Growing in the Right Direction

I field calls from customers all over the US, from Maine to New Mexico, Florida to Washington State. A growing number of customers are new to native landscaping. Many call asking for a specific plant, and often they are looking for alternatives to non-native plants or cultivars of native plants.

Lately there seems to be a run on calls for Pampas Grass and Karl Forester Grass, two commonly used Asian grasses that landscape professionals often specify for commercial and residential landscapes. A good alternative to these invasive non-natives is Indiangrass-Sorghastrum nutans.  My goal with customers is to steer them to native alternatives, and explain the benefits that native plants provide. I like to use what I call the “restaurant analogy”:  You happen upon this wonderful new restaurant, it has a beautiful setting, pretty signage, a great menu cover, but the restaurant is closed…no food. A pretty plastic mold of the food in the window, but nothing to eat! This is how pollinators, butterflies and birds experience some non-native plants. The packaging (of Pampas or Karl Forester Grass) is slick, sophisticated and appealing, but inside it’s empty and has little to no value.

Birds love native plants

Prairie Nursery was founded in the late 1970’s. The number of native plant nurseries has grown over the years as we have come to understand the real threat that development, invasive species, changing landscapes, and now climate change, have on native wildflowers, grasses, sedges and other flora in North America.

So, why go native? As far as Prairie Nursery is concerned the question is, why not? There are so many arguments for promoting and preserving native plants. Neil Diboll, our President presents the argument with the 4 “E’s”.

Esthetics

  • Native plants are beautiful. While we busied ourselves with plowing up our prairies a hundred years ago, the English were planting our native wildflowers in their gardens!
  • Natives offer four seasons of interest in the landscape. Trees and shrubs offer flowers and foliage in spring and summer, and bark, berries, and needles in winter. Prairie flowers provide color all summer, and prairie grasses show off their golds and crimsons all winter.
  • Native plants attract a wide variety of exciting wildlife, especially songbirds and butterflies. These welcome visitors add vibrant life to a landscape in every season of the year.

Ecology

  • Native plants are adapted to the growing conditions of their region. Over the millennia, they have adapted to the extremes of summer heat, drought, and winter cold.
  • Native plants form the foundation of a food chain that supports insects and other invertebrates, which feed the birds, small mammals, and a variety of other creatures. Pesticides should be avoided – they kill beneficial insects and disrupt a natural ecological balance.
  • Native plantings that are matched to prevailing soil and light conditions make soil fertilization unnecessary.
  • Irrigation is not required for native plants to thrive (except under severe drought conditions). Even under extreme conditions, most native plants have specific adaptive strategies that help them survive the tough times.
  • Deep-rooted prairie flowers and grasses infiltrate rainwater which recharges the groundwater and reduces runoff and flooding. Contrast this to the the high percentage of rainfall run-off from lawns that fills storm sewers and adds to flooding and ground water depletion.
  • Native plants create unsurpassed habitat for wildlife. Recent investigations indicate that native wildflowers attract up to three times as many different species of pollinators compared to non-native plants.

Energy

  • Traditional lawns consume large amounts of energy, including gasoline for lawnmowers, petroleum to make herbicides, and energy to mine and fabricate fertilizers. Grass clippings and leaves are often carted off in a truck to be land-filled or composted elsewhere.
  • Native landscapes require little energy input once established. Prairies and wet meadows require only semi-annual burning or mowing. Native woodlands rely on “Nature’s fertilizer” in the form of autumn leaves to provide time-released nutrients.  No need to rake!

Economics

  • The low maintenance requirements for a native landscape saves a bundle in upkeep! Economics alone can be an excellent reason to “Go Native!”
  • No need to buy fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or other chemicals.
  • No need to pay to install an irrigation system, much less to operate and maintain it.
  • No need to mow a native landscape or hire someone to do it.
  • Reduce equipment repairs on mowers, blowers, and other loud obnoxious machines.
  • Native plants save you time! Who wants to mow the lawn when you can smell the flowers instead?

A native landscape is the personification of the web of life. It begins with us: The survival of native North American vegetation depends upon our dedication to spreading the word and passing on the legacy of these amazing plants to future generations. In our ever changing world, a native landscape brings us back to our “roots” if you will. As a Native American proverb says:

Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children.

hummingbird at milkweed