With spring in full swing and summer right around the corner, now is the perfect time to get out in your yard and get things growing! Whether you are an avid gardener or just developing your green thumb, starting your garden plans with native plants is a great way to save time, money and support your local ecosystem all at once.
Today’s garden centers offer the definition of variety. Plants of all shapes, sizes and origins are available to you to help you craft a stunning yard. Not every striking ornamental plant or lush ground cover is created equal, however. While many plants may have what it takes to survive in your yard, planting natives means that you are working with plants specifically evolved to the landscape and climate of your region, as well as having established relationships with local insects and animals -like pollinators- and even have a natural niche role alongside other plants.
A Natural Fit
Non-native plants come into your garden without the established roles and adaptations of native plants. This out-of-placeness can go in a few directions. Some non-native plants will struggle to survive in a climate outside of where they themselves are native to. Non-natives may not have plants, animals or insects nearby that are adept at meeting their needs, such as for pollination or pest control. While a non-native may come from a region where temperature and rainfall averages are similar, variations in microclimates and soil structure can cause them to struggle.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, non-natives can move into an area and if they adapt quickly to conditions they can become a destructive invasive. Thriving invasive non-natives succeed because they move into areas where they have no natural predators and can grow unchecked by other factors. Invasives can encroach on the territories of native plants and outcompete them for land and resources. The drop in wildflower populations is in large part due to the spread of non-native invasives that push out the native seasonal blooms.
Contrasting with these outcomes, native plants are adapted to be part of not just the climate zone you plant them in, but the ecosystem as well. Native plants mesh with other native species of the region to create a stronger ecosystem overall. Native plants will be recognized as a source of food and shelter for the birds, insects and other animals in your area, strengthening an overall diversity of wildlife and flora.
Attracting Native Pollinators
A key component in having the local fauna recognize what you plant is supporting pollinator populations. With changing climate, environmental depletion and the rising distribution of non-native plants, critical pollinator species are facing plummeting population numbers. Organic gardening with native species is part of a movement to strengthen pollinator networks.
Not just pollinators depend on the plants they recognize to sustain them. Monarch butterfly caterpillars are drawn to native milkweeds which have, over time, adapted to the caterpillar’s feeding needs. Without this special relationship, and access to their specially adapted food sources, populations like monarch butterflies drop significantly, unable to support themselves.
Easier On You
Native plants have an added benefit – their evolution into your local ecosystem means that they are resilient to peculiarities of weather, soil and rainfall making your job as a gardener easier. Native plants already have a role in their local ecosystem and can usually survive fluctuations, especially when they are planted in “guilds” with other native plants that support one another.
Native plants require less outside resources than many non-natives, subsisting on the natural rain and temperature patterns of the region. Saving you money on water and supplements to support their growth. They can be much easier to care for since they have a long history of growing within a region.
Gardening with native plants doesn’t mean missing out! Every bioregion and ecosystem contains a striking variety of plant life to grow from. Dramatic trees and shrubs that offer gorgeous fall colors, or a wide range of fruit and flower bearing plants can not only make your garden “pop”, they offer a deeper connection to your local surroundings and the larger systems of the Earth we are all part of.