Native plants always get a bad rap

For some reason, native plants can carry the stigma of being plain, boring, and hard to grow. This is far from the truth. In reality, using native plants in the landscape is simple, adds beauty, and benefits the environment.

Native plants are simply plants that have evolved to live in our region. These species have spent thousands of years adapting to the surrounding area. Because these plants are used to our climate and soils, native plants require less fertilizer, less water (once established), and less effort to control pests. Over time, this translates to less time spent tending to your landscaping and less maintenance costs.

In addition, natural landscapes contribute to the environment. Using less water, pesticide, and fertilizer helps improve the quality of our groundwater and our local streams and lakes. Reducing the amount of chemical fertilizer also improves soil quality, as chemical fertilizers decrease soil structure over time. Native plants also provide wildlife habitat by providing both shelter and food sources for native birds, butterflies, and mammals.

If you have never used native plants in the landscape, you may be surprised at how easy it is to incorporate the plants. You can start with a clean palette by removing all your current plants from the landscape and replacing them with natives but this approach is a lot of work and money.

A simpler way to use native plants is to start incorporating natives into your current landscape. Simply add them, like you would any exotic plant, to the garden. Consider tucking a lobelia or coneflower into your boarder garden. Overtime, the garden will have more and more native plants.

Local nurseries carry a large selection of native trees, shrubs, perennials, and ground covers. In addition, plants can be purchased from on-line sources. Or, if you are looking to save some money and have some time on your hand, you can simply grow your own from seed. Seed is available through many catalogs and on-line nurseries.

As you spend your winter evenings, curled up on the couch, with your favorite gardening books and catalogs, take the time to give the native plants a bit more consideration. You may be very pleased with what they add to your garden!

Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at a.lennox.barlow@gmail.com.

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