What’s so great about native plants?

What’s so great about native plants?

The 2022 National Gardening Survey reported a significant rise in purchases of native plants. Since 2019, the number of people buying them has nearly doubled, with 58 percent of consumers surveyed reporting purchases in 2022. Home gardeners are increasingly looking for native plants in specialty stores and nurseries rather than traditional garden centers and big-box stores. So, what’s the solution to this pink phenomenon?

My journey through the Native Botanical Garden trail began with monarch butterflies.

About eight years ago, I read about how the Eastern Province’s population has declined by more than 80 percent since the 1990s. I learned that monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants. If I can do something to help with my garden, I will.

That’s when I planted butterfly weed, an attractive member of the milkweed family that features stunning orange flowers and narrow, deep-green foliage.

Once my butterfly weed bloomed, I noticed a stark contrast between this plant and others. Not only has the plant welcomed monarch butterfly visitors, but I’ve also seen multiple species of bees, moths and butterflies stop by to nibble on the plant’s sweet nectar.

This has not happened with my other plants.

Photo courtesy of Curtis Honeycutt

I have planted irises, hostas, daylilies, and daffodils in the flower beds surrounding my house. These plants were attractive, but after seeing the visiting pollinators of the butterfly weed, I noticed that rarely any insects or birds interacted with the other plants. Although beautiful, they have proven to be very boring to pollinators.

My family and I moved from our home in Fishers to a home in downtown Noblesville the following year—not because of the plant condition, but because we loved the Noblesville home and its proximity to local shops and restaurants. Although I was tempted to dig up the butterfly weed and bring it with us, I did not; The new owners deserve to witness for themselves the summer collection of magnificent butterflies.

As we settled into the new house, I decided to delve more into plants. I quickly learned the difference between native and introduced plants. I have discovered that my garden can benefit insects, birds, butterflies and other forms of biodiversity. The plants I inherited around my house in Noblesville were a mix of native and non-native plants and some invasive species.

Gardening was fun, and I got to work adjusting the beds in my new yard. She snatched away the invaders and began growing native flowers from seeds and plugs. I realized I didn’t care for some of the introduced plants, but I liked others. To this day we still have non-native hydrangeas, peonies and tulips scattered around the mulched beds (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

In addition to attracting and supporting native pollinators, it turns out there are many benefits to growing native plants in your garden. Once established, most native plants require very little watering and need relatively little maintenance. They do not require fertilizers or pesticides. Because they are adapted to the region, native plants can tolerate local weather conditions. By developing deep root systems, these plants effectively provide erosion control and filter pollutants from reaching waterways. And many native plants are absolutely gorgeous—the right plant in the right place can provide a great deal of curb appeal to any suburban setting.

I’m not an expert on native plants, I’m more of a native plant enthusiast. “Plant nerd” is probably a more appropriate term. in Wild by design, I don’t plan to use many scientific names for plants, and I won’t show off any fancy horticultural titles to you. I want you to take steps with me to make our Hamilton County yards beautiful and useful.

I want us to plant vibrant landscapes that celebrate the unique beauty and environmental benefits of Hamilton County’s native plants. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and tear up all your flower beds right away; However, this column aims to encourage readers to think carefully about adding these plants to their outdoor environments along the way. Thanks for going on this outdoor adventure with me.

Curtis Honeycutt is a Noblesville-based columnist and author. Send him your questions, comments and suggestions on curtis@curtishoneycutt.com.

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