Again I return to using native plants in the landscape. This is an ever growing concern, as we are seeing the loss of pollinators and native songbirds in our region. The loss of songbirds is felt by bird watchers and gardeners alike. How many of us put out birdseed in the winter months only to see a few species, many which were introduced from Europe? How many of you see Eastern Kingbirds, Meadowlarks, Dickcissels, Scissor-tailed flycatchers, warblers, wrens, and song sparrows? I see a few, but not near each other and scarcely in places where croplands exceed rangelands.
It comes back down to the question of what to use in our landscapes. We all want easy to maintain, tough, weather tolerant, and pretty landscapes. Incorporating natives into a meadow like garden around the home can be everything we want, and beneficial for insects and the birds that eat them. Fact: 96 percent of birds feed their young with insects, insects that feed on our native plants. Many of the insects that feed on our plants cause minimal damage and are food for something bigger. It takes getting to know your insects to be able to truly enjoy your garden plants.
The native plant display at our office is a good example of what I am talking about. Natives were planted in mass, creating large groupings of insect food. If look closely, you will see feeding damage, holes, tears, and missing leaves. You may not find any insects, birds are eating them up. Natives were not meant to be planted as specimens; they need to be massed for effect and to prevent insects from becoming a problem. I have become very fortunate at my house to have orioles, robins, wrens, and finches nesting nearby. I have a large native plant area with multiple plantings and plenty of species for insects to feed on. I was very excited to see a milkweed beetle nymph on my butterfly milkweed last night.
Planting natives does not mean you have to give up your aesthetic qualities, if designed correctly, your native garden can be lush, full of color, and easy to care for. The main thing to remember is that few species bloom all summer long, most have periods of flowers two months long or less. Knowing when natives bloom and planting them so that when one species is done, another begins is very important.
As I discussed in a previous post, finding natives to plant is easier than it used to be. There are many mail-order nurseries that specialize in native plants and a few greenhouses where natives are sold. We have a large selection of native perennials and grasses that can be shipped in the US. (Find them Here) Finding a designer for native meadow gardens is also easier than it used to be. Many designers are learning of the value of native plants and are incorporating them into their designs and learning to design solely with them.
The following list includes some of the natives that we sell and the number of insect species that they support as either host plants or nectar sources.
Species Number of Insect Species Supported
Little Bluestems 6
These species are an example of what native plants can do for us. To create a visually pleasing meadow landscape, you should include at least one native tree per 10,000 square feet and seven to ten shrubs in that space. A mixture of 6o percent grass and 40 percent forbs is necessary for a healthy garden. You can use concrete, stone, or natural edging for your borders, and still have a lawn, just be careful of spraying chemicals that would drift into your meadow.