone four or it will be too hot for them and they are not likely to be successful.
Next, check your soil health. Even within the same general area, soils can contain significantly different amounts of lime or clay. Your local university extension office or garden club can help you find a lab to test your soil for pertinent components such as phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium. You can also pick up a do-it-yourself kit at the local home improvement store or garden center to test your own soil. Knowing the PH and texture of your soil will direct you towards plants that will succeed.
Location for planting
Plant placement is important. Even native plants have different requirements. Where one might thrive in the shade, it may be miserable and temperamental in the direct sun. Others will fail to thrive if planted on the dark north side of the house. Select plants carefully based on whether they are recommended for partial sun, full sun or full shade. Also, consider the elevation of your home.
Look to your local extension office for native plants. Many have annual sales where you can purchase anything from trees to seeds. The Audubon Society also provides a nice database to get you started. Although their focus is on plants that attract birds, these plants are chosen specifically for your area and should be found at the local nursery.
Additionally, look around the community. See what native plants are thriving and get some for yourself. The nurseries and even the garden section at your local home improvement store can provide a wealth of information. However, be informed about what you are looking for. Ask for recommendations for a native tree that loves to drink water for your soggy backyard or can tolerate direct sunlight and clay soil. Also ask about toxicity where dogs and kids are involved. Pay attention to the plant’s maximum size in order to avoid crowding in your flower beds and the need to transplant later.
With a plan and knowledge, you can create a backyard space that will provide endless pleasure for many seasons into the future. The key is to source native plants that can live a long and healthy existence while attracting the appropriate wildlife and minimizing required resources.
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