5 notes for using native plants in your gardens & landscaping

Support biodiversity and invite local fauna (like the Monarch butterfly) to your yard by using native plants.

Support biodiversity and invite local fauna (like the Monarch butterfly) to your yard by using native plants.

Listen, we all love tulips. But you can create problems when you fill your gardens and yards with non-native plants.

You:

  • decrease space for native plants.
  • drive out native animal species, especially pollinators like birds, bees, and butterflies.
  • make gardening harder by trying to grow a species that didn’t evolve to survive in our habitats.

(Besides, the deer are going to eat all your tulips anyhow.)

Master Gardener Kathy Terrell offered a different tact when she visited our library earlier this month.

Use native flowers, shrubs, and trees, she advised. Your gardening will become easier, your lawn will look more distinctive, and you’ll support local wildlife.

Here are five notes to help you get started:

1. Learn to appreciate the beauty of nature for what it is.

We’re accustomed to the cut grass and meticulously curated garden. But there’s also beauty in going au naturale.

After all, roses, daffodils, and hostas are all lovely. But so are the black-eyed susan, butterfly weed, coneflowers, bee balm, and Jupiter’s beard that grow naturally.

2. Let nature make your life easier.

Native plants are inherently easier to grow than alien species.

Why?

Because they spent millions of years adapting to our climate. Meanwhile, the tulips we import from Denmark are so much deer fodder.

You can save the time that you might spend mulching, fertilizing, irrigating, or weeding by going native.

3. You still need the right plant in the right spot.

That having been said, not all plants from Northeast Ohio will automatically blossom.

A smooth sumac is still going to want sun, a blackhaw viburnum will still need alkaline soil, and a scarlet oak still likes it dry. (Follow the link for more native plant preferences.)

You can try to force a bunch of square pegs into round holes, or you can pick your plants based upon the conditions that nature already gives you.

4. Native species support local wildlife.

Native, host plants like butterfly weed, dogwoods, tuliptrees, and milkweed provide sanctuaries to local pollinators like birds, butterflies, and insects. (And, frankly, our local pollinators could use the help.)

Meanwhile, invasive species can wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems.

5. Make sure to get your local plants legally.

The bad news: It’s illegal to take wildflowers from the wild.

The good news: Most local nurseries are well-stocked with native seeds. Also, Holden Arboretum has gaggles of native plants available during its annual sale.

Or you could check out our seed library.

If you want to know more about gardening with native plants, we (naturally) have some book recommendations:

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