Go with native plants
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.