This Week's Take:
Why garden with native plants?
Gardening is the No. 1 recreational activity in the nation,
with more than 50 percent of Americans gardening in one form
or another. The rewards of gardening are rich and varied. To
make it even more valuable to our Chesapeake Bay ecosystems,
try adding native plants to your landscape and get your hands
dirty for a good cause.
Why native plants?
Native plants are those found in the local area before colonists
One of the best reasons to plant natives is that they tend to
be lower maintenance and hardier. They have adapted to our soils
and the fluctuations of our weather and pests for thousands of
years and require little or no added water, fertilizers or pesticides.
This helps preserve our water supply and reduces chemical additives
to the environment.
The use of native plants helps develop a "sense of place" and
a pride in our region. Whether viewing plants in a meadow speckled
with foxglove beardtongue and goldenrod, or a redbud or dogwood
tree in bloom, many people don’t have a good idea of which
plants are original to our region.
Many are pleasantly surprised to find that natives are quite aesthetically
For many, nothing quite matches the sight of butterflies or a
flock birds attracted to landscapes planted with native plants.
More natives, less lawn
In addition to adding great beauty to a landscape, native trees
and shrubs are very efficient at absorbing excess water and nutrients
from stormwater runoff, cleaning the air, and controlling erosion.
Landscapes incorporating trees, shrubs and groundcover may be
more work up front. However, they usually are less costly and less
time-consuming to maintain than turf, and they provide much greater
Landscape architect Larry Weaner tells us, "In an attempt to attain
the perfect lawn, Americans are using enormous quantities of water,
fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and fossil fuels to make grass
grow more vigorously, then spending time and money on a weekly
basis to keep it short."
Mowed lawns will persist, and limited amounts of environmentally
managed lawns aren’t necessarily harmful. But think of other,
more beneficial, possibilities.
Conservation landscaping or environmentally-friendly landscaping
- also referred to as BayScaping, Bay-Wise landscaping, or Ecoscaping
- helps protect and improve the Chesapeake Bay. By practicing conservation
landscaping, we can improve air and water quality and the health
of humans and wildlife, while reducing maintenance costs and the
time spent on lawn chores such as mowing.
Human health and economic benefits
Aside from the above excellent reasons, native plants should be
the norm in the landscape for a host of very pragmatic reasons.
A wide diversity of native plants and wildlife is absolutely essential,
not only to our health, but to our survival.
The next time you bite into your lunch, think about this: According
to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, experts
calculate that "over 90 percent of all flowering plants and over
75 percent of food crops require fertilization by animal pollinators
in order to produce fruit and seed."
The survival of pollinating animals is directly related to our
ability to grow their food sources. While our survival, i.e, our
supply of food and fiber is dependent on animals, including the
native bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, birds,
bats, and other pollinators.
Many examples of the close relationship of plants and animals
exist. The monarch butterfly is famous for its dependence on milkweed.
The Maryland state insect - the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly
- must lay her eggs on only a few select plants, including turtleheads.
The zebra swallowtail butterfly feeds almost exclusively on pawpaw
trees during its caterpillar stage.
Of further concern, there has been much in the news lately about
the decline of honeybees around the country and the detrimental
impact on farming. Planting native plants will help native bees
and other pollinating insect populations.
Also, native plants attract helpful wildlife species which help
control mosquitoes, flies and other disease-causing insects. Many
birds eat flying insects like mosquitoes; and wildlife such as
bats, dragonflies, frogs, toads, and others help control them as
Native trees and shrubs can increase property values. While trees
can save money by providing energy conservation and cooling. Air
temperature is up to 25 percent cooler under shade trees.
Gardening is a great way to commune with nature: planting, nurturing,
observing wildlife, and harvesting and beholding the fruits of
our labor. Gardening with native plants makes it even more rewarding.
This column was adapted from Zora Lathan and Thistle Cone’s
book, "Ecoscaping Back to the Future ... Restoring Chesapeake Landscapes." Ms.
Lathan and Ms. Cone are with the Chesapeake Ecology Center on Clay
Street in Annapolis, which will host an open house from 10 a.m. to
2 p.m. on Sept. 8.