By: Lynne Hart
Whenever I visit one of the local nurseries, I am always overwhelmed by the variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees available to us. I am not a great gardener because my time for that task is limited, so I am always interested in plants that will grow easily with little intervention from me!
I have learned not to select plants simply based on the beauty of their blooms! There is so much more to consider. Beautiful exotic plants may draw me to them; however, they probably won’t be low maintenance or contribute to the health of the environment here in the Tennessee Valley. A question asked of me so often once I begin to speak is, “You aren’t from around here, are you?” This is a question we should also ask about the plants we are considering for our gardens.
A Native Plant is one that was not introduced into the area, but grows naturally in a particular region, state, ecosystem, or habitat and is well adapted to the climate and soil in the area. Native plants grow in community with other plant species providing habitat for wildlife, and have worked together to provide a positive impact on the local ecosystem.
Plants that have thrived right here are the ones that native birds and wildlife have come to depend on for food and shelter. These plants and animals have “grown up” together and depend on each other. When they are removed on a large scale, as often happens when land is cleared for construction, and replaced with “pretty” plants and shrubs that are not native, there is a disruption in the web of life. Wildlife that depend on these plants must then move to other areas or just don’t survive.
A Non-Native Plant is one that is introduced to an area in which it did not naturally evolve. Some of these plants may not have natural predators in the new location allowing them to grow unchecked. When this happens, they are considered invasive plant species.
Some examples of invasive plants in the Tennessee Valley are Kudzu, Chinese Privet, and Callery Pear. All are native to China and surrounding countries and were brought to the United States for a specific purpose. Often non-native plants are brought into a new location that does not offer the environmental checks and balances, such as seasonal weather, diseases, or insect pests that kept them under control in their native areas. When these plants “escape” and become established outside the controlled areas in which they were planted, they can grow unchecked and choke out native plants.
When selecting plants for your landscape, be sure to look for plants, trees, and shrubs native to your location. Local nurseries would be happy to help you. You may also contact your local Extension Office for help with selecting plants that will thrive in your garden conditions.
When choosing plants that work well together and are suited to this area, nature will be more in balance making your garden a welcoming habitat for local wildlife. Native plants and shrubs will provide seeds, nectar, and insects that will welcome native birds, butterflies, and other wildlife back into your yard.
You might event consider adding a “Welcome” sign to your garden!
By: Lynne Hart
Executive Coordinator – Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful