Native plants serve many purposes


April was native plant month in Ohio, but if you missed it or are reading this from another state, it is not too late. In fact, it is never a bad time to celebrate native plants, but May is an especially good time to get some put in the ground.

My perspective of native plants has changed over the years, as I have learned more about them and the vital role they play in our landscape.

Good for pollinators

They are necessary for wildlife and can attract many beautiful birds and insects to your property, which of course means pollinators. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees will all find the native plants in your yard or on your property very inviting.

Now, if the thought of attracting bees to your yard makes you a bit uncomfortable, it is important to know that many native bees cannot sting you, and the ones who can are not looking to chase you down to inflict pain. The most likely way to get stung is to step on one, which can happen in a yard without native plants.

Pollinators will visit ornamental flowers and trees as well, but native plants are ideal for their nutrition and energy they need. A wide variety of native plants are available for purchase, either as seeds or potted plants. This means that there is most likely a native plant that is adapted to every environment on your property.

Natives can be very easy to maintain but can take a few years to become established beautiful plants. I have managed this in my plantings by intermixing annuals and adding new natives every year. Eventually, I hope to have a mostly native flower garden.

Over the years my opinion on the beauty of natives have also changed. At one time, I may have looked at an overgrown field or stream bank and seen weeds. Now I can look at them and see beautiful colors that break up a sea of green and a vital source of pollen and nectar for bees before winter.

Not all of the natives may be appealing for a flower garden, but there are many that you may find attractive that fit your needs and tastes. I have found many that have interesting leaves and flowers, and I like to plant a variety so I have blooms all through the growing season.

Filter water, prevent erosion

Another benefit native plants can have is cleaner water and more stable streams. This seems to be an overlooked benefit. Native plants in partnership with grasses have an amazing ability to filter water before it gets to streams and therefore are very effective buffer strips.

The key with them is to let them grow — don’t cut them down. If a plant is continually cut, its roots will not grow very deep. But when allowed to grow, may native plants grow very deep and strong roots. Deep roots act as great anchors.

If native plants are allowed to grow along streams and form a strip along them, they can really hold soil in place and limit erosion. Many people seem to like bare stream banks, but the reality is a bare bank will erode, and it may surprise you how fast and how far it will go.

Alternatively, if we look at those “weeds” from a different perspective we can see them as a functioning anchor to stream banks, habitat for pollinators and other wildlife, and just maybe overtime they can be seen as beautiful.

It’s not that I don’t believe in weeds. Invasive species such as garlic mustard, purple loosestrife, and autumn olive definitely meet my criteria for weed, but I really think that learning the value of something can really help us look at it in a different perspective.

So consider finding and planting some native plants. Enjoy the outdoors while you do it, and hopefully, your experience and the benefits you witness will change your mind on native plants, if you aren’t in love with them already.


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