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Now’s the time—let’s plan native plantings!

Feb 1, 2024 | Gardening Tips, Wildlife & Biodiversity | 0 comments

by Robin Hoy

February is the perfect time to plan where and how to install native plants and edibles in our yards, schools or patios. And none too soon! Bee and other pollinator populations that we count on are diminishing from habitat loss, pesticide use and climate changes. Our “perfect” monoculture lawns and exotic beauties have displaced millions of acres of habitat and farmland—but they offer the perfect opportunity for us to create thriving, diverse ecosystems right at home. 

Native plants are the ticket! They have evolved with local pollinators and wildlife and have adapted to each other. According to entomologist Doug Tallamy’s research, one oak tree supports more than 400 species of caterpillars, while one gingko tree, native to Asia, supports only 5 species. And who knew that it takes 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of chickadees?!! All native plants provide similar services to important life (like the oak tree) compared to non-natives and lawns. Birds keep insect and rodent populations in check, improve agricultural production and spread seeds, so they’re great neighbors. Many of the plants that birds and insects like to eat, we do too, so let’s plant enough for all! We’ll enjoy fewer hours of mowing, less air pollution, less watering, less fertilizer runoff, more carbon sequestered in the deep, healthy roots of native plants, and more time to sit and enjoy watching the changing canvas of, and visitors to, our yards and patios.

 

So how and where to get started?

Benjamin Vogt, acclaimed author of A New Garden Ethic, advises to start small and slowly chip away at our lawns. Problem areas such as too shady areas, erosion prone areas or hot, dry areas that fry in summer heat are good starting spots, or expanding our foundation beds to 10 feet or adding a 10-foot wide border garden to our property. Choose plants suited to the soil and sunlight in the new bed. 

One of the easiest and cheapest techniques to convert lawn is sheet mulching. Simply mow or weed whack the lawn as short as possible, cover it with an overlapping layer of cardboard or a dozen sheets of newspaper and top it with 6-8 inches of compost, mulch or wood chips. Ideally let chips rest for a few months, but you can also dig down right away through the cardboard to plant larger plants or plant smaller plants into a pocket of weed free compost in the mulch or wood chips. The cardboard and mulch or chips prevent the grass from re-growing and deter weeds. The sod breaks down and feeds the soil. Tree services can usually be found that will happily drop their load of chips at your home for free.

 

If you would rather start with native plant seeds, now is still the perfect time. They generally need to be overwintered and can be sown into snow (hopefully we get another snow). You can broadcast seeds directly into fluffy snow and this will get them ready to germinate in the spring.

 

Vogt suggests aiming for 1-3 species blooming simultaneously, planting in masses or drifts and planting taller plants in the back. There are many native species that have fruits or seeds that are edible for us as well, so consider choosing plants that you’ll enjoy eating too! One excellent local source of plants is Gino’s Native Plant Nursery in Wrightstown, or find more nearby suppliers here. Find plant lists and descriptions to study and help create your design at Pennsylvania’s Department of Natural Resources

 

Happy planning, gardening and watching!

 

Local Native Plant Nurseries:

More helpful resources:

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