WHAT ARE NATIVE PLANTS
Native Plants are the species that occur naturally in a given area. Native Plants include ferns, grasses, water and march plants, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, trees and vines. There are so many choices! Native wildflowers, flowering vines, shrubs, and trees offer a wide range of colors, textures and forms to create dynamic seasonal displays. Grasses and sedges have interesting flowers and seed heads and yellow-orange fall color. Shrubs and trees have fall color and berries that persist into the winter. Choosing a wide assortment of plants ensures seasonal interest, with the bonus of attracting colorful birds, butterflies and insects.
Native Plant Types
Planing a selection of flowering plants, grasses, trees and shrubs provide wildlife benefits throughout the seasons and will ensure year round habitat biodiversity. Multi-layered plantings will also add visual interest and beauty to your property throughout the year. In addition, once established, balanced native plant communities can better resist non-natives threatening to overtake wild habitat.
When possible, plan species grown straight from local seed sources. These native originals are the best choice, as they co-evolved with specific wildlife, which supports migration, breeding and other seasonal interdependence. Certain cultivators of native plants will offer some benefits to wildlife, like pollen and nectar, while others, cultivated for a unique color or larger bloom, may have eliminated elements originally beneficial to wildlife. Increasingly, the garden trade is bringing more species of natives into the market place and new research is being done on cultivators that preserve wildlife benefits. Never collect native plants from the wild as it will deplete natural ecosystems.
Non-Woody Flowering plants
Most native flowers are also known as herbaceous (or a non-woody stems) plants. Many are perennials (that come back each year) or biennials which self seed (to reappear every other year). This cost savings for gardeners is also a source of dependable food and cover for wildlife. May flowering plants provide seeds, nectar, and pollen and at times are also host plants for specific types of butterflies, moths and insects. Many insects can only feed on the native plants with which they have co-evolved. Monarch caterpillars, for example, can only feed on milkweed. If insects cannot survive, then all the wildlife that feeds on them will perish. This includes song birds, amphibians, and small mammals.
Many native flowers are also very fragrant, as their sweet scent is intended to attract pollinators to their nectar source. Adding them to your landscape isa benefit to wildlife and to the senses. Examples from various regions include Beebalm/Wild Bergamot (Mondarda fitulosa), Fragrant Phlox (Phlox pilosa) and Anise Hyssop, (Agastache foeniculum)
Grasses and Ground Cover
These plants assist in preventing ground erosion, providing cover and places for wildlife to raise their young. They are often drought tolerant, require minimal maintenance, and are usually pest and disease free.
Grasses are excellent garden bed background plants and can provide screening for privacy. In winter months they offer structure and form on an otherwise barren landscape. Grasses added Texture, motion and even sound in the breeze. Options in size and shape gives dimension to habitat gardens and a spectrum of color including soft greens, blues, reds and purples. Some examples include little bluestem (Schiazachyrium scoparium) and Idian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), wild sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and tall grass prairie switch grass (Panicum virgatum). Scome seed heads provide food for wildlife.
Groundcovers suppress weeds, retain moisture and also prevent erosion. Different types are suited to either shade or sun. They are idea cover for small mammals, insects and other wildlife that survive close to the ground.
Trees and Shrubs
They Serve wildlife year round. Many contribute pollen and nectar sources in the spring, then berry and go to seed in fall and winter. Not only an important food source, but they also provide nesting and resting places for birds and other wildlife. Common bird species that do not migrate, such as northern cardinals, woodpeckers and mockingbirds, depend on berrying shrubs in winter. Shrubs planted densely attract many more birds to a property like cardinals and thrushes seekign cover and nesting places.
Selected native trees and shrubs can visually anchor garden beds and serve as a focal point with color, form and function. Planting a selection of deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen trees creates a color palette bridging each season.
Trees benefit wildlife with acorns, other nuts, and berries. Pines provide roosting areas for larger birds, like wild turkeys and hardwood trees provide nesting holes for screech owls, flying squirrels, and wood ducks.
Bonus: These woody plants also absorb carbon and help reduce energy costs as they provide wind breakds in winter and shade in the summer. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a carefully positioned tree can saveup to 25% of a households energy consumption for heating and cooling.