Growing Green: native plants
Native plants create beautiful landscapes that provide native wildlife with the diverse habitat and food they need to survive.
Plants are the foundation of local ecosystems. As such, they maintain the natural heritage of a region.
Native plants form the basis of the food chains that support bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and songbirds inhabiting our backyards. Because Pennsylvania’s native plants are adapted to grow here, they thrive with less maintenance, thereby reducing the labor and expense of watering and fertilizing.
The easiest, least expensive and best way to conserve Pennsylvania’s plant heritage is to protect existing native plant communities from further disturbance. If disturbance is necessary, strive for minimum impact on habitat.
Learn what plants are native in your area. Field guides and online resources can help you get started.
Many retail nurseries and mail-order catalogs offer native plants. As more consumers request native plants, these sources of supply will grow, making it even easier for more gardeners to go native.
If you want guaranteed ornamental characteristics, named cultivars, are attributes of native species in some cases. Cultivars are predictable attributes many gardeners want: height, color and blooming period.
If your goal is genetic diversity, however, ask for straight species grown from local seed sources. Plants grown from seed provide more variety than cloned cultivars.
Do not remove native plants from the wild. Taking plants from the wild depletes native populations. Also, many wild-collected plants do not survive transplanting.
The first rule of responsible landscaping is to plant the right plants in the right environment. Choose plants that match the prevailing light and soil conditions: shade or sun, wet or dry, and acid or neutral pH. One good tactic is to notice which native plants are thriving nearby and let these clues guide your plant selection.
Proper site preparation begins with a soil test to determine the condition of the soil. You can purchase a soil testing kit from your local Extension Office.
Composts and a mulch of leaves and grass clippings improve soil structure and provide slow release of nutrients. Chemical fertilizers provide a flush of soluble elements that give weeds a competitive edge.
Try cultural pest controls before using chemicals:
Keep the soil covered to prevent weeds.
Remove invasive plants nearby.
Take out diseased plants to reduce infestations.
Many native plants attract beneficial insects which help control pests, so try creating habitat for “good bugs.”
Never introduce exotic plants into your landscape that may spread from your property and invade native plant communities.
Native plants help create beautiful landscapes that provide wildlife habitat and reduce maintenance costs.
“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-746-1970.