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the Hidden Benefits of Native Plants in Your Garden

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value of native plants

What are Native Plants?

When we refer to native plants, we’re talking about plant species that have their origins deeply rooted in a particular geographic region. These plants have not been introduced from other parts of the world; rather, they have been growing naturally and harmoniously within the local ecosystem for centuries. Let’s explore the benefits of native plants in your garden and landscape.

The remarkable thing about native plants is that they’ve been through an evolutionary journey, adapting themselves perfectly to the unique conditions of your local environment. Over countless generations, they’ve honed their abilities to not just survive, but to thrive in the specific climate, soil composition, and ecosystem dynamics of your region.

They’ve learned to make the most of the available rainfall patterns, temperature fluctuations, and soil types. This adaptation means they require minimal intervention from gardeners, making them exceptionally well-suited for your gardening endeavors.

Why Incorporate Native Plants in Your Garden?

Native plants have a built-in resilience that allows them to withstand local challenges, whether it’s droughts, pests, or diseases. Their presence in your garden and yard not only adds a touch of the local natural heritage but also contributes to a more sustainable, low-maintenance, and ecologically friendly landscaping effort.

Incorporating native plants into your garden is like inviting old friends who know the lay of the land better than anyone else. They bring with them a wealth of benefits, not only for your garden but for the broader ecosystem. As you embark on your journey to discover the benefits of native plants in the garden and in the landscape, you’ll find that your garden becomes a thriving, vibrant tapestry of local life.

Benefits of Native Plants in Your Landscape

Whether you have a vegetable garden or flower garden, or you are looking to landscape with more eco-friendly methods, the benefits of native plants work in all types of gardens. Adding some native plants here and there throughout your yard will bring several benefits to your ecosystem.

Environmental Benefits of native plants in your garden

Native plants are beneficial to your own ecosystem for several reasons:

1. Attracting wildlife with native plants in the garden

Native plants are like a gourmet feast for local wildlife. The benefit of native plants in the garden is not only for the garden, but for the beneficial insects and other wildlife of your area. These plants provide essential food sources, shelter, and breeding grounds for various species of insects, birds, and mammals. For instance, native wildflowers often produce nectar-rich blooms that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. Birds, in turn, feed on these insects. This creates a beautiful ecosystem, an interconnected web of life right in your garden.

2. Reducing the Need for Pesticides and Fertilizers

One of the remarkable attributes of native plants is their ability to defend themselves naturally against local pests and diseases. Over centuries of coexistence, native plants have developed mechanisms to ward off threats without human intervention. This means that when you plant native species in your garden, you’ll find yourself reaching for chemical pesticides far less often, if at all.

Furthermore, native plants have adapted to the local soil conditions, often requiring fewer synthetic fertilizers. They’ve learned to extract nutrients efficiently from the soil they’ve evolved with. This not only saves you money but also reduces the environmental impact associated with chemical fertilizers.

3. Conserving Water

One of the benefits of native plants in the garden is that they are experts at conserving water. They’ve evolved to thrive in the specific moisture levels of your region, which means they can endure periods of drought with minimal water requirements.

By planting native species, you’re contributing to water conservation efforts in your community. These plants are like water-wise gardeners themselves, as they use moisture efficiently. This not only eases the burden on your local water supply but also aligns with sustainable gardening practices.

In summary, native plants are not just garden decorations; they are ecological powerhouses. They enrich your garden with biodiversity, reduce your reliance on chemicals, and help conserve precious water resources. Embracing native plants in your landscaping is not only a choice for a beautiful garden but also a choice for a greener and more sustainable future.

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Aesthetic Benefit of native plants in your garden

Incorporating native plants into your garden isn’t just about ecological benefits; it’s about elevating the aesthetics of your outdoor space.

1. Enhancing the Beauty of Your Garden

Native plants have a unique and authentic beauty that can transform your garden into a visual masterpiece. They have evolved to thrive in your local environment, so they better withstand changes in weather or precipitation. During a period of drought, for example, natives still thrive and look beautiful while other introduced species might suffer and look a bit bedraggled.

When you incorporate native plants into your garden, you’re embracing the true essence of your locality. Planting a variety of native plants assures that something is always growing and blossoming during every season.

benefits of native plants in your garden

2. Adaptability to Various Landscape Styles

One of the most enjoyable benefits of native plants is their versatility. They’re not confined to one particular garden style. Whether you prefer a formal, manicured garden or a wild and naturalistic landscape, native plants can be tailored to suit your vision.

