Soon it will be that time of year again when gardener types are looking through catalogs, dreaming about plants, maybe even sketching up a plan or talking to a garden designer. Web searches are made, books are read, and sometimes hands are wrung. For some people, the question comes up in their mind: “Should I be planting only native plants in my yard?” I would answer that question with a question to you: “What is your ultimate goal, and how much effort do you want to put in?”
There is a great post from Carole Brown over at Ecosystem Gardening that discusses the good, bad and ugly of native plants in the landscape. It makes me wonder when reading it why people are so biased against “natives”. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the Ecosystem Gardening before, spend some time reading the various posts – you’ll be amazed at the depth of information Carole provides to her readers.
What is a “native” versus “regionally appropriate”plant? And why should I choose one over the other? Which type is best? My firm belief is that they both have their place in our garden ecosystems. Why would I say that?
- Native plants provide for food, shelter, soil conditioning, breeding spaces and habitat for the insects, birds, and wildlife that are native to the gardener’s area.
- Native plants also typically make better use of the native soils, and use less resources to thrive.
- On the other hand, regionally appropriate plants may or may not be native but are known to do well with the growing conditions for the region in question.
- Regionally appropriate plants are many times easier to find and grow than natives.
- Both types provide pollinators with food, are typically not invasive, and give the gardener alternatives when it comes to choosing between having a lawn or providing a wildlife habitat. Sounds confusing doesn’t it? Let me give you some examples:
- Many flowering herbs such as lavender, rosemary and thyme are great examples of regionally appropriate plants for the SouthWest and West Coast. While they are not native to these areas, the regions of the world they come from have very similar growing conditions. These same plants are NOT regionally appropriate for the wetter areas of the country, as they would more prone to pests and diseases that thrive in humidity.
- Many native plants have very specific growing conditions which often times no longer exist in the gardener’s yard. In order to successfully grow the natives, the ecosystem must first be allowed to stabilize. Not all gardeners are so patient! Failures then lead to frustration, and natives are given a bad rap once again.
- Native Shrubs and Trees can mix very nicely with regionally appropriate plants, and can become the backbone of the native garden while the rest of the plantings are gradually replaced.
So while you are dreaming and designing your garden for next year, take some time to think about how you would like your garden to turn out, both for you and your wildlife garden visitors. It’s easy to create a place that works for all of you.
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