Human activity, such as farming, ranching, urban development, and chemical application, has significantly reduced many of the Earth’s native plant communities. The loss of these plant communities has led to species loss and endangered natural habitats, caused soil erosion, and reduced the genetic diversity necessary for stable, balanced ecosystems.
These problems are compounded when native plants are replaced with nonnative species in landscape plantings. Nonnative species often require large amounts of water, fertilizer, and herbicides for their maintenance. Some of these introduced nonnative plants escape cultivation and become aggressive weeds.
Native plants, on the other hand, are adapted to the particular combination of soil, temperature, nutrients, and rainfall of their region. Once established, they require little, if any, supplemental water, fertilizer, pesticides, or other chemicals. Even in planned landscapes around homes, commercial developments, or roadsides, native plants require far fewer additional resources. The use of native plants in a garden or landscape can provide economic benefits (through reduced energy costs, water, and maintenance), ecological benefits (by enhancing ecosystem stability and reducing chemical use), and aesthetic benefits (through the natural beauty native plants provide) – a win, win, win, situation for both the gardener and the natural community.
There are several steps you can take to establish native plants around your home, school, or business:
The Center’s Native Plant Information Network has numerous resources including recommended species lists, a national suppliers directory of nurseries and other businesses dealing in native plants, and contact information for native plant organizations from around the country.
Many nonnative species can overwhelm native plants, so removal of intrusive nonnative species is as important as proper soil preparation.
After selecting the species you wish to plant, be sure to install the seeds or plants at the right time, in the right soils, and in the right environment (sunny, shady, wet, dry, etc.).
Until native plants become established, they may require supplemental watering and extra care, especially during dry periods when adequate water is essential for root system development. Once established, though, native plants generally require far less supplemental care than nonnative species.
Native species planted from seeds take a while to become established. Most perennials spend the first year developing extensive root systems before expending the energy to flower. Remember, natural meadows have native grasses in addition to wildflowers; so should yours! Over time, your patience and energy will be rewarded with a wildflower meadow requiring little, if any, maintenance and providing year-round beauty.