The ABC's of Planting Natives
Peggy Foster from Kennett Square, Pa., said she spent “way too much money on all the wrong plants for all the wrong reasons” that didn’t attract the type of wildlife she wanted to see. “Fortunately, I discovered native plants and now I love hanging out in my garden and enjoying four seasons of color and lots of wildlife.” Master Gardener, Katherine Kosiba, of Colchester, Conn., had purchased an old house and wanted to see what plants were growing on her property. She discovered a tangle of “plenty of invasive plants and some natives.” Her main goal was to attract more birds and beneficial insects to her property. “I particularly wanted to support the full life cycle of butterflies, so I needed plants that support caterpillars. And I didn’t want to use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.” After clearing her yard, Kosiba planted more native trees, shrubs and plants like Echinachea and Viburnum. “I saw swallowtails and cabbage butterflies I had never seen before – even praying mantis!”
Easy as ABC!
Over the years there’s been interest in native plants but the plants were hard to find at garden centers. Now there’s a solution that’s easy as ABC! “We call it the ABC’s for successful gardening: Advice, Beauty and Conservation,” said Steve Castorani, with American Beauties Native Plants. “We offer advice on native plants that grow best in your landscape, will beautify your home and conserve resources, and attract the kinds of wildlife you long to see.”
The native plant experts at American Beauties created four ‘themed’ gardens: The Bird Garden, Butterfly, Dry/Shade and Moist/Sun that help you select the right plants for the right spot. With great plans that inspire and a list of natives that grow best in your area, it’s easy to select among the array of shrubs, trees, vines, grasses and perennials that match your garden conditions and personal style.“Along with the wildlife experts at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), we’ve created gardens and plans along with photos and plant information that take the guesswork out of native plant gardening,” said Castorani. A portion of each sale of American Beauties Native Plants is donated to the NWF to help fund natural habitat work and outreach programs. The easy-to-navigate website is filled with tips and plant suggestions and their colorful garden center displays have attractive signage and bright tags with QR codes for smart phone users. “Our mission is to offer friendly, useful advice to help you pick the right plants that will beautify your garden and make it come alive.”
Whether you’re looking for perennials with beautiful blooms or graceful ornamental grasses for balance and design, or plants with four seasons of color, there are native plants available from coast-to-coast that fit the bill and are low maintenance. Looking for color even in late fall? For those in the northeast, check out Hamamelis ‘Harvest Moon’ that blooms in November. “The leaves fall off and reveal great looking lemon-yellow blooms at a time of year when it’s difficult to get color,” said Castorani. Love softer pastels? The stunning pink swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, has rosy pink, sweet-scented flowers that draw both butterflies and hummingbirds. The beautiful Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) with its lovely orange flower clusters and copious nectar attracts Monarch butterflies, looks great in borders and is deer-proof, too! For a plant that really pops with color, plant Lonicera sempervirens (Trumpet Honeysuckle) that’s also a hummingbird magnet. The tube-shaped deep red flowers with yellow throats are stunners, and in late summer, bright red fruit appears. Birds will enjoy the banquet of berries in the fall. If you love ornamental grasses for their sweeping, graceful form Castorani suggests ‘Prairie Blues’, which is a drought-tolerant grass with a wide range and unforgettable steel blue color.
As nature’s curators, help gardens and Mother Nature by selecting natives that attract bees, birds, butterflies and bugs that are the pollinators for our ecosystem. You’re guaranteed to have year-long color and attract desirable wildlife, as well as the beneficial bugs your garden needs. Since natives have long-ago adapted to your soil and climate and thrive with less water, fertilizer and pest control, they can solve landscape problems that many non-natives can’t. Plus, they provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds for critters and pollinators that help maintain balance in our ecosystem. Dr. Doug Tallamy, chairman and professor of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, and author of Bringing Nature Home, emphasizes that “native plants are needed for insects and animals to flourish.” Besides pollinating plants, and serving as food for other critters, beneficial insects help control harmful insect populations that can ruin plants and crops. Just one single ladybug is capable of consuming up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime!
Put out the welcome sign
So plan gardens to attract a variety of beneficial insects and wildlife with either standalone plants or along borders, with creeping vines or a sweep of perennials across your landscape. And don’t forget the birds! Many birds eat seeds but others need berries, fruit or nectar and insects to feed upon. Naturalist Dave Mizejewski, with the National Wildlife Federation says that birds need places to build nests and seek shelter from weather and predators and recommends planting food and shelter that will have them flocking to your garden. “Once established, the pay-off is a gorgeous garden with little care.” For example, Castorani said that Bunchberry/Creeping Dogwood like ‘Cornus canadensis’ is a great native plant for the Pacific Northwest and in late summer “produces vivid red berries that are great for the birds.”