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Going Native is Easier than You Think

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

So you want to get started planting natives, but you don't know where to begin. I won't go into all the great personality traits you must possess moving you towards this decision, but let's just say, "You got it going on!"

So much current research is being published on the benefits of planting more natives in the landscape. There is a renewed sense of urgency regarding why we must create more natural plantings to reverse the decline of essential pollinator insects and other wildlife.

Bees buzzing around a Stiff Goldenrod Solidago rigida
Stiff Goldenrod | Solidago rigida

The excellent news for homeowners and people who manage properties is growing more native plants is relatively easy. In fact, it's easier than growing most non-native plants because they are already well adapted to our local environmental conditions.

The Problem

In the most recent book from professor and scientist Doug W. Tallamy, "Nature's Best Hope," he argues that wildlife is in rapid decline because we continue to destroy natural ecosystems at an alarming pace, and, unfortunately, our current conservation efforts are not working. He states that our conservation efforts are "confined to parks... too small and too separated from one another" to preserve species. He argues for turning our attention to the "ecological value of the land outside our preserves" to connect these "fragmented habitats" by "creating biological corridors" to join these habitats for animals and plants and bring integrity back to our landscapes. This vast amount of land between our conservation areas happens to be where we all live, work, and play, and unfortunately, he argues, too much of it is covered by millions of acres of lawns.

The Solution

We need to reduce the size of our lawns and replant the area with native trees, shrubs, and perennials. Current thinking is you don't have to go 100% native and give up many of the plants you love to sustain a productive landscape, but Tallamy suggests a goal of converting at least 70% of your property to native species and reducing our lawns by half.

Resistance Persists

Unfortunately, this is where resistance or feelings of being overwhelmed begins. We need to not only re-think our current cultural views of what a "cared-for landscape" looks like. Most of us have never learned to garden this way, and for many, more grass always seemed like the natural solution! Even if you don't have a landscape company tending your yard, most of us who grew up in suburbia know how to push a lawnmower around or throw grass seed down, making it pretty easy for us to conform to the "neighborhood standard" of a decent-looking property.

Transforming to a native landscape isn't going to happen overnight. As a landscape and garden designer, I can tell you that reducing your lawn by half will mean filling it with many plants, costing a significant amount of money, and requiring physical work. I am a recent convert to the native movement and, through trial and error, have begun to understand better how to use natives in landscaping. That said, it is a different type of gardening. It looks drastically different from our current home landscapes, and while we all need to start planting more natives, I think we have to ease into it to make this movement successful.

Efforts Started Now will Sprout Long-Term Success

It's hard to explain how rewarding it is to garden this way. It's not just because it's easier to maintain your landscape once your plants are established, but I believe you'll love how the composition of these plants constantly changes. It's much more exciting than seeing the typical "frozen" perennial garden with the same plants doing the same thing in the same place year after year. Native gardens and their dominant species and colors are always changing, and your role as gardener becomes more of a guiding one vs. one of active intervention to keep everything "in place." You'll also be amazed by how much wildlife returns to your property - butterflies, birds, and insects. These natural pollinators will not only enhance your visual landscape but will also help our entire ecosystem thrive.


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