As a landscape designer, I have had many clients begin our first meeting with a list of wants for their new garden which, more often than not, include native plants in the mix. So in an effort to educate I want to weigh in on expectations and the reality of using natives as well as raise some questions about what is a native.
Expectations: Most people have several unfounded beliefs that using natives will:
So let’s take these beliefs one at a time.
Do natives actually reduce the amount of maintenance?
The answer…That depends. It depends on whether you are planting native plants in exactly the same environment as they are found in Nature or are you stretching it a bit and planting these plants in a somewhat similar environment. For instance, IF you are lucky and have a true woodland environment (full to partial shade with deep duff and friable soil and moist water conditions) then native woodland plants (once established) should be happy. However, IF what you really have is just a shady spot? Native woodland plants will not thrive well and to help them to grow will require more maintenance (and more water).
Native plants require less water than hybrid plants.
The answer….Not necessarily. That depends upon the plant. Native plants which are naturally found in dry areas are adapted to exist with less water. BUT there are loads of native plants which have medium to high water requirements to live well. Therefore pulling away water even once they are established, will stress them and the plant will struggle or eventually the plant will die.
Native plants are better for attracting pollinators.
Answer….Not all natives are good for pollinators. Some native plants, milkweed (aka Asclepias syriaca) for example, does attract the Monarch Butterfly while other cultivars of milkweed, though more attractive, are not as effective attracting the Monarch. And then there are other native plants like Snowberry (aka Symphoricarpos) which, although it has white berries, does not attract birds or pollinators and has a thin, rangy habit. So if the native Snowberry is a dud of a plant, why use it? Why not use a Snowberry cultivar like Hancock Coralberry or Marleen Snowberry (pictured below) which like the native plant does not get birds or pollinators excited but overall is a more attractive plant.