Add Native Plants to Your Landscape

— Written By

This piece originally appeared in the Daily Dispatch of Henderson, NC.

On the weekends, when I should be spraying my wife’s apple trees or planting vegetables or doing something with my lawn besides “mow the weeds”, I’m often instead hiking in our woods, looking for native flowers and taking pictures of them. I’ve found over 80 species this year, some spectacular, some rather drab, but mostly each fascinating in their own way.

It’s easy, when walking in the woods, to miss the little details of the world around you. As I’ve developed an eye for finding wildflowers, I’ve begun to notice the amazing diversity of butterflies as well. Just this past weekend we saw at least a dozen species on a one-hour hike.

Those plants and insects are there for a reason, a reason that can be expressed in a single word: habitat. We take seriously our role as temporary stewards of our little tract of forestland, and have worked hard to promote species diversity. To some extent our work is fairly easy, since mostly we are simply allowing what was already there to grow, thrive and multiply. We’ve just added a little fire, a little thinning, a bit of spraying for invasive species.

But for those of you with just a few acres, or even a quarter acre, don’t think you can’t make a difference. Yes, the monarchs and honeybees have been getting a lot of press, but there are scores of other native bees, birds and butterflies that are seeing their habitats lost to development. We can all do our part to lend them a hand.

Development, of course, doesn’t have to be a bad thing (I’m a huge fan of newly developed farmers markets, for example). But what it bad is when the builders check off a box on the inspection report by planting the same twelve doggone plants over and over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, some of those plants are perfectly wonderful. But we have to make some room in our gardens for diversity. It doesn’t even have to be a lot of room. The Extension Master Gardener Volunteers planted a 16 by 4 foot raised bed at the Farmers Market with a variety of flowers and herbs and it is virtually swarming with native pollinators. This is in an area devoid of almost anything other than kudzu. With one little island of diversity, the insects are finding what they need.

And while adding a diversity of flowering plants is a great first step, there are a couple of things you can do to really up your game. First, pay attention to bloom time so that these beautiful and important creatures have a food source from spring until fall.

Second, add plenty of native plants to the mix. Yes, the lantana and butterfly bushes and crepe myrtles are stunning, but they may not provide everything the insects need for their life cycles. Monarchs aren’t the only ones who require specific plants for their larval stage.

If you are up to the challenge, check out the NC State native plants website for a list of great plants and more resources. And if you are ever in the Pittsboro area be sure to visit the Pollinator Paradise garden (built and maintained by Ag Extension Agent Debbie Roos, for planting ideas and inspiration.