As you drive through your neighborhood or stroll through a park, do you ever notice the native plants? No, not the tulips, hostas or ornamental trees, but the wildflowers, shade trees, and generally (now) uncommon plant world. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t admired our native plants recently, there aren’t as many as there once were in Ohio. But since it is National Native Plant Month, we wanted to give these unsung heroes of our ecosystem a little love.
What are native plants?
Simply, the flowers and trees that used to grow in the region before we introduced other species. These native plants are part of a balanced ecosystem in a region and have a specific role in their habitat.
Here’s a quick list of a few Ohio native plants you may know:
- Ohio Buckeye
- Common Persimmon
- American Black Elderberry
- Purple Coneflower
- Prairie Phlox
Why aren’t native plants everywhere?
Well, we got distracted by new pretty things. When plants from other regions and even other countries were introduced to us, we jumped at the opportunity to include something special in our landscapes. No blame here, we didn’t clearly know the long-term problems that would be caused by yards full of non-native plants.
On top of that, a lot of important native plants like milkweed (a monarch butterfly buffet) and goldenrod (a bee’s late season snack) have been hacked down or outright banned from yards across the region because they looked and sometimes spread like weeds. (Don’t worry, cities like Akron are now bringing back native plants and encouraging their proper growth and care in neighborhoods again.)
Why are native plants important?
Pollinators! Yes, there are many other reasons, hold tight, but pollinators are by far our favorite reason. We talked with Native Roots President Sonia Bingham who reminded us that pollinators are a critical part of the ecosystem. Without the native plants that our pollinators are drawn to (they don’t always like non-native plants) we can draw a direct line to less fruitful food production.
Additionally, Sonia mentioned that native plants have many beneficial traits to share for those looking to create a more sustainable and natural landscape. For instance, native plants tend to be more resilient to our climate and environment. That means native plants are easier to maintain and have higher chances of survival. And since these plants are meant to be part of this ecosystem, they require less watering and have strong root systems that support erosion reduction. Non-native plants don’t offer these benefits, in fact, they sometimes cause opposite results and problems in your yard. As Sonia said, when considering native plants, “it’s kind of a no brainer.”
But don’t they “take over?”
You probably have questions about how to get started with native plants. That’s fair. First, if you care for these plants they won’t take over, which is how they get their bad rap sometimes. Some native plants can be eager reproducers, but a plant specialist can tell you how to tend to your new plants so that only desirable reproduction happens in your yard.
Next, having success with native plants starts long before you buy your new plants. Preparation is the “single most important thing you can do,” said Sonia of Native Plants. If you’ve already cleared a space, edged and mulched the area you’re making into a bed, you’re ahead of the game. Competing with grass is going to make your task harder, so clear that using cardboard or black plastic to solarize and eliminate the grass below before you establish your new native plants. If you’re planning to use chemicals to remove grass from your bed area, start a season before at least.
And lastly, what about deer? It’s hard to believe, but if you create a space with enough native plants, what you’ve really created is nothing special for deer. They won’t eat everything, but they will nibble since there is so much to choose from and they don’t feel resources are scarce. When you have a small bed with just a few plants here or there, that’s when you see more devastation because the deer see that as an oasis and fuel up. Dedicating your lawn to a native garden space creates diversity and habitat and some nibbling is going to happen.
Still concerned? Start small. By incorporating natives at any level you can support local ecology and pollinators, and not feel overwhelmed.
Take a look here for a more detailed list of native plants to explore for your yard from our friends at Native Roots or visit their native plant nursery. And don’t be afraid to ask questions! Sonia and Jen are celebrating 10 years in business and they’re ready to help.
Additionally, the Native Roots team wanted to share this webinar series from The Ohio State University for anyone interested in getting started with native plants.