Sunday, January 6, 2013

Using More Native Plants in the Landscape

I’m hoping that some of you reading this made a New Year’s resolution such as:

  • Support the birds more in your landscape
  • Support pollinators and attract butterflies
  • Use less fertilizers and pesticides in the garden
  • Enjoy natural areas like state and national parks

A cedar waxwing stopped by last year for berries and insects
All these things (and more!) can be yours when you incorporate more regionally appropriate native plants into your landscape. Here’s why:

As I discussed here several months ago, native birds are heavily reliant on insects which feed on native plants. They are also more attracted to and get more nutrition from native seeds and berries. Try as we might, bird feeders alone don’t come close to supporting a diverse bird population in your area. You might get more birds in number, but they will be the same species of birds over and over.

Include more native plants with an emphasis on being as regionally diverse as possible (having more plant species increases the insect population), and you will not only have more birds, you will actually be supporting different birds than if you didn't. 
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Supporting pollinators is an important task that is gaining more attention these days – especially after the collapse of honey bee hives. Fortunately most native bees don’t live in hives, but they can still be affected by our behavior and they certainly need our help in providing more habitat space and nectar rich native flowers to which they are most adapted. Previous blog posts of mine have covered an overview of native pollinators and some ideas on supporting them more.

How about using less fertilizer and pesticide in the garden? That is certainly a goal of mine – I frequently describe myself as both a cheap and lazy gardener! But there’s a more important point: overuse of fertilizers can lead to groundwater and stream contamination at the very least, and use of pesticides often kills beneficial bugs and can throw the predator/prey insect relationship out of balance resulting in overpopulation of some insects. The best thing you can do is to educate yourself about how chemicals affect the soil and then learn more about gardening organically.

Sourwood loves acidic conditions
Next you can realize that regional native plants are supremely adapted to native soils – including that “horrible” clay soil in the piedmont area or the frightfully well drained sandy soils in the coastal plain. I jest, of course, clay soil is not horrible and there are hundreds of plants that evolved to live with it. Amendments are not as recommended as they used to be, but using organic mulches (leaves, pine straw, pine bark, hardwood mulch, no dyed mulches, please!) will help the plants initially and over time by attracting soil organisms to the area. Even above ground insects and fungi play a role in helping your soil be the best it can be.

Also learn more about the pH content of your native soil and what native plants thrive in that pH; there is no sense in fighting against the natural processes. Acid-loving native plants are adapted to and thrive in soils with a pH level below 7. These same plants will struggle in alkaline soils with a pH level above 7. When in doubt, have your soil tested before launching into costly and potentially futile efforts to apply fertilizer as a fix.

Replicate concepts like Sedum ternatum in rock
Ok, how about that last resolution? Natural areas like state and national parks are beautiful and serene. Part of what makes them so is the natural look of the woodlands: tall trees form a canopy over smaller trees, shrubs, ferns, rocks, moss and leaf-lined paths. If you’d like to enjoy areas like that, plan to implement them on a smaller scale in your own landscape.

Take pictures of your favorite parks and pick out the elements that you can recreate, even if it is just a single vista. Here is an interesting post on doing just that (if you will kindly ignore the gardener’s use of invasive plants like mahonia and nandina!); her pictures are very inspirational. You can also look to books for inspiration and tips.

Good luck with your resolutions whatever they may be! And please do visit more local, state, and national parks ... they are our parks after all. Your visit will show that you value their existence, and money that you spend there will help support them.

1 comment:

  1. Well integrated post! Love your cedar waxwing shot--those yellow tail tips are awesomely buttery!