Gardening with native plants may soon become the norm rather than the exception in Missouri.
The benefits of native landscaping are fueling a gardening movement that says "no" to pesticides and fertilizers, and "yes" to biodiversity and creating more sustainable landscapes. Novice and professional gardeners are turning to native landscaping to manage stormwater, reduce maintenance and promote plant and wildlife conservation.
Here are seven reasons why native plants make sense around the farmstead.
1. Stormwater management. Rain gardens, bioretention and wetland detention basins are a few best management practices in use. Native plants slow down and absorb rainwater, thus reducing the quantity and velocity of stormwater runoff while improving water quality.
2. Less maintenance. Compared with lawns and mulched tree, shrub and perennial plantings, landscapes planted with appropriate native plants require less maintenance. They require minimal watering (except during establishment and drought periods), and they need no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
3. Wildlife habitat creation. A native plant garden with a diversity of trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses provides food and shelter for insects, birds, amphibians and mammals throughout the growing season. Leaving seed heads and plant structures throughout winter provides continuing food and shelter for many creatures, as well as the opportunity to observe nature up close.
4. Resistance to deer browsing. Deer are adaptable and eat a wide variety of plants. Fortunately, there are many native plants that deer avoid. Deer rely on their sense of smell to determine whether an area is safe and which plants are desirable to eat. For instance, plants with aromatic foliage, such as wild bergamot and round-leaved groundsel, deter deer. Some plants repel deer because of their coarse, rough, hairy or spiny textures. This group includes rattlesnake master and prickly pear cactus. A deer-resistant garden includes a high percentage of these types of plants.
5. Educational opportunities. Native plant gardens present endless opportunities for learning about seasonal cycles, wildlife and plant life cycles. Quiet spaces outside can be used for art and reading classes. Environmental and conservation topics are taught best outdoors.
6. A sense of place. People who have lived in one place for a time develop images of their home that create a sense of belonging and familiarity. Those who have lived in rural Missouri know about flowering dogwood. For instance, its blossoms and berries have made their mark in the hearts and thoughts of so many Missouri residents that it has become the state tree. Many people have recognized this heartfelt connection with nature, and it often is referred to as "sense of place."
7. Beautification. Wildflowers, flowering vines, shrubs and trees offer a wide range of colors, textures and forms to create dynamic seasonal displays. Grasses and sedges have interesting flowers, seed heads and yellow-orange fall color. Shrubs and trees have fall color and berries that persist into the winter. Choosing a wide assortment of plants ensures seasonal interest, with the bonus of attracting colorful birds, butterflies and insects.
Woodbury is the curator of the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve and Missouri Prairie Foundation's Grow Native! Program adviser.