Happy Earth month!
Although April 22nd is Earth Day, we can honor and nurture our bountiful planet every day. One of the ways that I am celebrating Mother Earth is by incorporating indigenous plants into my garden. For those of us who have been confined indoors all winter long, gardening can be a mood-boosting activity, a welcomed dose of Vitamin D, and has the added bonus of supporting pollinators by planting native plant species around your home.
To remain fully transparent, I just want to acknowledge that I find this subject interesting and very important, but I am by no means claiming to be an expert. The information that I am sharing with you is a combination of research stemming from conversations that I have had over the years, which sparked my enthusiasm for native plant gardening. However, I do hope that after reading this it will answer some common questions about building a garden full of indigenous plants and share some insight on how to become involved with the native plant movement.
What are the benefits of planting native species?
Aside from being beautiful, native plant species can be so beneficial to your outdoor space. Ranging from reducing air pollution to providing shelter and food for local wildlife, integrating indigenous species can be a simple enhancement to your existing garden. However, if you are a new gardener or wary of your ability to maintaining the upkeep, native plants are low maintenance! Once they are comfortably established, native species are adaptive to their local environments and conditions. This is why choosing what would naturally exist in your area is not only an easier gardening experience, but they also require far less tending to and typically adjust to seasonal changes seamlessly.
What do experts say about indigenous gardening?
Back in December, I wrote a piece on bird photography and my tips for photographing birds in their natural habitats. In that post I mentioned my cousin Catherine Greenleaf, who hosts a podcast where she shares information on topics that relate to her expertise as wildlife rehabilitator for the last 20 years. On recent episode of Catherine’s podcast “Bird Hugger” she has a conversation with award-winning author Ginny Stibolt who discussed her book, Climate-Wise Landscaping: Practical Actions For A Sustainable Future, which focuses on restoring native habitats in the backyard. Ginny Stibolt also shares her vast knowledge of native gardening on her blog called “Green Gardening Matters.”
Judith K. Robinson is another expert in this field and is a personal friend of mine. After years of studying and practicing organic gardening techniques, Judith created a business called “Our World Our Choices” where she designs and regenerates native plant habitats for her clients. For those who are in the New Jersey area and are looking for more hands-on guidance and professional assistance to build their indigenous garden, Judith will take your vision and design a peaceful oasis specifically for your space. Judith also offers different levels of services depending on your needs. For more information, click here to check out her website and learn more about her process.
What plants are right for my garden?
As spring begins, now is the time to appreciate the warmer weather, roll up your sleeves, and start planning the layout of your indigenous garden. One of the first logistical considerations should be to determine how much shade or sun will naturally occur in the area you are planting in. Once that is established, you can focus on what type of soil is available and how much watering would be required to create a fertile environment. Then you can focus on the fun part: what type of plants would you like to grow?
If you’re looking to start by brightening up your yard with some beautiful flowers, this website lists the native flowers of the Northeast with specific characteristics, uses, and other valuable information. My personal favorite is the New England aster with its beautiful purple flowers. This specific plant works the best in areas with good air circulation and has the added benefit of attracting butterflies and Goldfinches.
Pictured above is one of my favorite trees that we have on our property, the American Redbud, which is more of a long-term commitment, but the rosy-pink flowers that will bloom in April are definitely worth the wait! The early blossoms attract nectar-seeking insects and butterflies, as well as creates a safe shelter for bird nests. The Redbud is a small tree with shallow surface roots, so you can plant your redbud near your home or patio. Just make sure it is in a well-drained area with partial shade.
Where can I buy native plants?
Although there are always exceptions, most home and garden stores may not sell native plants directly. Luckily you can order starter plants from Native Direct Plants, which has a plethora of native trees, shrubs, perennials, edibles and flowers for you to choose from. They also have a tool to discern where your “grow zone” is so you can choose the best option for your location. Prairie Moon Nursery is another reputable online resource which offers options for seeds as well as starter plants, along with specific categories to browse through to assist you as you start your native gardening journey.
An additional tool that can be useful is this database through the Audubon Society where you can enter your zip code and email address to receive tips and a personalized list of the plants, trees, and flowers that may attract birds to your garden. If you are interested in reading more about the basic instructions for Native plant landscaping projects, click here.
How can I get more involved with the indigenous plant movement?
If you live in North America and are considering getting more involved with the native plant movement, a great resource to begin with is the North American Native Plant Society. Their website lists all the native plant societies by country, province, and state to help you find your local chapter. Each of their websites vary, but most will list events, host presentations, share information and research that can provide inspirational awareness of indigenous plants in your area.
Since we are still living in a socially distant society, most in-person events and activities have been postponed until further notice. On the bright side, becoming more involved with the indigenous plant movement can be as simple as bringing your family to the local park or nature walk to inspire the next generation of nature preservationists!
Where can I find more information about Earth Day?
As the global discussion on climate change continues to make strides for change, EarthDay.org is celebrating this year with Three Days of Climate Action from April 20th-April 22nd. Across the world there will be events, panels of discussions, cleanup initiatives and more. Since we have all been remaining safe and inside for the past year, coming together for the benefit of our planet can be a cathartic and rewarding experience as we reconnect with our local communities.
Are you looking forward to planting an indigenous garden this spring?
Please leave a comment or share your thoughts on incorporating native species into your own personal Eden.
Thanks for reading,