Gardening columnist Stephanie Hudak: “Natives versus aliens”

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Stephanie Hudak

Stephanie Hudak

Native Plant Ideas for your Yard

Trees Red maples, river birch, American beech, oaks (white, pin, willow, live), white ash and sweet gum

Borders and beds Asclepias (milkweeds), Joe Pye Weed Grasses Panicums

For the birds and the bees Serviceberry trees, blueberry bushes

By Stephanie Hudak

Hair salons are wonderful places to meet new people and learn all sorts of great information. And this is where I heard the word “alien” in connection with plants. Now you all know I’m a book fanatic. When I talked with this woman she mentioned a book that, yes, I own, but hadn’t taken the time to read yet. So I pulled it off the shelf and now I know what “natives versus aliens” really means.

I love new plant cultivars. That’s what the city containers are all about. What’s new and exciting. Never once did I think that they were the “aliens.” But reading this book has made me realize that the nursery industry creates new cultivars every year to eliminate all the problems with pests and diseases so that we gardeners don’t have to deal with all that stuff. Great for us… not so great for the critters that need plants to eat and reproduce on.

Sustaining wildlife is the basis for native plants. Each year there seems to be less and less wildlife in my yard– less butterflies, less hummers, less bees. Now here is the good news about natives. They need less water, less fertilizers, less attention, well, after they are established anyway. They just do their thing. And they provide so much for so many.

There is no need to dig up every “alien” plant in your yard and start over. The cost alone would stop you in your tracks. But you can start adding natives when you need to replace something. There is always room in a yard for a tree. Yes, trees are host plants for many things besides being nesting sites for birds. Easy to get and easy to grow, consider red maples, river birch, American beech, oaks (white, pin, willow, live), white ash and even the dreaded sweet gum. Think about expanding your borders and beds to have mass plantings of natives like asclepias (milkweeds) that will bloom from June through September, or put Joe Pye Weed at the back of your border, both of which butterflies love. Native grasses like the panicums are also great places for butterflies and so easy to care for with four-season interest.

Besides butterflies, think about the birds. Invite them in and they will take care of the bugs that are pestering you. Serviceberry trees have great berries the birds love but it is also a wonderful understory tree for your yard. Blueberry bushes – OK, maybe we don’t want to share those with the birds – but they are great additions to a yard. Don’t forget the bees. We are losing them and we need them. All the natives appreciate help in pollination.

While I love the exciting new cultivars that come out each year, I have a passion for the natives. So you can count on hearing more from me about them. Since there are only so many words allowed in this column, check out this wonderful book and learn more about the “natives versus aliens” yourself: Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy. The forward in the book is by Rick Darke who does great books on grasses, many of which are native, so check him out too. And don’t forget that our wonderful town of Madison strongly promotes native plants. Round Bowl Springs has many great examples for you to see and help you decide what would work in your yard. The big leaf magnolia is a show stopper for sure and the callicarpia bushes are surely showing their colorful berries by now. The weather is great, take a walk through the park and learn more about our natives. Oh, don’t forget that hug.

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