Many of the grasses and flowers that adorn our yards and flowerbeds are exotic species – plants that are native to other parts of the world. Maintaining the beauty of these plants is often a high-maintenance job. An increasing number of people are realizing that native plants – the trees, flowers, and grasses that were here to begin with – can be just as beautiful to look at and a lot less trouble to grow.
Many people are discovering that, when it comes to plants in their lawns and flower gardens, beauty doesn’t have to come from elsewhere.
Many of the grasses and flowers that adorn our yards and flowerbeds are exotic species – plants that are native to other parts of the world. Maintaining the beauty of these plants is often a high-maintenance job. Because they may not be accustomed to our soils, temperature, rainfalls and insect pests; many exotic plants require high amounts of water, fertilizer, pesticides or some other type of labor that takes more of your time – and money – than you had originally intended. An increasing number of people are realizing that native plants – the trees, flowers, and grasses that were here to begin with – can be just as beautiful to look at and a lot less trouble to grow.
There are a number of advantages native plants have over their non-native counterparts. For instance, let’s look at root systems. Fescue and Kentucky bluegrass – two popular types of lawn grass that aren’t native to this region – have roots that extend a few inches below the soil. Contrast that to buffalo grass, which is native to this area. It has a root system that can go down as far as nine feet deep.
Why is this an advantage? The deeper a plant’s roots are, the greater its ability is to absorb and retain water – which means less watering for you. Deeply rooted plants also do a much better job of holding the soil in place, which helps deter erosion.
It’s a similar root story when you compare many of the popular non-native ornamental flowers with native wildflowers. Most exotic flowers have relatively small root systems. Few have underground growth that can compare with native flowers like pale purple coneflower (five-foot roots), black-eyed Susans (up to six feet) and blazing star (up to 15 feet).
There are other advantages to native plants besides deep roots. Wildlife attraction is also a benefit. The songbirds and butterflies that you go to parks and other facilities to see can often be enticed to your backyard with the proper plantings. These plants provide food, nesting and other habitat essentials required by these animals. Those instinctual needs will often draw wildlife and insect species to specific plants whether they’re growing at a nature center or in your backyard.
Native plants come in many shapes, colors and forms. The best natural landscaping plan is one that involves a mixture of plant types, but space can be a limiting factor for homeowners and, if it is – that’s still all right. Native plants can work for you whether you have 10 acres on the edge of town or a single flowerbed alongside your driveway. Some people shy away from native plants because they think a landscape centered on native plant species will have a rougher, “woolier” appearance than the well-manicured flowerbeds to which they’re accustomed. That’s not necessarily a fair criticism because people can still control the neatness of their plantings. Just because you have native plants doesn’t mean you can’t mow, weed-eat, edge and do other aesthetic maintenance procedures that are done with non-native plantings.
People can learn more about native plants and their landscaping benefits on Saturday April 6 at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Native Plant Sale and Workshops event at MDC’s Springfield Conservation Nature Center. No registration is required for this event, which is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information about the programs being offered during this event, call 417-888-4237.
Correction: There was a typo in a recent column about black bears. The sentence in the column should have read “Black bears will not stalk humans over great distances so they can attack us when we’re least expecting it.” The word “not” was omitted from the original sentence.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.