We have finally made it through the dreary months of January and February and spring is right around the corner.  But this week’s forecast reminds us that we still have to suffer through the tail end of winter.  It might have been March when Tolstoy wrote:

Spring is the time of plans and projects.

As you are planning your landscape improvements this year, there are many compelling reasons for including native plants.

What is a native plant?

There are several definitions but a simple one is a plant which occurred within this region before settlement by Europeans.

This would include ferns, grasses, perennial and annual wildflowers, woody trees, shrubs, and vines that covered the landscape when the first settlers came. You may have some in your landscape already: garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), beebalm (Monarda didyma), New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). 

Why Use Native Plants?

Doug Tallamy says it very well:

“Use “pest free” plants, and our insects will disappear! But an insect that cannot eat part of a leaf cannot fulfill its role in the food web. We have planted Kousa dogwood, a species from China that supports no insect herbivores, instead of our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that supports 117 species of moths and butterflies alone. On hundreds of thousands of acres we have planted Asian goldenraintrees, ginkgos, burning bushes, barberries, autumn olives, privets, bush honeysuckles, Callery pears, Miscanthus, and dozens of other foreign ornamentals instead of our beautiful oaks, hickories, cherries, basswoods, elms, and others, and we have thereby lost the chance to support thousands of species of caterpillars, the most nutritious bird food available. “

Tallamy has written several books on the subject of native plants, biodiversity, and ecological relationships.  I urge you to visit  TALLAMY’S HUB — HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK for more in-depth information on these topics and to listen to some of his talks.

Benefits of Native Plants:

  • Low Maintenance
  • Beauty
  • Healthier Option – require little, if any fertilizer, or other chemicals
  • Climate Friendly
  • Conserve Water
  • Provide Habit and Food for Wildlife

Why Native Plants Matter | Audubon

Suggestions on how to incorporate native plants into your existing landscape:

  • Integrate them into your existing flower beds. A blending of natives and nonnatives is suitable for many sites.
  • Naturalize a large area such as a meadow or woodland with more aggressive natives such as sunflowers, asters, and black-eyed Susans.
  • Create a rain garden with natives; their root systems stabilize and hold the soil.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn by adding a bed of native plants.
  • Create a butterfly/pollinator garden.

Jodie Overmyer of the Marshall County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has compiled a list of native plants that are found in most garden centers and even some big box stores.  It’s called “Naturally Native” and you can download it here.  Marshall County SWCD is also having a native plant sale.  Click here for the order form.  Orders can be placed until March 31st.  Each kit contains 50 plants, and the cost is $150 so you may want to partner with a neighbor.

The bottom line is YOU can benefit birds, other wildlife and the environment by simply selecting native plants when planning your landscaping projects this spring.