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I first learned the importance of using native plants when I moved to a place where the soil was very sandy. Water ran right through it, which I was not used to. There was a small flowerbed under a huge tree at the far end of the yard. When I see a flowerbed, I have an impulsive need to fill it up.

I planted it with the leftover flowers and shrubs from other plantings around the house. When I watered it, though, I realized the hose barely reached it. I watered the plants in by hand until they were established, then I let nature take its course.

Native Garden Plants

It was a very dry summer, and I tried to water that bed as much as I could, but the hose only wet the edge. The sandy soil did not retain and spread the water, either. By fall, the annual flowers were dead, but the hardy native plants had survived. I was moving back to where I had come from, so I dug up the natives and took them with me. If anything could have withstood that watering regime, I felt it could tolerate anything.

Can you already see why it’s important to plant native species? Only the plants that were used to very little water survived. They did not need more than natural rainfall to get through.

Adaptable Garden Plants In Your Yard

Adaptable species are hardy, too. They may not be native to an area, but they grow and thrive in similar conditions. The sandy soil and climate in that town I moved to are similar to parts of France and Greece, I was told. Herbs do well in those countries, and mine flourished with very little care. I had the most beautiful lavender I’d ever grown! And with little maintenance!

There is a huge difference between adaptable and invasive species. Adaptable species need the same conditions to live as native plants. They co-exist in the same environment. Lilacs, for example, are very drought tolerant and do well in a New Mexico landscape, but they are not native.

Invasive Garden Plant Species

Invasive species, on the other hand, thrive on the local climate, but they take over, shading and crowding out native and adaptable plants. They have the ability to change the local ecosystem, which is the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish by planting native species. Before planting, consult your cooperative extension agent or a knowledgeable nursery to find out what are native, adaptable and invasive plants. Yes, some nurseries sell invasive plants!

4 Good Reasons for Planting Native and Adaptable Species

  1. They do not need fertilizer. Native plants are adapted to growing in the local soil, and that is why they are established there. They get exactly what they need from the environment. You don’t have to add anything. Have you seen a tree growing from a crack in a rock? It can grow there, because the conditions are perfect for it. Water drains into that spot to sprout the seed, there is sufficient light for growth, and nutrients from rainwater can reach it.
  2. They are less prone to disease and pests. Plants that are stressed from too little water are susceptible to attack. An extreme case in point is the bark beetle damage to the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains. After years of drought, the trees were so stressed, bark beetles were able to move in and kill thousands of acres of trees. Like I say, that’s an extreme example of susceptibility. As a homeowner, when you grow drought tolerant species, a drought will not interfere.
  3. Native plants offer food and shelter for wildlife. You can attract local birds all year with nectar in summer and berries and seeds in winter. You can create hummingbird and butterfly gardens by planting flowers they drink nectar from. Evergreens provide nesting and mating areas. If you planted a yard full of exotic plants, the native animals would not be able to feed, nest or have shelter.
  4. You will have more time to enjoy your native/adaptable landscape by eliminating water, fertilizer, pesticides and the maintenance that goes along with them.

Do not move to a different part of the country and expect to grow the same plants you grew before! You can move across town and experience the same thing. Soils, light, humidity and rainfall affect not just plants, but all wildlife.

Live within your ecosystem to be a conscious gardener. To learn more about using native plants, get involved in your local or regional Native Plant Society.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.