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Native Plants

What is a native plant?

A plant native to a geographical region is a plant that was growing in that region before European settlement began, around 1600.

Native plants have evolved over thousands of years in communities with insects and animal populations that feed and reproduce on them. They have adapted to regional climate and soil conditions. Native plants include flowers (forbs), grasses, trees, shrubs, vines, mosses, ferns, sedges, rushes, and other plants.

Where do native plants grow?

In meadows, prairies, woodland, edge of the woods, woods, ponds and pond edges, wetlands, rocky areas, roadsides, and gardens.

What are wildflowers?

Wildflowers are plants that grow in the wild on their own. This includes non--native plants as well as native plants. Native plants are wildflowers but not all wildflowers are native plants.

Why are native plants essential?

Vital for insect life by providing food, shelter, and a place to reproduce. Most insects eat only native plants. Create and sustain diverse communities of healthy, balanced ecosystems. They serve as the basis of biodiversity. Vital for birds, insects, bees, butterflies, other wildlife.

What are the advantages of native plants?

Once established, they have low resource requirements for water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Plants flower over many months providing nectar and pollen. Help reduce air pollution, improve water quality, and reduce erosion. Can tolerate wet springs and dry summers. Generally free of and resistant to most pests and diseases. Large variety of colors, shapes, sizes, textures, and foliage.

How is a native plant identified?

A native plant species’ name has two parts, the genus name and the species name = scientific name - Echinacea purpurea. A cultivar or cultivated variety is reproduced by propagation. It could be a hybrid or a wild plant that has superior characteristics. The name behind the scientific name will be in single quotes - Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’. A nativar is a plant that looks like a native plant but is slightly different. Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’. 

Planting recommendations

Some of the native plant nurseries offer only a mail order service.  Plants will be shipped either as bare roots, small pots of about 3”,  or plugs. Plugs are about 2 1/2” x 4 1/2”.  I prefer to pot or repot  these plants before putting them in the ground. Purchase a potting mix/soil; not garden soil. I find regular garden soil too heavy. Roots  need room to stretch out. The better the root system when planted the  more quickly the plant will become established.

For bare root plants, plugs, and small pots, fill a clean pot with  about an inch or so of potting mix. For bare root plants and plugs use  a quart sized pot unless the roots of the bare root plant require a  bigger pot when they are spread out. For the small pot use a gallon pot for repotting. Slightly moisten the potting mix to make watering after potting easier. For bare root plants spread the roots out and place on top of the mix. Fill in around and on top of the roots. When the pot is filled to about 3/4” from the top, gently pull the stem of the plant so that most of the stem is above the mix and roots are almost at soil level. Gently pat the mix over and around the roots. Gently hand water making sure that the potting mix is moist but not saturated. Do not overwater. Add more potting soil to cover any roots that are exposed after watering. For plugs and small pots gently loosen the roots of the plant before potting and follow the above directions. Put the plant in bright light but out of direct afternoon sunlight for a few days. Gradually increase the amount of sunlight the plant receives according to the needs of the plant.

Prepare the area(s) where the plant will be planted. Loosen heavy soil by adding compost. If the soil is sandy, add compost to help with moisture and nutrient retention. The addition of compost to any soil is helpful. Do not plant the plants too deeply. A good rule of thumb is for the plant’s top roots to be at soil level but not exposed.  I water new plants with a weak root stimulating/plant starting fertilizer where the number for phosphorus (P) is twice or three times larger than for nitrogen (N) and potassium (K). Examples of these proportions are: N 5, P 15, K 5 or N 4, P 10, K 3. Be sure to follow directions. More is not necessarily better. Be sure to monitor any new planting to prevent drying out. A layer of shredded leaf mulch is beneficial.  Shredded leaves help conserve water discourage weeds, promote soil fertility, and help maintain a more even soil temperature. Avoid bark chips as they deplete the soil of nitrogen as they decay.

Remember: plant the right plant in the right place!

Where to buy native plants



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