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Native Plants for a Healthy Yard…. and a Healthy World!

Are you envious of your neighbor’s lush green lawn and neat rows of boxwoods? Looks can be deceiving because all of that greenery supports no beneficial creatures and worse, the usual high chemical input and water use for its maintenance can often actually be harmful.

 

Are you envious of your neighbor’s lush green lawn and neat rows of boxwoods? Looks can be deceiving because all of that greenery supports no beneficial creatures and worse, the usual high chemical input and water use for its maintenance can often actually be harmful. Costs and regular maintenance of traditional manicured spaces also take their toll on our enjoyment of these seasons each year as well.

The simplest solution to this environmental problem is to plant the right plants in the right places, which means using natives in our landscape. Traditional yards attempt to create fairly uniform landscapes and plants are added to change a place. With natives, plants are selected to go with a place. What constitutes a native plant can be debated, but generally the definition is a plant that grew in the United States in free colonial days. More importantly, plants should be those that have grown and evolved in your immediate locale; i.e., plants native to Kansas or other distant locations are not native to our front yards.

Living things that were introduced here are called exotics or aliens. For the many plants and animals that depend on natives for the sustenance, they can be disastrous. Natives are the plants that have developed in place with all the other surrounding living things and have survived. They are well adapted to adverse conditions and usually need less water, fertilizer, and overall care which equates to lower costs in time and money for the home owner.

But the most important contribution of these plants is their support of beneficial insects and many forms of wildlife that contribute to human existence while creating a healthy ecosystem. Our gardens and farmlands are best pollinated by creatures that depend on native for their survival, and our water can be filtered when these flora are installed in rain gardens for storm water drainage. Native plants add beauty to our surroundings as well. Changing our values a bit and willingness to learn more about these amazing plants is all that is needed to create a huge change in our own carbon footprints.

Transitioning to natives is best approached by replacing lawn sections with ground covers and shrubs. Some options for ground covers might include Partridge berry, Blue-eyed grass or Winterberry. Choices for shrubs could be Virginia Sweet spire, Clethar or one the many viburnums. There literally are hundreds of possibilities to choose from.

Also, do be aware that “wildflowers” are not necessarily native to our area, but many are. It’s important to learn as much as possible about various plants and their needs. Before making any selections be sure to identify the correct soil, light and water requirements as well as other gross factors like plant height and color. Every site requires unique plants, but the fun lies in selecting them. Making the transition to natives now is a great way to make a positive contribution to our environment not only this spring, but far into the future.

To learn more about natives, many helpful books are available. Bring Nature Home by Doug Tallamy is a great way to begin learning about materials for our area. The Native Plant Society of New Jersey’s website NPSNJ.org also offers great information and even lists natives by county. Locally, consider joining the local Rancocas Nature Center chapter of this group. Meetings are held at the center, at 794 Rancocas Road, Westampton, New Jersey on the third Monday of most months, and educational presentations are the focus. Visit npsnj.org for more information.

Toni Price is a beekeeper, lavender and herb farmer, Master Gardener Educator, chapter leader for the NPSNJ, and co-chair of the Friends of Rancocas Nature Center.

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