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How to Find Native Plants for Your Garden | Organic Gardening 365
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How to Find Native Plants for Your Garden

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The flowering dogwood is native to Connecticut and provides food and shelter for many birds and insects

The flowering dogwood is native to Connecticut and provides food and shelter for many birds and insects

Using plants that are native to your region is becoming more and more important to gardeners who are interested in the environmental impact of what they plant and how they grow things.

I’m talking perennial flowers, trees, shrubs, that sort of thing. I’ll talk about vegetables in a minute.

And I have a super easy way for you to find out what plants are native to your region. So keep reading.

In the past we usually didn’t think a thing about going to the nursery and buying something unusual or exotic looking. We wanted out yards to be unique and different from our neighbors’ yards. Naturally.

But as it turns out, it wasn’t natural after all. Developers would throw up a street full of carbon copy houses and then, surprise, surprise, give them all carbon copy landscape jobs. Quick and cheap but boring.

And as it turns out, it’s bad for the environment too.

Invasive plants are not your friend

Builders and landscapers would just buy truckloads of a few varieties of plants from some far away state for a good price and plant them indiscriminately, with no awareness whatsoever of the environmental impact.

I have a friend in the town next to me who spends hours every week during the summer pulling up seedlings of Barberry bushes in the woods behind her house. The landscapers love them because they grow well, add color and texture to the landscape and the bonus: beautiful red berries. Very ornamental–the house owner’s dream!

Well, not quite.

Those berries just happen to be a delicious little treat to the birds, and their droppings spread the seeds in the woods. What started out as a beautiful landscaping plant has become a very aggressive, invasive plant here in Connecticut, as well as in other states as well.

So what is the solution?

Native plants are your friend

Use plant species native to your region. It’s that simple. Those builders should be landscaping with native plants too.

Now just for the record, I am talking about flowers and landscaping plants like trees, shrubs, etc. Most of the things you grow in your vegetable garden are probably not native to your area. But it doesn’t hurt to read in the seed catalogs about which varieties do best in your area. If you do not start your own seeds, then you should try to buy from a local grower who raises his own seedlings and transplants. Don’t buy them from a big box store where they may have been shipped halfway across the country. Buying locally grown plants is usually a good idea.

There are several crucial reasons why you should use native plants in your garden:

  1. Native species provide habitat and a food source for native animals: birds, mammals, insects, etc. Non-native species do not offer this benefit because the local animals have not evolved to eat or cohabit with them.
  2. When native species are well established, it helps prevent invasive species from becoming as big of a problem.
  3. Native plants are adapted to the geography and climate. They will need less maintenance, fertilizer and water.
  4. Native species are less susceptible to pests and disease.
  5. Native plants help fill out the natural circle in the ecological biome of your area. This creates a healthier environment where all species thrive together.

I have a friend here in town who planted a red oak in her yard because it hosts hundreds of different animals, from the microbes and bugs in the soil, to being a habitat for many species of birds and insects and then of course the acorns that provide food for wild turkeys, deer and many others.

Finding native plants

So the question is, “How do I find native species for my area? How do I even know what they are?”

Well, I thought you’d never ask.

I came upon this wonderful resource provided by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. You may remember Lady Bird as a big proponent of wildflowers and the maintaining the natural beauty of America while she was First Lady and for the rest of her life. I am originally from Texas and I have always had a deep appreciation for this visionary woman.

You should definitely check out the website for the Wildflower Center. There is an abundance of very helpful information. But what I want to call your attention to specifically is a map which will show you the plants which are native to your region. Here’s a picture of what it looks like:

Map of native plants

When you click on your area, this is the sort of thing you’ll see:

Native species in CT

Then click on the Latin name of a plant and you’ll get all the details you need to know about growing that particular plant. By the way, the lists are extensive and include much more that just flowers, but also trees and shrubs. This is what you see if you click on Achillea millefolium (common yarrow):

Achillea millefollium

This is an invaluable tool once you have decided to do native plant landscaping.

Other resources

There are also many excellent books on the subject. Probably the best one is Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press, 2009). This is an updated and expanded edition.  You can also find many more books on the subject Amazon: Native Plants.

When you use native plants in your gardening and landscaping, you are doing so much to help, not only the environment and support the sustainability movement on a larger scale, but you are also creating a better micro eco-system in your yard that mimics Mother Nature instead of abusing her. You are supporting the local habitats of many local birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and perhaps even fish depending on where you live. And then there is the vast host of unseen micro-organisms living in the soil that are in a symbiotic relationship with native plants.

If you want to grow native species, it may be a gradual process of replacing what you already have in the yard. Be reasonable with your time and budget. And it may not be possible to goo 100% native. I will still have some tulips, thank you very much, even though I know they originated in Persia way back when.

Do your research about what to plant. Talk to local gardeners and nurseries. Ask questions. Talk to the folks at your local Agriculture Extension service.

I’d love to hear what native plants you use in your garden. Please leave a comment below.

And above all, Have Fun!

James Early
Organic Gardening 365

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