Plant Local For Wildlife Health

Plant Local is the mission statement in short of the Land Stewardship program at Adkins Arboretum near Ridgely, Maryland, whose goal is to enhance and restore the native plants of the Chesapeake region.

I was thrilled to be able to visit this arboretum this week and spend some time with Ellie Altman, the energetic director of this beautiful place.

Ellie Altman, Executive Director Adkins Arboretum

Plant Local

I just love how this sums up and encompasses such a critical goal.

In my interview with Ellie Altman, she explained that she had modeled this concept on the Eat Local, or locavore food movement. People understand the concept of eating local food for their own health, so it is easier for them to understand the same concept applied to ecosystem and wildlife health.

For wildlife and ecosystems to thrive they need local plants. This makes so much sense to me, and I applaud Ellie on her creativity!

The Plant Local Land Stewardship Program has seven principles

When each of us puts these principles into practice we are contributing greatly to the health of our ecosystems and by extension our own health. I’m going to expand on each of these principles below.

Use native and beneficial plants that are appropriate for site conditions

The best reasoning I’ve ever heard for the value of native plants in our landscapes comes from Doug Tallamy, author or Bringing Nature Home. I recorded a wonderful interview with Doug where he explains how native plants support local food webs.

You may also want to check out the How to Choose the Best Plants for your Ecosystem Garden resource page.

Institute a management plan for the removal of existing invasive plants and the prevention of future nonnative plant invasions

Invasive plants are aggressive, and soon create monocultures of plants that do not support wildlife, and in the process outcompete the locally native plants that do provide food for wildlife. While some birds may eat the berries of these plants, none of the rest of the food cycle is being provided for.

This topic is one that is causing great debate in the horticultural world right now, and you can see the various arguments in this post by Sue Reed “So Non-native Plants Are Good Now?” Make sure you read the comments.

Provide habitat for wildlife

This is the whole reason I even have a garden. In our constant quest for new development, new factory farms, and yet another Walmart, we have destroyed so much wildlife habitat, leaving our birds, butterflies, native bees, frogs, and other wildlife with virtually no place to go.

When we choose to create welcoming habitat for wildlife in our gardens and landscapes, we are making a difference for many different species of wildlife. And the great news is that you don’t have to redo your entire garden in one fell swoop.

If each of us did just one thing to help wildlife in our gardens, we would collectively be making a huge difference.

Promote healthy air quality and minimizes air pollution


When planning our gardens, we often don’t think of trees, but they are truly the powerhouses of the garden world. They clean our air, provide shade, stabilize our soils, and provide food and shelter for so many types of wildlife. They help us save energy. And they feed our souls.

The second really important way to improve air quality is to reduce the size of your lawn. Lawn mowers, blowers, clippers, and trimmers are responsible for much of the pollution in our atmosphere. These two stroke engines are notorious causes of air pollution.

I recommend that each of us reduce the size of our lawns by 10% every year.

Conserve water and promote healthy water quality

Water conservation also begins with the lawn. On the east coast 30% of fresh drinking water is used for irrigation. On the west coast this number rises to 50%. And lawns are our largest irrigated crop in this country.

The chemicals that are required to keep a three season (at least) lush green lawn run off into our waterways every time it rains, causing pollution and other damage along the way. There is a dead zone larger than the state of New Jersey at the mouth of the Mississippi River where no fish or other wildlife can live caused by this runoff.

Make sure you’re planting your plants in the right place. When you pay attention to the water needs of each plant you will be able to choose those plants that will do best in your garden without supplemental irrigation. Place those plants that require more water in the wet places in your garden. Or better yet, install a rain garden for these plants.

Promote healthy soils, composting plant waste on site, and amending disturbed soils to support native plant communities

Composting on site is one of the best gifts you can give your garden soil as well as protecting the environment around you. Listen to my interview with Chris McLaughlin, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting. We discuss composting and healthy soil, how to build a compost pile, and how she became an “Accidental Organic Gardener.”

Minimize the use of energy, chemical pesticides, and fertilizers

Sue Reed, author of Energy-Wise Landscape Design, talked with me at length about how to plan our gardens to save energy and the importance of energy conservation to human health as well as wildlife habitat.

Visit Adkins Arboretum

Next time you’re in the neighborhood, please take the opportunity to visit Adkins Arboretum and support them in their mission of preserving the native plants of this area. They have lots of different opportunities to learn. If you’re a birder make sure not to miss this beautiful place.

It was a very pleasant drive from my home in Philadelphia. And I’m always excited when I find others who are passionate about our native plants.

When you get there tell them Carole sent you, and give them a big hello from me and thanks for all their hard work!

Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.

© 2011 – 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    What a great program to promote…there is so much we can do…choosing one thing a year is a great way to start as you say Carole. I will consider all these great ideas as I plan for next year’s garden…
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Radiant

  2. Stephanie Simpson says

    Ive been a volunteer and master naturalist student at Atkins and it is so gratifying to hear that native plant lovers from outside the area are discovering it…Please come visit this treasure of a place…You wont be dissapointed at the marvelous work that is happening here……Thank you Carole, , for taking the time to visit here.


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