What's a Native Plant?
In the United States, a native plant is defined as one that was naturally found in a particular area before European colonization. Since native plants are adapted to local precipitation and soil conditions, they generally require less upkeep, therefore helping the environment and saving you time, water, and money.
Benefits of Native Plants
Native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do much more than add beauty to the landscape. They help:
- Conserve water - native plants will be more tolerant to drought and therefore require less watering
- Reduce mowing costs - by letting your plants grow naturally, you will have to mow significantly less
- Provide habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife
- Protect soils - when native plants are growing, soil health will improve
- Clean our air - for example, in one year a mature tree will absorb more than 48 lbs. of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to oxygen
- Mitigate flooding - deep roots of native plants will hold soil in place during heavy rains and prevent erosion
- Save money on fertilizer and pesticides - they will thrive naturally
- Reduce temperatures in urban areas - native trees vegetation can reduce urban heat by shading building surfaces, deflecting radiation and releasing moisture in to the atmosphere
The key to getting started is picking the right plants for your area. Texas has a total 10 ecoregions where you will find an array of different plants growing natively depending what area you are in. What does well in the Hill Country or Edwards Plateau will not necessarily do well in the High Plains or Blackland Prairies of Texas, so it is important to know what ecoregion you are planting and to plant accordingly. Unlike many non-native plants, native plants introduced into landscape plantings are hardy, less susceptible to pests and diseases and unlikely to escape and become invasive. With properly selected native plants, it may not be necessary to modify soil characteristics at all to have thriving gardens. The great variety of plants native to any region give gardeners options that work well in any type of garden design. Because maintaining native plants requires less work, they provide excellent choices for large commercial landscapes as well as residential gardens. The Audubon Society has a great guide as part of their Plants for Birds Program to help you plant according to your ecoregion. Follow this link - Plants for Birds and simply enter your email address and zip code to view a comprehensive list of natives in your area.
How can you help?
- Plant a native today, just one can make a difference
- Explore your environment - learn your native plants and the wildlife they support
- Familiarize yourself with common invasive plants in your area, remove them and never re-plant. Click this link to use as a guide - Texas Invasives - Some invasive plants that are common in the hill country include, Ligustrum, China Berry, Chinese Tallow, Nandina, Bamboo, Johnson Grass, King Ranch Bluestem and Chinese Parasol, to name a few.
- Educate your friends, family and neighbors on what you've learned today
For more in-depth information on native gardening, click this link from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center - A Guide to Native Plant Gardening