Monday, March 4, 2019

Planning with Natives: a Snowy Day Tonic

By Beth Sullivan
As we sit and await yet another snow event, I can’t help but wonder if the groundhogs were wrong. The best antidote to a snowy day is a trip to the mailbox to discover some seed or plant catalog full of colorful and enticing entries, bound to warm one’s soul, and warm up the credit card.
A while ago I began to switch my own gardening choices to more native plants. Not always, but more often now than when I first began to beautify the barren landscape we found when we first moved here. My yard and gardens are pretty full, and now I am looking to downsize a little, make things easier. However, I have become involved with landscape restoration on larger scales for Avalonia. We have had a number of projects over the last many years, where we were often getting rid of invasives and then re-planting.
Choose local native flowers for their amazing colors.

Native plants can truly be more beautiful than a cultivated garden.

Clearing out invasives

At Dodge Paddock, the effort is ongoing. After the Phragmites were mostly eradicated ( they are so persistent), we replanted much of the areas with plugs and seeds of native Spartina marsh grasses. In just a few seasons, those grasses have behaved like they are supposed to in their home habitat: they have grown and spread and colonized all the appropriate areas, re-creating a normal and more healthy salt marsh. In doing so, it is attracting far more wildlife, of all kinds, to the area. We were told that Mother Nature would accomplish this on her own, but with funding and energy, it sure was gratifying to give her a hand and a head start.
At the Knox Preserve, we cleared out the southeast corner that was a tangle of an entirely non-native, invasive mess. Granted, it served as some habitat for animals and birds, but the quality was not there. It has been proven that a bird may be very happy eating a berry of a non-native or ornamental plant, but the quality nutrients are not nearly the same. This can pose a real problem when birds expend a lot of energy foraging and not getting the nutrients and calories they need. It is much the same with bees and pollinators. They may be less attracted to non-native flowers and therefore need to fly farther and longer to find their food sources. If they choose to indulge in a non-native nectar source, it may suffice in the short term, but once again, the quality of the nutrients is not the same.
Birds, bees and native plants evolved together. They rely on Nature’s time clock to hatch and feed young and find food according to the stimuli of the seasons-temperature and daylight hours. Non-native plants do not always follow the same timetables.
At Dodge Paddock native marsh plants have established diversity and wildlife flourishes. 

Native viburnum berries are for more nutritious for birds. 

Pollinators survive better when native plants abound.

A true native environment

We are beginning to plan for the Hoffman Evergreen Preserve project. We know that once the heavy work is completed, there will be areas in need of restoration. We also know we will need to give Nature a hand again. Leaving areas open to sun after disturbance is a big open-arm welcome for invasive plants to establish. They are always the bullies of the plant world and will out-compete the natives in every aspect. We need to fill that void quickly. Already we are looking at our options: native grasses, herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees that we can use to replace and restore what has been removed. It is essential that we find true native resources to do so. In a home garden or a smaller landscape garden, it is OK to use occasional ornamental plant. There are also many wonderful native plants that have been developed by plants-people, to be more floriferous or often prettier than the true natives. These are called cultivars and often have names following the species in the label. These are good choices for the home gardener working on establishing basic native gardens, but even these pose problems when it comes to longer term stability in a larger landscape. For Hoffman, we are looking for true natives, the kinds that have grown here always. They will be pollinated by native pollinators and their seeds will be true to their species. It will be the first steps to restoring a forest that will last for generations.
So on a snowy day, I am not only looking at seed catalogs of luscious vegetables and amazing flowers. I am learning more about our own native plants, trying to find where they can be purchased, and think ahead to a bigger garden landscape. A whole forest.
Take a walk on the real wild side. Plan your gardens with natives.
Porcelain berries may be beautiful, but they are not a valuable food source for birds.
Porcelain berry vines invade and smother whatever is in their way.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.
You can find out more about native plants and pollinators at these websites:

No comments:

Post a Comment