The Beauty of Planting Native
by Garden Writer
Next in our Guest Garden Writer Series comes a blog on native plants from Kristin Gembara, a certified Master Gardener from Illinois (Zone 4/5). We hope you enjoy her informative article and photos of her garden!
As a Master Gardener, I volunteer at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. This past year, I was asked this question by a curious gardener:
“If I want to plant Native, should I get rid of the other plants that are not native?”
“Not if they are naturalized and doing well,” I answer.
“But how can we grow native plants if there are plants mixed in from other countries?” She asked.
Well, let’s examine the difference in the terms that are used, as we try to understand the benefits of planting native plants.
Knowing the difference between native and non-native plants can be thorny. Do we actually mean native to our continent or our county? Do we mean native to Illinois or to our region? A native plant is a phrase used to describe a plants life in a particular geographic location. Vegetation is considered native if it was present before Europeans settled the area. There is plenty of research on the benefits of planting native, as listed above. Many sustainable nurseries now grow and sell native Illinois/Midwestern plants, and love to teach about the different types of native plants and their benefits. Naturalization is a word in the plant world that people are confusing with “native.” I want to share two examples of naturalization of plants.
The first, are shrubs: Lilacs, Syringa vulgaris and Forsythia, Forsythia intermedia. Both plants were brought to the U.S as ornamentals and do quite well here. Lilacs are originally from the Balkan Peninsula of Southern Europe, and Forsythia is originally from the Far East. They are not native to our region or our continent, but they have not caused problems either. They have naturalized.
My second example is Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea. This plant was also introduced as an ornamental ground cover and has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. This is the plant that we all, now love to hate. This plant has also been naturalized but is also invasive.
So let’s clarify the term invasive. What makes a plant invasive? According to Mr. Galen Gates, a horticulturist and botanist, who I had the pleasure studying under at College of DuPage, stated, “a plant that upsets by dominating an area is considered invasive.” If you introduce a new species to a setting, and it spreads and damages the surrounding ecosystem, this is invasive. In the case of Lilacs and Forsythia, they behaved themselves after their formal introductions in the18th century. Creeping Charlie became the wild child of ornamentals, which still have folks scratching their heads wondering why it was introduced in the first place. The examples I used of Lilacs / Forsythia and Creeping Charlie have become naturalized, but creeping Charlie has become invasive. Creeping Charlie grows aggressively in places people do not want it and disturbs the ecology with its invasive growth patterns, which in turn, becomes a weed.
Try planting a native Illinois plant or two this spring and see what happens. When thinking about plants for your garden this growing season, don’t just pick a plant because it looks good at the store. Pick a plant that has a job and works with your sustainable beliefs. You don’t have to tear out everything to “go native.” Just make sure that you have the right plants in the right place and you know that there is a purpose to your plantings. In Brookfield Illinois, I look forward to the palette of yellow and lavender that Forsythias and Lilac shrubs share with us, after a long winter sleep. These colors remind us that warmer days are ahead and new growth will flourish. This growth is not just in your outside garden, but in your garden knowledge as well.
Purple Love Grass dazzles with an abundance of texture, from fine blue-green foliage to airy clouds of rose-purple flower panicles. Plants bloom mid to late summer followed by airy s...Learn MorePurple Love Grass Purple Love Grass Eragrostis spectabilisAs low as $13.32 Sale $9.99Per Plant - 3" PotPurple Love Grass dazzles with an abundance of texture, from fine blue-green foliage to airy clouds of rose-purple flower panicles. Plants bloom mid to late summer followed by airy seed heads and coppery autumn foliage. This compact, drought-tolerant native grass is highly adaptable and naturalizes readily, perfect for low-maintenance landscaping. Plant en masse for a stunning display. (Eragrostis spectabilis)
Songbirds need our help, and our Bird Watcher Native Pre-Planned Garden is a great way to create habitat for flying friends. Habitat loss has led to a significant population decline ...Learn MoreBird Watcher Native Pre-Planned Garden Bird Watcher Native Pre-Planned Garden$159.99 Sale $119.99Per Garden of 12 PlantsSongbirds need our help, and our Bird Watcher Native Pre-Planned Garden is a great way to create habitat for flying friends. Habitat loss has led to a significant population decline of birds and pollinators in North America, and native plants are essential for their survival. This garden features native wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses for attractive layers of color and texture, year-round beauty, and enriching habitat. Plant and enjoy the sights and sounds of songbirds in your yard. This Pre-Planned Garden comes with a garden layout map to make planting easy.
‚Jacob Cline‚ Monarda is a colorfully vibrant, mildew-resistant variety of the cherished Bee Balm plant. Loved by both gardeners and hummingbirds, crimson red crown-shape...Learn MoreJacob Cline Bee Balm Jacob Cline Bee Balm, Bergamot Monarda didyma Jacob ClineAs low as $9.32 Sale $6.99Per Plant - 3" Pot'Jacob Cline' Monarda is a colorfully vibrant, mildew-resistant variety of the cherished Bee Balm plant. Loved by both gardeners and hummingbirds, crimson red crown-shaped blooms appear on tall, herbaceous plants in mid summer. Its fragrant foliage and tolerance of pests, mildew and clay soils make 'Jacob Cline' a true favorite in the perennial bed. Deer resistant. (Monarda)
Prairie Blazing Star is a stunning native wildflower with distinctive floral spikes packed with fluffy rose-purple blooms. Flowers open in sequence, starting at the top, for weeks of...Learn MorePrairie Blazing Star Prairie Blazing Star Liatris pycnostachyaAs low as $13.32 Sale $9.99Per Plant - 3" PotPrairie Blazing Star is a stunning native wildflower with distinctive floral spikes packed with fluffy rose-purple blooms. Flowers open in sequence, starting at the top, for weeks of color during the hottest part of late summer. The tallest Liatris species in cultivation, this pollinator magnet attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and makes an excellent cut flower. Plant for a striking vertical element in your garden or meadow planting. (Liatris pycnostachya)