Go with na­tive plants

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look.com

Some peo­ple are born with green thumbs. The rest of us have to work at it. How do you rate when it comes to nat­u­ral gar­den­ing abil­ity?

When I first be­gan to spruce up our yard and give some se­ri­ous gar­den­ing a try, I had plenty of ups and downs. There was a lot of trial and er­ror, from amend­ing the soil to meet­ing sun­light re­quire­ments, to wa­ter­ing not too much or not too lit­tle. But af­ter plenty of learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, gar­den­ing has be­come one of my fa­vorite pas­times of the warmer months.

Now that the grow­ing sea­son is upon us, many of us get the itch to bring out the old wheel­bar­row and trowel, put on gar­den­ing gloves and get dig­ging in the dirt. If you’ve been by any home im­prove­ment store or nurs­ery re­cently, surely you’ve no­ticed the park­ing lots are busy places th­ese days.

While you are out pe­rus­ing

your fa­vorite store for sup­plies, there’s noth­ing wrong with get­ting a couple of pots of wave petu­nias or one of those new eye-catch­ing hy­drangea va­ri­eties. They can quickly pro­vide a source of color and beauty to your yard. But this year, as you con­sider the plants that you might want to add to your land­scape, na­tive is a good way to go.

I’d never given na­tive plants too much thought, aside from plant­ing spe­cific peren­ni­als and shrubs to at­tract but­ter­flies to my yard such as milk­weed, yar­row and bee balm. I’d al­ways thought of na­tive plants as bor­ing and plain, the ones you tear out to make room for more flashy and col­or­ful kinds of plants.

Luck­ily, I had the chance to at­tend the La Plata Gar­den Club meet­ing ear­lier this month and hear Theresa Nelsen’s pre­sen­ta­tion “Plant This, Not That.” Nelsen has been a master gar­dener in Charles County for five years now and knows just about ev­ery­thing there is to know about suc­cess­ful gar­den­ing in South­ern Mary­land. And as a master gar­dener, she shares that ex­per­tise with the pub­lic so we can have suc­cess in the gar­den, too.

If you en­joy spend­ing time out­side your home and like to put­ter around in the gar­den, I imag­ine that you are se­ri­ous about at­tract­ing the ben­e­fi­cial bugs, birds, but­ter­flies and other pol­li­na­tors that live in

our re­gion to your yard. To do this well, you will need na­tive plants which pro­vide food and shel­ter for those crea­tures.

When you think about it, it just makes sense to plant na­tive species. The in­sects, birds and fauna of South­ern Mary­land have co-evolved with the na­tive plants and cre­ated a re­la­tion­ship that can’t be repli­cated with non-na­tive plants. The an­i­mals that live here de­pend on na­tive plants to com­plete their life cy­cle. With­out them, they can’t thrive or re­pro­duce as nature in­tended.

The length of a but­ter­fly’s tongue or the shape of a bird’s

beak have evolved over great lengths of time to be able to ef­fi­ciently get food from cer­tain plants. An­i­mals are de­pen­dent on the habi­tat that they hap­pen to find sur­round­ing them and can’t quickly adapt to new types of plants or food sources. Na­tive plants are the be­drock of the food chain that lo­cal crea­tures rely upon. If shop­ping malls and hous­ing de­vel­op­ments stamp out na­tive plants,

it’s up to home gar­den­ers to pro­vide those sources of sus­te­nance and shel­ter.

And, Nelsen points out, na­tive plants have the dis­tinct ad­van­tage of be­ing re­silient and hardy in our cli­mate and re­gion, so they re­quire less main­te­nance once they are well-es­tab­lished. That makes sense, too. Chances are you have lots of spots in your yard that would be just the per­fect lo­ca­tion for a na­tive plant.

Nelsen’s pre­sen­ta­tion proved the point that na­tive plants aren’t bor­ing.

The fra­grant smell of the blooms on a sum­mer­sweet ri­vals the sweet scent of any va­ri­ety of but­ter­fly bush and the spring­time blos­soms of a Wash­ing­ton hawthorn tree are as pretty as those of a Brad­ford pear. Oak­leaf hy­drangea, ser­vice­berry and sweet­bay mag­no­lia are far from drab and can re­ally light up any­one’s yard.

Now that you have an in­ter­est in plant­ing more na­tive va­ri­eties, your big­gest hur­dle is find­ing them for sale. You won’t find many at the big chain gar­den cen­ters.

But lo­cal, in­de­pen­dent nurs­eries of­ten have a good se­lec­tion, and bet­ter yet, they tend to have staff who are knowl­edge­able and help­ful. Lo­cal plants sales spon­sored by gar­den clubs can also be a good source for na­tive plants.

If you are on the look­out for na­tive plants, the Elms En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter, lo­cated just south of Patux­ent River, will host a plant sale from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 3. Plants are avail­able for a do­na­tion be­tween $3 to $10 each. There will

be ex­perts on hand to ex­plain why, when and how to land­scape with na­tive plants. And you can bring a sand­wich bag-sized sam­ple of your soil and have it tested for key nu­tri­ents.

The Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice has more in­for­ma­tion about na­tive plants and plenty of links to other re­sources on­line at http://ex­ten­sion.umd. edu/hgic/na­tive-plants.

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