For formal gardens, native shrubs and trees can be pruned and shaped to maintain a neat and structured appearance. In contrast, for those who love a more relaxed and wild look, native meadow grasses and wildflowers can be left to sway gracefully in the breeze. You can also mix and match different native species to create a landscape that’s uniquely yours.

The adaptability of native plants makes them the ideal choice for gardeners with a wide range of tastes and styles. Whether you want to evoke a sense of serenity, create a vibrant pollinator paradise, or establish a landscape that’s low-maintenance yet stunning, native plants can be customized to fit your vision.

Getting Started with Native Plants

Researching Local Varieties

Choosing the right native plants for your garden starts with a crucial step—researching local varieties that are specifically native to your area. This means more than just plants that grow well in your zone. For us, this is the Mid-Atlantic region. This is not just a matter of preference; it’s a decision that can have a significant impact on the success and sustainability of your garden.

(Any specific plant suggestions in this article will be native to the Mid-Atlantic)

As we’ve previously stated, native plants have evolved to withstand the unique climate, soil conditions, and environmental challenges of your area. They are well-suited to the temperature fluctuations, rainfall patterns, and even the local pests and diseases common to your region. By selecting local varieties, you’re essentially partnering with nature, ensuring that your garden thrives in harmony with the ecosystem that surrounds it. But first…

The Important Difference Between Introduced Plants and Invasive Plants

It is important to note here, that this focus on planting native species doesn’t preclude planting non-native, or introduced species. There is a big difference between introduced plants and invasive plants. We often plant introduced species that are perfectly fine and don’t overstay their welcome.

Planting invasive species, on the other hand, can lead to ecological imbalances. These plants may not provide the same level of support for local wildlife, and they might even outcompete native species, disrupting the delicate ecological web. You can find a list of invasive species on your local extension service’s website. We have helpful information about invasive plants on the University of Maryland Extension website.

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Resources for Finding Native Plants

Identifying native species may seem like a daunting task, but there are valuable resources available to simplify this process. Your university extension service is a great place to start. Gardening centers, local botanical gardens, and online databases can be your best friends when it comes to identifying native plants.

  • Local Nurseries: Visit your local nurseries and garden centers. They often carry a selection of native plants suitable for your region. The knowledgeable staff understand the benefit of native plants and can guide you in selecting the right plants for your specific gardening goals.
  • Botanical Gardens: Nearby botanical gardens may showcase native plants suitable for your region. These gardens can serve as inspirational showcases for your own landscape. (For us in Maryland: the Ladew Topiary Gardens or the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens)
  • Online Databases: There are numerous online resources and databases dedicated to native plants. Websites like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Database.
  • Local Gardening Clubs: Joining a local gardening club or native plant society can connect you with experienced gardeners who have a wealth of knowledge about native plants in your area.
  • The USDA Plants Database provide comprehensive information and even allow you to search for native plants specific to your zip code.

Native Plant Landscaping Ideas and Tips

1. Layout and Arrangement

Designing your garden layout with the addition of native plants requires thoughtful planning to create a beautiful and ecologically balanced landscape. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Grouping by Habitat: Native plants often have specific habitat preferences, such as sunny, wet, or dry conditions. Group plants with similar needs together to mimic natural habitats in your garden. This way you’ll make sure to reap the benefits of native plants without extra care on your part.
  • Layering: Create visual interest by layering plants based on their height. Taller species at the back, medium-height plants in the middle, and shorter groundcovers in the front can provide depth and dimension to your garden.
  • Consider Bloom Times: Select native plants that bloom at different times of the year to ensure a continuous display of flowers and provide food for pollinators throughout the seasons.
  • Use Native Trees and Shrubs as Anchor Plants: Native trees and shrubs can serve as anchor plants around which you can design your garden. They provide structure and can serve as focal points.

2. Companion Planting Strategies:

benefits of native plants

Companion planting involves placing plant species together in a way that benefits one another, whether through pest control, improved pollination, or enhanced nutrient uptake. When incorporating native plants, consider these strategies:

  • Attract Beneficial Insects: Plant native flowers that attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and predatory wasps. These insects help control garden pests naturally.
  • Support Pollinators: Pair native wildflowers with shrubs or trees that provide nectar and pollen sources for pollinators like bees and butterflies. For instance, pairing Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) with native fruiting trees can be beneficial.
  • Enhance Soil Health: One of the benefits of native plants is the enrichment of soil health. Certain native plants have deep roots that help break up compacted soil and improve water infiltration. Consider planting them near shallow-rooted species to enhance overall soil health.

