Landscaping? Go native!

Now that Spring’s here, it’s a perfect time to consider using native plants for your next landscaping project.

What are native plants? In short, they’re plants that grow naturally in an area; species that have evolved to fit their ecosystem. Their growth is controlled by the length of the seasons, by the amount of rainfall and sunshine they get, and by insects and animals that feed on them.

On the other hand are exotic, invasive species: plants that have been introduced from other regions and ecosystems. There’s no naturally occurring system of checks and balances for these types of plants, and once they gain a foothold, they’re hard to stop and can have a catastrophic effect on local flora and fauna. If, for example, an invasive plant snuffs out a native plant, it might eliminate an important food source for an animal. That animal might be forced to relocate, or be wiped out altogether. If that animal is a primary food source for another animal, a third species is affected.

According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Web site, “Invasion by exotic species has been identified second only to habitat loss as a threat to biodiversity. In addition, introduction of these species is perhaps the most permanent and unrecoverable blow to native biodiversity and ecosystem processes/integrity. Once these species are well established it is sometimes impossible to remove them.”

To make matters worse, invasive species are often some of the most popular plants at garden centers. Examples include butterfly bush, crown vetch, bamboo, English ivy, periwinkle, Japanese honeysuckle, Norway maple and Japanese barberry.

Fortunately, there are plenty of native plants that make attractive options. For example, if you want to attract butterflies, try our state flower, the mountain laurel; phlox; joe-pye weed; or even milkweed (a favorite of monarch butterflies). Some groundcover options include columbine, creeping phlox, creeping fern and wintergreen.

These are just a few examples from a large selection of native plants. Do yourself — and the ecosystem — a favor, and examine all your options before you buy. The Earth will thank you.

For more on invasive species, visit the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’s Web site, where you can download a brochure on landscaping with native plants; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web page, which offers downloadable plant fact sheets and even some beautiful, free prints that are suitable for framing.

If you’re looking for local nurseries that offer native plants, a good place to start is the nonprofit Wildlands Conservancy in Emmaus.