If you have been contemplating helping nature by putting more native plants in your garden, you are not alone. Planting natives is one part of a cultural shift toward living a greener lifestyle with a smaller carbon footprint. Gardeners hope to leave the world a better place and are teaching the next generation that planet earth is precious.
By the purest and purist’s definition, native plants grew here before the European settlers arrived. In contrast, plants brought into the area from other places and hybrid plants are non-natives. Naturalized plants are those that were brought into the region as non-natives but they escaped the cultivated area and thrive as weeds.
Wherever they originated, natives are often low-maintenance plants that grow well without much assistance after they become established.
Wild Things Nursery (www.wildthingsnursery.com) in Seminole grows and sells OK native plants. Owners Marilyn and Ken Stewart converted their acreage to a butterfly, moth and pollinator sanctuary. It is filled with native plants where they collect caterpillars (to protect them from birds) and raise them in screened containers.
Stewart said their mission is to produce plants that are beneficial to wildlife with an emphasis on plants that support butterflies, moths and other pollinators.
A long-time native plant enthusiast, Marilyn Stewart said, “I hesitate to tell people that native plants are no-care plants because they think they can just stick them in the ground and they will thrive. It is not that simple.”
She said native and naturalized plants will thrive if they are placed in the correct location with the conditions they need. For example, an OK native cactus will die in wet clay soil.
One of the benefits of using native plants is attracting wildlife such as songbirds that only nest where they can find insects to feed their young.
Generally speaking, plants that have evolved and adapted to the climate, moisture and geography of an area will be lower maintenance, require less water, demand little or no fertilizer and are rarely attacked by insect and disease problems.
An exception is Crapemyrtle shrubs originally from China. They do well here but Stewart said that not one species of OK wildlife can utilize the plant for raising their young.
Since we live a state with more climate and weather variations than any other state, gardeners can widen their plant search into neighboring states such as TX, AR, MO, and KS.
Gardens need specific as well as general pollinators so flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables will produce food and seed. For example, native ground-nesting bees pollinate blueberries and strawberries and squash bees pollinate squash; they need undisturbed ground and 3 seasons of pollen in to thrive. Native plants do the best job of providing pollen because they have the most usable nectar.
So, what are some plants and practices that can take your garden to the next step of being welcoming to wildlife and contributing to the overall health of the earth?
The first step is to reduce harm by eliminating pesticide use. Next, implement a few ecosystem-friendly practices including: mow less often, allow a part of the yard to grow wild, change to a no-till vegetable garden, leave a few dead tree limbs on the ground, and plant a wide range of flowering native plants with different bloom times to ensure a three-season food supply.
When starting to add native plants, think in terms diverse plant communities. Native plants for OK landscapes include cacti, ferns, annuals, perennials, grasses, shrubs, trees and vines. The complete list is at http://1.usa.gov/10fRIHD and there are photos at www.oknativeplants.org.
Stewart is an excellent resource for information about native plants as well as butterflies and other pollinator insects.