3. Seasonal Interest

Maintaining visual interest in your garden throughout the year is achievable with native plants. Here’s how:

  • Select Evergreen Species: Incorporate evergreen native shrubs or trees that provide year-round foliage and structure to your garden.
  • Include Winter Berries: Choose native species with berries or seed heads that persist into winter. These can provide food for birds and add a pop of color during the colder months.

To keep your garden vibrant and engaging, consider combining native plants with staggered blooming seasons:

  • Spring Delights: Pair spring-blooming ephemerals like Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) with early-blooming trees like Redbud (Cercis canadensis) for a spectacular spring display.
  • Summer Splendor: Combine native wildflowers like Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) with late-blooming perennials like Asters for a burst of color in summer and early fall.
  • Fall Foliage: Incorporate native trees and shrubs with brilliant fall foliage, such as Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) and Red Maple (Acer rubrum), to create a stunning autumn landscape.

By implementing these layout, arrangement, and seasonal interest strategies, your garden can showcase the beauty and ecological benefits of native plants throughout the year, creating a dynamic and inviting outdoor space.

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Planting and maintenance of Native Plants

Planting Techniques

One notable benefit of native plants in the garden is the ease of planting and care. Planting is a straightforward process, but proper techniques are still important for them to get established:

  • Choose the Right Location: Begin by selecting a suitable spot in your garden based on the specific requirements of the native plant species. Consider factors like sunlight, soil type, and moisture levels. Most native plants thrive in well-drained soil and prefer sunny or partially shaded locations.
  • Prepare the Soil: Before planting, prepare the soil by removing weeds and debris. Loosen the soil in the planting area to a depth of at least 12 inches to allow the roots to penetrate easily.
  • Plant at the Right Depth: Dig a hole slightly wider and no deeper than the plant’s root ball. The top of the root ball should sit level with the surrounding soil. Avoid planting too deeply, as this can lead to root suffocation.
  • Water Thoroughly: After planting, water the native plant thoroughly to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets around the roots. Provide enough water to keep the soil consistently moist, especially during the establishment period.
  • Mulch: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant, leaving a small space around the stem to prevent rot. Mulch helps conserve moisture, acts as organic weed suppression, and regulate soil temperature. Renew the mulch as it’s needed, and look out for compaction. Compacted mulch can prevent water and air from getting to the roots.

Ongoing Care

As a bit of a lazy gardener, I appreciate one of the benefits of native plants: they take less ongoing care. Even so, maintaining your native plant garden does involves care in the beginning:

  • Watering: Native plants are generally adapted to local moisture conditions, but newly planted plants may require watering until they establish their root systems. Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth.
  • Pruning: Pruning native plants is typically minimal, as they tend to maintain their natural shapes. Remove dead or damaged branches and spent flowers as needed. Avoid excessive pruning, as native plants often thrive with a more natural appearance.
  • Dealing with Common Issues: Native plants are generally less susceptible to pests and diseases than non-native species. However, keep an eye out for signs of aphids, powdery mildew, or leaf spot, and address them quickly with environmentally friendly remedies.

By following these planting and maintenance guidelines, you’ll ensure that your native plant garden thrives, supporting local wildlife and enhancing the beauty of your landscape. Native plants, once established, often require less maintenance than non-native species, making them an excellent choice for a sustainable and visually appealing garden.

A Native Plant Success Story

There is a great story about a couple in Columbia who challenged their Homeowners’ Association when the HOA sent them a nastygram in 2017 about the state of their yard. The couple understood the benefit of native plants in the garden, as well as the entire yard. They had been growing a variety of native plants for years. These natives grew from their front door to the sidewalk. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute, they decided to fight back.

After three years, they won with a request for some minor changes in their yard. The exciting thing to me is that, as a result of their victory, on April 6, 2021, the Maryland legislature unanimously passed House Bill 322, which compels HOAs and other organizations to allow “low-impact landscaping”. This includes environmentally friendly garden methods, like rain gardens, native plant gardens, pollinator gardens, and xeriscaping in subdivisions.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Maryland gardeners can let things run wild. You have to take care of your yard, but now you can do so in several eco-friendly ways with native plants.

Conclusion

If you’re on a journey of creating a thriving regenerative garden, whether flower garden, landscaping, or fruits and veggies, native plants are incredible allies. As we’ve explored the benefits of native plants in this guide, hopefully you’re convinced of the value of native plants in your garden or landscape.

In closing, your garden is more than a collection of plants; it’s an opportunity to create a healthier environment, a more beautiful landscape, and a greener world. As you nurture your garden and witness the magic of native plants unfold, remember that you are preserving the natural heritage of your region and supporting it’s native wildlife.

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