Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Myths About Native Plants

Thomas Rainer, a local landscape architect, recently did a series of posts entitled Myths About Native Plants on his blog, grounded design.

Since native plants can be an environmentally sound choice for many reasons, including ease of care and providing food sources for native wildlife, eliminating the myths about these valuable plants is an important step in encouraging more eco-friendly landscapes.

To me, there are two major Myths about Native Plants. The first major myth about native plants is that ANY native plant will just naturally do well in a landscape. This, of course, isn't true. Plants will only do well in a landscape if their requirements for sun, water and soil type meet your site conditions. In other words, native plants that require a lot of water are not going to do well in a high and dry landscape. Rainer covers this myth in his post: Myth #1: Native plants are more drought-tolerant than their exotic counterparts.

His second post in the series, is entitled: Native Plant Myth #2: Native Plants are Not as Tough as Exotic Plants . And in it he says that there is a common belief "that natives are somehow weaker and more delicate than exotics plants." I've never really run into that belief and, in fact, think that many people believe exactly the opposite - that ANY native plant will survive wherever you put it. Again, I refer to the tenant of Right Plant, Right Place - or choosing plants to match the site conditions of your landscape.

The other thing that I think is a common misconception is that all native landscapes are weedy and unkempt looking. I think that part of the reason for this bad reputation is that certain proponents of native plants like a very natural looking landscape, rather than one that is manicured. They let the wildflowers grow in their yards and they don't prune or trim their plants to keep them neat looking and because of the hap-hazard look of their yard, some people assume that native landscapes=wild and weedy. This is a myth that I always try to dispell. Native landscapes can be kept just as neat and trimmed and manicured looking as a non-native landscape. The look of the landscape is more about the person doing the landscaping than about the plants themselves. Rainer's third post about native plants, Native Plant Myth #3: Native Plants are not as showy or ornamental as exotic plants is somewhat along the same lines. In it he states "The problem is not that native plants are intrinsically less ornamental than exotics; the problem is one of design. Native gardens, for the most part, overly imitate natural plant communities. Native gardens end up looking like some poor imitation of a woodland or meadow. As a result, we have no precedent for natives in man-made landscapes."

I think that we are all in the learning stages when it comes to creating environmentally friendly landscapes. And when it comes to native plants, many of us still have a lot to learn. Check out Rainer's blog, grounded design, to get his views on landscaping with natives. And then to learn even more about native plants, visit the native plant information on our Resources page.

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