Going Native in 2023

I’ve mentioned in prior issues that I plan to begin shifting our grass-filled yard to native plantings over the next few years. Already, plans are on my mental drawing board, though I don’t know exactly which plants I’ll choose for those first two sites, yet. But perhaps we should review what, exactly, “going native” in your yard means, and why it can be beneficial to you, your wallet, the wildlife in your area, and the environment overall.

Here’s one example. When the Hubenstein and I purchased our little house earlier this year, a dear friend gave us a pot full of Gerbera daisies, while my sister-in-law gave us a rosebush (I forget the variety). I planted all of them in the already established front flower bed, where they would get almost all-day sun. Great, right? Except that when it got really sweltering in the dead of summer, they wilted and stopped flowering. Once it got cooler, they thrived. And that first freeze? All of the daisies succumbed to the cold. None survived. The roses on the bush froze, but the plant itself seems to have made it through.

Gerbera daisies are native to South Africa, while only two varieties of rose, neither of which matched what Sissy gave us, are native to Virginia. If I’d planted Virginia native flowers and bushes there, they would have been fine, both in the hot and in the freeze. No need to dig out the old and replant with new. Plus? The daisies needed daily watering, sometimes twice a day. That’s a lot of water. If I’d planted native perennials, like butterfly weed, mistflowers, or coreopsis, they would have thrived in that same spot all year. As an added bonus, they would have drawn butterflies and birds, and served as food for caterpillars, thus helping to ensure next year’s crop of butterflies.But those are only a couple of reasons, based on my own experience. Let’s look at three multifaceted reasons to “go native.”

  1. Better for you.
    • Native plants are healthier, hardier. Since the local environmental conditions and seasons are bred into their makeup, native plants can better weather the extremes of heat and cold, as well as the average rainfall (or lack thereof) in your area. Once they’re established, you won’t need to water as often or go to great lengths to protect them like you would an introduced species. Like, say, Gerbera daisies.
    • They are more resistant to pests native to your region, so you won’t need to spend money on, or expose your family and pets to, pesticides.
    • Imagine spending fewer hours mowing your yard, and more time simply enjoying it! Native plants can do that for you, since they are much lower maintenance, and thus less costly than non-native grasses or introduced garden species. 
  2. Better for the local wildlife.
    • Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, as well as birds native to your area, prefer their usual menu. Not only that, but they also need it. With so many introduced species in so many neighborhood yards, they’re often facing food shortages.
    • Native species grown together are a part of—not apart from—the local ecosystem’s natural balance. Together, they provide a healthier, biodiverse ecosystem both above and below the soil, and support a greater, more diverse population of wildlife. 
    • Native gardens provide habitat for native insects which are the base of your local region’s wild food chain. They also produce nectar for indigenous butterflies and bees, seeds, leafy food for caterpillars (next year’s crop of butterflies and moths), shelter for small warm- and cold-blooded wildlife, and more. An abundance of food and shelter creates a more welcoming yard for wildlife. Imagine having a miniature nature preserve in your own back (or front) yard!
  3. Better for the local environment.
    • Native plantings can help prevent water runoff by absorbing rainfall better than introduced species, due in part to the fact that they are more resilient and accustomed to the temperature and precipitation extremes of your particular region.
    • Because you won’t need to mow as much, you add less pollution to the atmosphere.
    • Native plants can pull and store excess carbon, helping in small ways to reduce climate change.
    • Native trees can cool the air around them simply from the water they release into their surroundings. They also shade our homes and yards, cooling the temps and reducing our energy consumption from use of air conditioners.

Start small! Don’t try to replant your whole yard at once! Small steps are more manageable when first establishing the new ecosystems, making it easier on you to keep them healthy while they set their roots.

Don’t just plant one kind of flower, vine, or shrub, either; not only is that not as healthy for the ecosystem, but if any disease or pest does infiltrate your garden’s defenses, it can wipe out the whole garden. Instead, go for a variety of growing things that will support one another.Note that some native plants are “migrating,” as in moving north or south to cope with climbing temperatures and changing seasonal norms. Others are adapting, maybe even expanding their regions. Some experts recommend selecting plants that are from the mid to northern regions of their range; even plants native to your area, if you are in the southernmost reaches of their growth zone, may not thrive for long as our climate continues to warm. Do your homework when selecting which plants to use in your landscaping projects. 

Links for more information:

For Wildlife and Humans, Native Plants Are a Key to Climate Resilience,

Native Plants and Climate Change

Save Plants, Save the Planet, Save Ourselves

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