Take a quick peek at almost any current gardening magazine and you’re likely to find an article about native plants. Whether you’re interested in native plants from an environmental, ecological, wildlife habitat or ornamental perspective, it’s important to understand exactly what a native plant is and the role native plants can play in your garden.
Defining Native Plants
In general terms, a plant is considered native to a certain area or habitat when it occurs naturally without human intervention. When a plant is grown outside of its original location, it is usually classified as a non-native, or exotic, plant. We can refer to plants being native to a particular continent (North America), region (New England) or state (Connecticut).
When choosing native plants for your garden, it is up to you to decide how wide or narrow of a definition of native to use. The decision on how broadly to cast your native plant net will be influenced in part by the reasons you’re using native plants. It’s also important to keep in mind that all native plants are not inherently good and all non-native plants are not inherently bad.
Benefits of Native Plants
Gardening with regional native plants is essential to providing a local identity to a designed landscape and anchoring a house to its natural surroundings. By selecting regional native plants, you are also helping to maintain and preserve the natural beauty of our Connecticut landscape. Remember, even though a cactus is native to North America, it is more at home in a garden in Arizona than one in Connecticut.
Plants native to Connecticut are adapted to our climate extremes making them naturally hardy. Many non-native plants are not accustomed to our harsh winters or summer heat and drought and simply need more TLC to survive. Once established, properly sited native plants require less water, fertilizers and disease or pest controls which translates into less work for you.
Native plants are also a key component to any wildlife-friendly garden. Local wildlife, including birds, bees and butterflies, have evolved using native plants for food, cover and shelter. The flowers, berries and seeds of many native plants are ready just as local wildlife needs them most.
Buying Native Plants
Never help yourself to native plants growing in the wild. Only buy nursery-propagated plants at your local independent garden center (LIGC). As interest in native plants has grown, many LIGCs proudly display their native plant offerings. If your LIGC does not, ask for recommendations on native plants that will perform well in your garden.
Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to plant native and non-native plants together. An easy way to add more native plants to your garden is to choose natives when you’re replacing existing plants or adding to your garden. Next week, I’ll offer more suggestions for native trees and shrubs that will be at home in any Connecticut garden.