Why should I go native?
The question of why you should go native is one that many people will ask themselves when confronted with a landscaping or gardening task. It is a question that should be given further thought before moving ahead with any landscaping or gardening plans.
Many people are not fully aware of how damaging many standard ornamental plants can be. Quite a few of them are invasive species either from other continents or other parts of the country. Invasive plants can be very detrimental to the native landscape that surrounds them if they are not properly managed. If you look at a plant called Kudzu it was originally imported from Asia in the late 1800's-early 1900's and was meant to be used for erosion control and livestock forage, food and ornamentation. It quickly escaped from management due to it prolific growth ( 1 ft/day), no natural predators and its ability to smother and girdle other plants. It has currently invaded all the southeastern U.S. and the northwestern U.S. and has been altering and eliminating local ecosystems as it goes.
Now Kudzu is just one on many plant species that has been brought into the the U.S. during the the past couple centuries. The list is fairly exhaustive and the damage that they do when they are released into the ecosystem is very hard to calculate. The management of these species has become a multimillion if not billion dollar money drain that would not be if more people had utilized the many wonderful species we already have here.
So the perils alone of invasive species are enough to convince many people to go native. If you still need a few more reasons natives are better, read on to see why I think natives are a better choice.
Reason # 1
Adapted to local climate and soils
The plants that you can find at your local super gardening warehouse may look great when you get them. But if they haven't been planned for your climate and soils they could be dead in week, month or by next season. Local native plants on the other hand are acclimated to the local climes and will perform much better in the soils without nearly as much babying from you. I realize that this is not always the case and that some exotic plants will perform quite well, it does depend on the plant. But like with the Kudzu above if they escape your control and most likely they will, they could negatively impact your surrounding ecosystem.
Reason # 2
Most exotic landscaping requires a fortune in extra watering, weeding, mulching, mowing and clipping. Many native landscapes are self-maintaining if allowed there natural regeneration cycles like periodic controlled burns or grazing. If these options are not applicable in your situation clipping or mowing can be used in their place instead. Also if allowed to go to seed they can provide an ever changing mosaic of colors and plant distribution in your garden or landscaping.
Reason # 3
The loss of biodiversity is a major concern in environmental circles. Due to the ever-expanding monocultures in agriculture and forestry along with the invasive species issues we face, biodiversity is being lost every day. If ordinary citizens like you and I took it upon themselves to maintain a small chunk of our local plants and the wildlife that need them we would be performing an essential service for our country and the world.
So next time you decide you want some ornamental plants find out what natives can do for you. For more information of what you can plant you can talk with you local extension agents or contact other land management agencies such as the Forest Service, NRCS and Fish and Wildlife Service.