Native Plants Are a Valuable Addition to Your Landscape

In the spring we discussed helpful tips for landscaping, one of which was choosing plants that are native to Pennsylvania. Now that fall is nearly upon us, with another good planting window opening up before winter (especially for trees and shrubs), let’s talk about what native plants are and why they are a valuable addition to your landscape.

What Are Native Plants and Why Are They Beneficial?

According to Penn State Extension, a native plant is one that “grew in Pennsylvania before the European settlers arrived, as opposed to exotic plants which came from other countries after that time period.” Because native plants evolved here, they have adapted to Pennsylvania’s climate and tend to be easier to care for once they are established. For instance, many natives require little to no fertilizer or supplemental irrigation. But from an environmental perspective, the most important benefit of native plants is their role in benefitting pollinators and other wildlife.

A Strong Link in the Food Chain

Doug Tallamy of the University of Delaware found through his extensive research that 90 percent of our native insects feed exclusively on three or fewer families of plants – typically those native to the region. Most of these insects cannot eat the exotic plants that are typical of most landscapes today. You might not appreciate insects all that much, but 30 percent of the world’s fruits and vegetables are pollinated by insects, and having fewer insects means that birds have fewer insects to feed to their young, and that will lead to a reduction of bird species. Plus many natives like oak trees and chokecherries produce nuts and fruits that wildlife like deer and turkeys eat. Without native plants in our landscapes, there will be much less biodiversity in general.

Where Can You Find Native Plants?

More nurseries are stocking native plants these days as demand increases for them. Octoraro Native Plant Nursery in Kirkwood, PA is one example. Ernst Conservation Seeds in Meadville, PA is another good source. You can learn more about native plants and buy some at the same time at the annual Native Plants in the Landscape Conference at Millersville University each June. A quick internet search may find other sources near you. To get started, check out the DCNR native plant page to search for plants that would make a nice addition to your own landscape. And happy planting!

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