Getting Started with Native Plants

Start with simple opportunities to add native plants to your gardens. 

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Areas of your gardens and landscape where seemingly good plant choices have failed to thrive is a great place to start adding native plants.  Shade, hot, dry, moist, clay, sandy, rocky, all can be difficult conditions.  Hybrids and cultivated plants often have difficulty with harsh growing environments, but you can always find a native plant that will thrive in extreme site and soil situations.

Your site and soil should be carefully evaluated before choosing a native plant.  Even a native plant only thrives in somewhat specific conditions within your region.  You will want to select a plant that is well suited to the specific planting site.  The health and vigor of the native will depend on how closely its preferences match your site.  Similar is often enough since natives are usually pretty adaptable.  For a more natural and interesting composition look for natives that naturally grow together to combine.

Introducing a native can sometimes present entirely different problems.  Where once nothing would grow, you may now have plants that are happily reproducing.  Just how aggressively a native may spread often depends on the specific conditions of your region.  A native may be considered very well behaved in one area but be an uncontrollable invasive in your area.  Be sure to research through your local  Extension Department.

If you are new to gardening, starting with a large property or just experimenting, using native plants can also be an inexpensive way to get started.  Many natives will start readily from seed which is a substantial savings over purchasing plants.  For those choices that do not start as readily from seed, once established one purchased plant will typically reproduce with runner shoots or self seeding.  In time a large area will be filled in or give you plants to move around the property.  At some point you will likely be thinning out new volunteers or donating to neighbors.

Speaking of reproducing, it is important to note that each reproduction of a plant may not be absolutely identical to its parent.  "Siblings" of a parent plant maybe be of slightly different height, slightly different coloring, slightly different shaping.  This is part of the beauty and interest of a natural landscape.  It is also part of natures way to allow the "strongest" to survive and thrive to perpetuate the species.

Remember too that natives are not limited to flowers and herbaceous plants.  Shrubs, trees and evergreens can also be selected that are native to your region.  They too will be healthy and easy care additions to your landscape and bones to your gardens.  And don't discount wildflowers that are not true natives.  If they have become a true wildflower, it is because they are well suited to your region or microclimate.

Your efforts to develop native gardens will produce so many benefits.  You will dramatically reduce and nearly eliminate the need for fertilizer, pest control and supplemental watering.  You will still have some maintenance of course, primarily in controlling spread by thinning or deadheading.  And of course there are so many benefits to the environment! 

Sharon Dwyer