Why am I so devoted to the choice of native plants? Native plants exemplify our distinctive geographical place. Thus, planting them in our gardens preserves the unique character of our region. Natives are adapted to our specific weather conditions; rainfall patterns, periods of extreme heat and cold, as well as seasonal fluctuations that naturally occur. Since natives have deeper root systems than introduced plants, they are easier to care for and naturally require less water and maintenance. Not surprisingly, natives provide critical habitat for birds and many other species of wildlife. These plants have co-evolved over thousands of years resulting in the development of symbiotic relationships with the native wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation’s definition of native plant is, “A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction.”
Try replacing your English ivy with native ground covers many of which will not have the invasive tendencies of the ivy. High on my list of favorite native ground covers is the eastern foam flower. It prefers to grow in shady, woodland environments or along a shady border. Delightful spikes of foamy white to pinkish flowers cover the plants in spring sitting atop lovely bright green foliage that remains throughout the year. A large number of selections are being offered by nurseries that have more colorful leaves and flowers but the straight species remains a superb choice.
Wild stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) is a rock-loving succulent that hugs the ground sending up white star-shaped flowers in late spring on branches that are 4”-8” high. It forms a charming ground cover when grown in moist, rocky soils in medium shade.
I recommend a native pachysandra which makes a gorgeous ground cover. Its silvery-green slightly mottled leaves are attractive and are semi-evergreen. Known as Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), it boasts spikes of whitish-pink fragrant flowers in spring on 2 to 4’ stems. Another benefit of adding this ground cover to your garden is that it attracts many early-spring seekers of nectar, especially bees.
Three hardy native perennials of medium height that are worthy of introducing as garden companions are eastern blue star, `Carolina Moonlight’ false indigo, and `Raydon’s Favorite’ aster. The eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia) has fine-textured, willow-like foliage and is a great local performer. The spring-blooming light blue flowers are star-like with white throats. Plants grow 2’ to 3’ tall in full sun to partial shade and do well in dry to moist soils. In the autumn, their leaves turn a rich golden yellow color. Eastern bluestar is a great butterfly nectar plant and both bees and birds love it.
Consider planting false indigo (Baptisia `Carolina Moonlight’) as a companion plant. It is beloved for its buttery yellow flowers set on 18 inch spires in late spring. Beautiful blue-green foliage looks great throughout the summer. It is a rugged, adaptable native that is easy to grow and will attract butterflies.
Also consider planting Raydon’s Favorite aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius `Raydon’s Favorite’). It is thought to be one of the best perennial asters due to its mounded, billowy masses of violet-blue daisy-like flowers that will delight you in late summer. It thrives in sun with well-drained soil and grows 2’ to 3’ tall. This native is a butterfly magnet and hosts over 100 species of caterpillars. The name “aromatic aster” comes from the minty fragrance of the foliage.
If you have a space where very tall perennials will be at home, consider growing queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra). Plants can grow up to 6’ tall and have gorgeous fragrant pink, astilbe-like flowers in summer. This dramatic beauty has handsome foliage and is loved by butterflies and hummingbirds. Another towering meadow beauty that attracts gold finch is the cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum). This bold, coarse perennial has yellow daisy-like flowers which appear in summer. Birds are said to drink from the water held in the cups created by the leaves. The birds come in large numbers once the seeds are produced and they are a favorite for gold finch. Cup plants need a lot of room to grow in the sun, so do not use them in a small space.
Incorporating some natives in our gardens will enhance the greater surrounding landscape while supplying an important connection with the natural heritage of the area. At the same time, view planting natives in your gardens as your personal gift to the environment we all share. I encourage you to bid farewell to some of the overly aggressive non-natives that are currently growing in your gardens.