Spring is here and it is time to start thinking about adding new perennials to your garden. Native perennials offer gardeners a host of benefits, making them an excellent choice for your garden, no matter where you live.
Pollinators and plants have a complex relationship, one that has evolved over millions of years. Each region's plants and pollinators are specifically adapted to each other. Plants are dependent on the pollinators for pollination, and pollinators rely on native species for food, habitat, and even reproduction. This delicate natural balance is under threat these days, as habitat destruction, disease, and the introduction of non-native species takes its toll on pollinator populations.
Before I knew better, I assumed that all flowering plants attracted pollinators. I was aware that certain plants, like the aptly named Butterfly Bush, were more attractive to pollinators than others, but I didn't realize the depth of the relationship between native pollinators and native plants. Pollinators have specifically adapted tools to extract nectar and their digestive systems are equally attuned to specific plants.
This means that pollinators are not always able to receive sustenance from non-native plants. The plant structure itself often poses a barrier, as the pollinators cannot access the nectar, and even when they can reach it, there is no guarantee the nectar is nutritious. A rich, beautiful garden full of non-native flowers and shrubs might appeal to us, but to native pollinators it might as well be a wasteland.
Planting native perennials attracts pollinators to your garden and offers them the sustenance they need to survive. To find pollinator-friendly native perennials in your area, check out this great resource.
Native perennials are the perfect choice for hot, dry areas historically prone to drought. Native plants have natural defenses and coping mechanisms that help them survive periods of drought without excessive irrigation. This is especially important in places like California, where water restrictions and drought limit a gardener's options. Choosing drought-tolerant native perennials reduces your water needs and helps your garden stay green during the dry season. Native perennials also make a nice alternative to lawns, as standard lawn grasses are not very drought tolerant.
Pollinators are not the only wildlife that benefit from native perennials. Planting native plants provides native wildlife with food and protective cover. Nuts, berries, seeds, nectars, and pollens all sustain native species, and certain beneficial insects require specific plants for reproduction and larvae development.
Squirrels, chipmunks, and other small rodents rely on native plants for berries, seeds, and nuts. Planting native perennials could help keep squirrels and chipmunks away from your bird feeders, and songbirds enjoy seeds, berries, and the insects that hide in native perennials, bringing more life to your garden.
Perhaps the most attractive benefit of native perennials is their low maintenance. In the right growing conditions, these well-adapted perennials thrive without special fertilizers and pesticides. They are also usually more resistant to native pests than non-native plants. Since these plants developed in your area's climate, they are attuned to the natural rain cycle. This makes them more drought resistant in dry areas and better suited to damp in wetter areas.
Low maintenance and savings go hand in hand. The less time and money you spend on maintaining your landscape, the more resources you have leftover to devote to other areas of your garden (or life). Reduced maintenance costs, water costs, fertilizer costs, and pesticide costs add up over time, making native perennials the perfect solution for gardeners on a budget.
Prevent Spread of Invasive Species
Choosing to plant a native species means that you are choosing not to plant a non-native, and possibly invasive species. Many of the invasive species we know today arrived through horticultural pathways, and will continue to do so as laws restricting the import of plants and seeds of decorative landscape plants remain relatively lax. The more exotic plants we cultivate in our yards and gardens, the higher the chances of those plants escaping into the ecosystem and achieving invasive status.
We rely on many non-native species for food. A vast number of our agricultural fruit and vegetable varieties have their roots elsewhere, but their longstanding presence in North America has naturalized them. While there is nothing inherently wrong with non-native plants, we need to use caution when landscaping with non-natives to prevent further habitat loss, pollinator population depletion, and invasive species spread.
Native perennials are beautiful. Native plants come in a wide variety of shades, textures, colors and sizes, giving gardeners plenty of options to choose from. North America is an incredibly diverse continent, and what better way to embrace our heritage than by embracing the incredibly diverse selection of native plants that grow in our soils?
Find out what perennials are native to your area and start planning for your spring plantings now.