Native gardening is the concept of gardening with plants native to a specific geographical region. As people become more eco-aware, native gardening is growing in popularity.
Native plants are those that grow naturally in a region. In North America and other places settled by Europeans, a plant is native if it was present before European colonization.
Native Gardening is Both a New and an Old Concept
It is a new concept because people have been gardening with plants not necessarily native to their region since global trade began in the mid-16th century. The trend has advanced through the 21st century. For example, palm trees do not grow naturally in Los Angeles, yet every LA garden seems to have a palm tree.
At the same time, it is an old concept because native plants were the only plants available to grow in ornamental gardens for centuries. While aristocrats and ruling classes have always had some ability to acquire some exotic plants, most gardens in the ancient and medieval worlds were populated by native plants.
What does a Native Garden do?
Native gardens tend to be ornamental, though some gardeners grow native fruits and vegetables for food. Native gardens contribute to a healthy environment by extending naturally occurring ecosystems. Birds, insects, microorganisms, and other wildlife prefer native gardens because they are comfortable and familiar, plus they provide nutrients each attracted species naturally craves.
As humanity’s footprint expands across the globe, precious ecosystems are depleted. This is one of the reasons there are fewer honeybees, fewer backyard birds, and increasing populations of pesky insects. Another impact of vanishing native ecosystems is that there are fewer plants to soak up carbon and other greenhouse gases from the air, which is exacerbating climate change.
If everybody were to garden with native plants, including trees, shrubs, and undergrowth, it would help compensate for lost ecosystems.
Benefits of a Native Garden
Besides benefiting the environment, a native garden has a long list of benefits to the gardener.
» Already adapted to local soil. Native plants are primed to grow in native soils, even poor soils. Little work is needed to prepare the ground for native plants. This saves gardeners time, energy, and money.
» Natives need less water and food. Because they are already locals, native plants are more tolerant of extremes in the weather – they have been doing fine for years without a gardener to tend them! Gardeners save time, energy and money because they need to feed or water plants much less often.
» Resistant to pests. Because they spent thousands of years adapting to the local environment, native plants have natural defenses to ward off pests and disease. This benefits gardeners by saving them the frustration of losing their garden, and the effort and expense associated with fighting off pests and disease.
» Attracts desirable wildlife. Migratory songbirds, honeybees, hummingbirds, and butterflies gravitate towards native plants. Small native mammals such as deer, squirrels, and rabbits may also be attracted to native gardens – which may or may not be desirable.
Native Gardens are “Green”
Gardening with native plants is an easy way to go green. It saves money, resources, and time for the gardener. Harsh pesticides or other chemicals are rarely needed. Native gardens are beneficial to the environment because they help to restore lost ecosystems and encourage healthy populations of native animals, insects, and pollinators such as honey bees and butterflies.
To get started, visit a nearby nursery that specializes in native plants, do not try to harvest them from the wilds. There are several in every state, most happily ship starts and seeds if you are unable to visit in person. Most native plants can be planted in the spring, though some are better suited from the fall. Check with your local nursery to learn where, when, and how to plant each species.
Avett, S. (n.d.). Native Gardening – Why All the Hype? Retrieved April 4, 2013, from Learn2Grow.
Climate Change and Ecosystems. (n.d.). Retrieved 4 4, 2013, from Cornell University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Native Plant. (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2013, from Wikipedia.