By guest blogger, Maggie McCarthy, JCRC Environmental Intern
While February may seem early to think about gardening, planning ahead in the winter months allows necessary time for creating a healthy and sustainable home garden. Despite the tendency to think of landscaping as purely ornamental, harvesting appropriate plants can bolster the environment and fuel local ecosystems. Giving such thought and care to gardening endeavors enables us to protect and preserve the earth God has given us. When planning your home garden, rather than simply picking the first plants you find in the nursery, it is best to find plants that naturally thrive in your local climate.
Native Plants require lower maintenance: Native plants may require more thought and effort initially. Once they are established, however, they require less fertilizer, watering, and pesticides, making them easier to care for. Often disease and insect resistant, these plants become largely self sustaining.
Native Plants require less water: Modern lawns depend upon excessive amounts of water to thrive. You can reduce the amount of water needed on your lawn by “going native”. Deeper root systems in plants native to the Midwest increase the soil’s ability to store water, also reducing runoff and flooding.
Native Plants are best suited for local conditions: They have evolved with the regional geology, climate and wildlife, tolerating local weather conditions and animal life. In addition, they attract butterflies, birds, and other beneficial insects rather than weeds and pests. Due to their natural thriving in the regional climate, they reduce the need for mowing and increase biodiversity.
Native Plants sustain local wildlife: Not only do native plants reduce the need for maintenance, they also sustain native wildlife without damaging local plant communities. A lack of biodiversity in suburban landscapes often damages the health of local species. Plant diversity in your yard provides protective cover for many animals, food for squirrels and other mammals, nectar for hummingbirds, and many other benefits. These plants can enhance community health and encourage all life forms to grow and thrive.
Native Plants encourage natural foraging behaviors: A study done in Arizona displayed the rich benefits of native plants in suburban and domestic landscaping. After monitoring the behavior of Sonoran Desert birds, the study found that lands mimicking the natural landscape made additional bird feed less necessary. In the yards with more natural vegetation, the birds spent less time and energy searching for seeds as they found enough food among the plants.