COLUMN: Advocacy for native plants

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Having a sustainable garden is becoming more important than ever.

For those new to the term, “sustainable” means able to continue with minimal long-term effect on the environment. You may have heard or been advised to “go native” and wonder what it means and if it could make a difference and be more sustainable.

Native plants can make a huge difference. The true definition of native plants is those that occur naturally in a particular region or ecosystem without human intervention. However, instead of focusing on the definition, consider native plants as those that can adapt to local climate and soil conditions.

Native plants provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for butterflies, insects, birds, and other native animals.

Native fauna and beneficial insects prefer natives to common horticultural plant cultivars that are bred for specific desired traits. Once established, native plants require minimal water, other than normal rainfall.

Natives are low maintenance, require little to no fertilizer and less pruning.

The natives are non-invasive and preserve the biodiversity of the area. Thus, natives are easier to grow and cheaper to maintain.

So what is the problem?

Garden centers know what sells and many native plant species do not sell well for a variety of reasons. In truth, many garden centers do not sell native plants. Garden centers often stock nativars, varieties and cultivars of native plants. They were bred to provide a different ornamental value i.e. more colors and different foliage than their native parent.

There are many different studies that explore the pros and cons of planting nativars. It’s understandable that a home gardener has certain goals they want to achieve with their landscape; What if you can’t find native plants?

Nativars are closest to natives and having a few in the landscape isn’t a bad alternative.

Do your own research online regarding natives versus nativars. When building over your existing garden, consider and embrace actual native plants as the best option for sustainability. To see which native plants will work for you, visit the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website at
https://www.dec.ny.gov/public/44290.html. Here you’ll find a great fact sheet on becoming indigenous as well as other ideas for making your home landscape more sustainable.

The DEC has a list of native plants, grasses, trees and shrubs that grow well in New Zealand
York State; visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/factnatives.pdf.

Never take native plants from the wild; it is not only a threat and disturbance of nature
ecosystem, you may also be taking an invasive species with you.

Speaking of invasive species, maybe you already have a plant in your landscape that has overgrown or maybe you accidentally planted something that is on the invasive plant list. The NYSDEC also provides a current list of invasive plants in New York.

There is an excellent brochure that gives suggestions on native plant replacements that can be used in the landscape as alternatives to invasive species. The brochure is called Plant Wise New York and you can download it by visiting https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/plantwise.pdf.

Always buy your plants from a reliable source. There are many resources online that specialize in native plants. However, it is always good to support local nurseries. If your favorite nursery doesn’t stock native plants, ask them to; or they may already have them and you don’t recognize them. More nurseries are jumping on the native plant bandwagon as more gardeners strive to attract pollinators, add to our plant diversity, and positively impact our ecosystems.

Decide to add a native plant to your landscape this year; you will not be disappointed !

Happy sustainable gardening!

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