While those of us in the industry know the true value of native plants, their appeal is very different from that of the shiny new annuals that get released each year. Now that encouraging sustainable landscaping is more critical than ever, we play an essential role in educating consumers on the benefits natives can offer their landscapes.
Here are a few common questions we hear in the fields, and some constructive and educational answers to offer in return.
Q: What are the benefits of using native plants in my landscape?
A: Native plants have been bred by nature, not by humans. This means that they have developed over millennia to withstand harsh weather, act as food sources for important wildlife, and support a healthy and sustainable ecosystem. They are low-maintenance, beautiful, and vitally important to our planet. Plus, they’re a living piece of our heritage!
Q: How are native perennials, shrubs, and trees different from exotic plant species?
A: Native plants are naturally-occurring plants in our region that have evolved as part of a complete, healthy ecosystem. The conditions in the region help to regulate the populations of these plants, and the plants themselves provide important resources that other plants and animal species in our region have come to rely on.
Exotic species, on the other hand, are native to other regions of the world. In those environments, these species play the same healthy, crucial role. However, when planted far away from their original environment, the local wildlife can’t identify these plants and very few can rely on them as a resource. The exotic plant, in effect, is unable to contribute meaningfully to local biodiversity. Plants like this often become invasive and leech away resources from the native flora and fauna.
Q: Do my hybrid annuals benefit the environment the same way native plants do?
A: Hybrid annuals are like living artwork; they’re beautiful, but they’re also human-made. While these plants aren’t necessarily harming your garden, they were not bred with environmental benefits in mind. Annuals are selectively bred for their appearance, but the process to develop a hybrid annual often means many of these plants don’t produce resources like seeds, pollen, or nectar that wildlife needs to survive.
Native plants, on the other hand, are just as vibrant and colorful, but they also offer natural benefits to your garden. For example, a honey bee will recognize a native Aster cultivar as a food source, but a hybrid Aster may not be recognizable or produce enough pollen to be beneficial to the bee.
Q: How should I care for my native plants?
A: One of the benefits of native plants is that they’re very independent! Native plants have adapted to our region over many, many years, and they’ve learned how to rely on the climate and weather patterns in our area. This also means you’ll save time and money on your water bill, as native plants typically don’t require much extra watering once they’re established!
Furthermore, because native plants have adapted to the local conditions, they’re self-regulating and don’t require the use of any chemical sprays or synthetic fertilizers. This leads to a healthier yard for your family and a healthier environment overall!
Q: What’s the best way to choose the right native plants?
A: A significant factor in choosing the right plants for your yard is the aspect of your property; essentially, which direction your yard faces and which areas receive more sun or shade as a result. Keep in mind whether the planting site is sunny, partially sunny, or shady. Once you’ve narrowed down the plants that are compatible with your planting site, choose a variety of species that offer different benefits to the yard. For instance, a combination of flowering perennials, native grasses, groundcover plants, fruit-bearing shrubs, and shade trees.
Q: What are some of the benefits of native plants for local wildlife?
A: Native plants provide all the fundamentals that our wildlife needs to survive. Birds, bugs, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians all rely directly or indirectly on plant-based food sources like pollen, nectar, berries, nuts, seeds, and foliage. Native plants also act as a shelter from harsh weather, nurseries for their babies, and nesting materials for their homes. In fact, some species depend on very specific native plants, like the Monarch butterfly, which relies on Milkweed as a host plant for its caterpillars.
Native plants also contribute to biodiversity below ground level; their deep, strong root systems pull water and nutrients from deep underground up to the surface, which is recycled on the top layers of the soil as the plant ages. These root systems, along with the plant’s natural life cycle, help to sustain healthy, biodiverse soil biomes, control soil erosion, and manage the flow of water through the ground, which benefits the surrounding plant species.
Q: Do native plants have other benefits for the environment?
A: Yes! Native plants, especially native trees, play an important role in regulating greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide. Native trees are very efficient at consuming gasses from vehicles and lawnmowers and exchanging them for fresh oxygen.
Knowledge is power, so give your customers the knowledge and power to change the world in their own backyards!