What is Native Plant Landscaping?
Native plant landscaping is using plants in your garden that originated locally in the wild from where you live. These plants can range from grasses to herbs to shrubs to trees. They include beautiful flowers and food source plants.
There’s no special way to landscape native plants. The design can be simple clusters of one plant, a mix of plants to create a wildflower meadow or even a food forest. Native plants can be arranged in any way you like, just as ornamentals are, and there are many benefits to growing native plants over non-natives.
Why Should I Use Native Plants in My Garden?
Many people don’t realize that caring for native plants is way easier than ornamentals!
Native plant species have had time over centuries to acclimate to a region making them more resistant to damage from freezing, drought, common diseases, and herbivores, whereas non-native species have not. Native plants have ecological, economic, genetic, cultural and aesthetic benefits including:
They require less maintenance post-planting (fertilization, water, weeding, etc.) than ornamental plants!
Survival rates over the first winter after planting are usually higher than ornamentals. Native plants are also used to suffering through drought and poor weather conditions so they don’t need as much tucking in at night! They are also better at defending themselves against weed species. Who doesn’t want to weed less!?!
Retention of naturally occurring food sources for wildlife.
Many pollinators including bees have co-evolved with native plants and rely on the for food. Having these plants in your yard can help attract native bees and prevent a decline in the species.
And with the bugs come beautiful birds who eat them!
By planting native plants you can help protect threatened or endangered species.
Specific relationships exist between native plants and mycorrhizae, invertebrates, pollinators and birds that cannot be replicated with non-native plants. Native plants not only provide food sources for wildlife, they provide suitable habitat. Think of the Monarch butterfly who need milkweed plants to lay their eggs on.
There is also less spring/fall cleanup to worry about. The longer you leave it, the better it is for the insects and animals that depend on dead leaves and fallen-over grasses for overwintering.
Add beauty to the landscape and preserve our natural heritage.
Many native plants produce gorgeous flowers and some species are especially fragrant. Shrubs such as red-osier dogwood are even beautiful in the winter as their red stems protrude from the snow.
These plants also connect us to the land. First Nations peoples have used them for centuries as food and medicines.
Provide opportunity for public education.
Your neighbors will probably ask about the new plants they may not recognize in your yard. This is a great opportunity to educate them about the plants that are native to your region and the benefits of growing them in your own yard.
Where Can I Find These Plants?
There are several native plants nurseries across Canada where seeds, seedlings, and larger plants can be purchased.
Just like ornamentals, native plants have different life cycles (annual, biennial, perennial), different planting requirements (e.g. sun/shade, moister/drier) and different blooming times.
The nursery can provide all the details you need for successful establishment. Most have a guarantee on the plants’ survival and even ship right to your door.
Some nurseries in western Canada are Wild About Flowers, Sherwood’s Forests, Twin Sisters Native Plant Nursery and NATS Nursery. The Edmonton Native Plant Society also has lots of useful information on their website: http://edmontonnativeplantgroup.org/home.htm. If you want to get more involved, consider joining your local native plant group if there is one in your area.
Native plants can sometimes be found at garden centres amoungst the ornamentals. If the Latin name has been included on the tag you can check if it’s in a local native plant guide such as Plants of the Western Forest Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Boreal and Aspen Parkland by Derek Johnson, Linda Kershaw and Andy MacKinnon.
You can find this book or others similar to it for your area on Amazon, Bookstores, or your local library.
Be aware that only the Latin name will tell you the exact species as many plants have the same common names.
There are also landscaping companies that specialize in native plant landscaping (although I imagine most people reading this probably love to get the dirt under their own finger nails!). A quick Google search can yield these types of companies.
Some cities even have small grants for native plant landscaping projects. You can also check with your local government if any shelter belt programs exist for rural properties (these are usually for shrubs to be planted around the homestead).
So if you’re looking for a way to encourage pollinators, create a low maintenance flower garden in your landscape, add beauty to your yard, and create conversations–grow native plants.
Robyn is a Plant Ecologist from Edmonton, AB who is passionate about native plant landscaping. When she’s not working in the wilderness she spends every spare minute in the garden. Robyn hopes to spread awareness about the beauty and practicality of using native plants in our own yards.