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The Benefits of Gardening with Native Plants

gardening with native plants

Often when we think of the perfect garden we picture perfectly groomed and weeded beds of color coordinated flowers surrounded by mulch and strategically placed rocks and borders.

Many of us choose our plants based on what we think our gardens should look like after seeing the breathtaking photographs in gardening magazines and flower shows. There was a time when I thought the more exotic the plant the better (not that there are many “exotic species” that survive, let alone thrive, in our very short summer season.

I never even gave native plants a second thought. They were like weeds, just always there getting in the way. Then I started going on nature walks with my little girl and she would point out some of these “beautiful weeds” growing on the side of the road or in the woods. I realized that these weren’t all just “weeds” some of  them were actually just as lovely and sweet smelling as flowers I was spending a fortune on.

My new philosophy is, if it’s not tough to survive without any coddling then it doesn’t belong in my garden.

Gardening with native plants not only saves you a lot of work but it’s also much better for the environment. Here are a few good reasons to choose native plants over exotic mass-produced ones:

1. Pest Resistance
Native plants are much more resistant to pests. Do you know someone who grows hybrid roses or tropical imports? They are probably always fighting June beetles and other pests. Native plants, on the other hand, grow naturally in your area. If they grow there on their own, they have obviously learned how to survive the local pests. This resistance to pests also means you won’t be tempted to resort dangerous pesticides.

2. Heartiness
Non-native species often need babying. They have to be covered or sheltered if the temperature gets below a certain point, for example. Native plants, on the other hand, come from generations of survivors. They can be remarkably tenacious, needing little tending. They don’t even need much watering, except right after they are planted or transplanted. So native plants help you conserve water, too.

3. Suited to the Soil
Gardeners can spend a great deal of time, money, and effort changing their type of soil to one that is more suitable to the plants they choose. Sometimes all the existing soil is even dug up and replaced it with bagged soil. Changes are made regarding the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, and compost, sand, or whatever else is added to make the right environment for their plants. Then heavy applications of fertilizers are often necessary to sustain these foreign plants.
Native plants, on the other hand, have learned to adapt to the soil and will grow and thrive on it as it is. Gardening with native plants cuts back on a lot of this extra labor.

4. Fewer Chemicals
As noted above, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides (weed killers) are often necessary to maintain a non-native garden. But native plants are adapted to the soil and climate in your area, meaning they need a lot less chemical coddling. Therefore, gardening with native species of plants is less harmful to the environment.

5. Wildlife
Everything from bees to songbirds will benefit from native plantings. Songbird populations are dwindling in many areas. Native plants can help provide a sanctuary and food source for these important creatures.

6. Surrounding Ecosystems
Potentially invasive, foreign plants can “escape” the garden and have devastating effects on the surrounding ecosystem.  Native species are therefore crowded out, eliminating the food source of local wildlife and disrupting the delicate balance between plants and animals. If you plant a native species and it escapes, it will only improve things and add more of a good thing.

 

Here are some excellent resource books for gardening with native plants:

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

100 Easy-To-Grow Native Plants: For American Gardens in Temperate Zones

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