In recent years, you’ve probably heard a lot about the push to “go native” in your garden. Native plants are becoming increasingly popular in home and commercial landscaping, as more and more people discover their beauty and benefits. For those new to the idea, or those who are always looking for more information, I’ve rounded up some facts and resources to help you get started.
Why Native? Everyone has different reasons for native gardening. (Get detailed info here). Here are my top three:
- It’s Easier:When I first started landscaping around my house, I had two goals: I wanted to attract wildlife, and I wanted things to be as easy as possible. I wanted time to enjoy my gardens instead of constantly worrying about fertilizing, pruning, mowing, and so on. That’s how I knew native plants were for me. Florida can be a tricky place to landscape, especially for gardeners from up north. Very few of the plants I knew and loved in Ohio would grow here successfully. So instead, I turned to natives – they were meant to grow here, and they do well with minimal effort from me.
- It’s Best for Wildlife: Native animals are drawn to native plants. After all, they’ve had relationships with these plants for thousands of years. These are plants they recognize and know how to use, and I find they often seek them out. For instance, Giant Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on members of the citrus family. Florida is full of citrus orchards, of course, but I’ve seen Giant Swallowtail butterflies ignore a non-native lemon tree to lay eggs on the native Wild Lime and Hercules Club trees nearby instead. Additionally, native plants generally require no fertilization or chemical treatments to thrive, which keeps pollutants that can harm animals out of the environment.
- It’s Fascinating and Fun: Imagine being a settler to the new world 400 years ago. Every plant and tree was new to you, all waiting to be discovered. The world of native gardening is still a lot like this today. Large garden centers all carry pretty much the same plants, but native garden nurseries are full of new gems to discover. Many native plants have been so disturbed or even eradicated from their natural sites that folks have forgotten about them. Native gardening is full of amazing discoveries.
Learning About Native Plants:Once you’ve decided to use native plants in your landscape, the next challenge is learning which plants truly are native, and which ones are best for you. Remember, the US is a big country, and what’s native to California may not be native to Massachusetts. Even within a smaller region, native plants like any other will require certain growing conditions. I’ve tried to grow Florida native blueberries in my yard more than once, and I’ve always failed, because the soil conditions simply aren’t right. A big part of native gardening can be summed up in the philosophy “Right Plant, Right Place”. Here are some native gardening educational resources:
- Native Plant Societies: Many states have societies dedicated to native plants, and they’ll happily provide you with lots of good information. Click here to find a native plant society near you.
- Books and Internet: The subject of native gardening is popular these days, and there are hundreds of books available. Click here for book recommendations by region. For internet users, start with your state’s native plant society page if possible – they’ll have plenty of good recommendations for websites.
- County Extension Offices: County extension offices are an excellent source of free material for native gardeners. Click here to find yours.
- Native Nurseries: Native plant nurseries are usually happy to help you get started with native gardening. Give them a call in advance to see if they can point you in the direction of local resources, or take time to chat with a nursery employee when you arrive.
Speaking of Native Nurseries: Finding native plants to use can sometimes be the most frustrating part of the process. If you’re well-educated, you can look for them at large garden centers (I use my smartphone to look up plants and find out if they’re native all the time), but it’s best to seek out native nurseries when you can. They can be difficult to locate, but click here for a great comprehensive listing by state to get you started. Native seeds can sometimes be easier to find – one of my favorite resources is Prairie Moon Nursery, which includes detailed information on the native range of each species they offer.
Have you “gone native”‘? Tell us why you love it, or offer tips to new native gardeners in the comments below!