Plant with a Purpose
When you think about how to landscape your property, you should consider more than just aesthetics.
Planting with a purpose means selecting plants that not only add beauty, color, and texture, but support functioning ecosystems and healthy watersheds.
You can do this by planting native plants and removing non-native invasive plants in your landscape. Educate yourself to understand what’s native and what’s not and strive to “plant with a purpose”.
Native Species originated and evolved in a place long enough to adapt to living in that particular environment and to develop complex relationships with the other organisms in that ecological community.
Plant Native For:
Plant Native for Biodiversity
Native species help to increase and preserve biodiversity.
Biodiversity is the combination of the words biological and diversity, and essentially refers to the variety of life on Earth at all levels, from genes to ecosystems. In terms of planting in our gardens, we can think of it as the total number of different species in a given area.
This same principle can be applied to a landscape.
Some plant species have deep roots that help to keep the soil in place, to lessen erosion, and to store water in the soil. Some plant species have colorful flowers to attract pollinators such as butterflies and insects. Other species have flowers of a different color or shape to attract different pollinators such as hummingbirds and bees.
Many plants have chemicals that act as a natural pesticide to deter herbivores from eating them, but certain insects or caterpillars have evolved mechanisms to enable them to still eat those plants. In many cases insects have evolved to require native plants to complete a part of its lifecycle. The insects that eat plants in turn support birds and the larger food web.
All in all, each species in a healthy ecosystem plays its part to keep the overall community healthy and functioning.
Plant Native for Clean Water
Native plants can play a significant role in providing for cleaner water. The root systems of natives are more robust and extend deeper than nonnative plants and grass lawns, meaning more roots beneath the ground to take up nutrients which could otherwise reach groundwater or nearby streams, bind soil particles to prevent erosion and sedimentation to waterways, increase infiltration and decrease soil compaction to aid in replenishing groundwater aquifers, and reduce the need for fertilization and pesticides which can harm the environment.
Native plants adapt well to “rain gardens” which are bowl shaped depressions that can be created in the landscape to capture run-off and provide for short term water storage, infiltration, and run-off filtration and provide protection to nearby waterways. How can you create a rain garden?
Plant Native for Birds
Plant native plants to grow your own bird food! Native plants provide birds food by producing berries and seeds as well as by supporting the specific life cycles of caterpillars and other insects. Caterpillars and insects are the protein source in a bird’s diet especially during breeding and migration. In fact, young hatchlings rely solely on caterpillars and insects for their food. Here are a few fun facts about the importance of planting native for supporting bird populations:
- 96 percent of the terrestrial birds in North America rely on insects to feed their young and most of the insects they eat are caterpillars, which are primarily herbivores.
- Most herbivorous insects are diet specialists – they have evolved to only eat a very specific type of plant food, meaning they only eat a certain part of a plant, or they only eat species from a certain plant lineage.
- Insects that are diet specialists have typically evolved to be able to disarm the chemicals that the plants that they eat produce to deter herbivores.
- Studies have shown that insectivorous birds are significantly more abundant in areas with native plant communities than in areas where non-native invasive species have replaced native plants.
Plant Native to Reduce your Carbon Footprint
We all have a role to play in reducing our carbon footprint and native plants certainly do their fair share. The robust root systems of native plants compared to nonnatives help to sequester or store carbon in their roots and soil and reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Native trees which have adapted to their environment over eons, are the lungs of the natural word but rather than taking in oxygen, they “breath-in” carbon dioxide (CO2) and exhale oxygen through the process of photosynthesis, significantly reducing carbon in the atmosphere. There is certainly no shortage of native trees to choose from for planting on your property, so take the time to select the right tree(s) for your desired results.
Before planting, always consider a tree’s ultimate size to be sure you have provided sufficient area for it to grow properly and without conflict with existing or planned structures on your property.
Planting natives has another benefit unrelated to plant physiology. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that lawn mowing with gas powered mowers is estimated to contribute to 5% of the nation’s total air pollution. Replacing grass lawns with native plants that don’t require mowing can reduce carbon emissions associated with gas powered engine emissions. Not to mention saving time and expense on lawn upkeep.
Plant Native for Ease
Once established, native plants do not require as much maintenance as plants that did not evolve to live here.
Why are native species easier to grow? Since native species have evolved in an area and adapted to its local climate and conditions, they are well suited to deal with the range of conditions that can be expected there. They can tolerate the long rainy days of spring, the hot humid days of summer, as well as the cold, windy days of autumn because they have had to deal with all of these seasons before. Furthermore, most natives are perennial plants, meaning they will return each year without replanting, or annuals, that drop seeds each year to create a new generation.
Native groundcovers can be an alternative to establishing vegetative cover on steep slopes that can be difficult to mow. More information about converting lawn with natives can be found at https://extension.umd.edu/resource/lawn-alternatives.
Plant Native for Beauty
Native plants cover the entire spectrum of plant types (trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, ferns, and forbs), not to mention color, texture, size and shape. All those things a gardener considers when selecting a plant to grow in their yard, flower bed, or container. Likewise, flowering period is also variable from early to late season bloomers. Native plants and their relationship with other animals such as birds and insects have resulted in numerous varieties of flower colors and shapes that have evolved to attract insects and birds to aid in pollination. Furthermore, these same plants can provide a food source for certain stages of an insect’s life cycle. Most common is the life cycle of the butterfly and moth which includes the adult stage (the butterfly/moth) and the larvae stage (the caterpillar). So not only does the native plant add color, texture and shape to enhance a garden’s beauty, those same attributes allow for even more beauty with the addition of colorful butterflies or other colorful insects. In fact, the plant/insect relationship where the native plant is the “host” is critical to the insect’s survival. Below is a list of common Harford County butterflies and their host plant. Incorporating these plants into your garden will add beauty and interest in a multitude of ways.
Allegheny monkey flower
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail