Whether you have a small yard in the city or a large acreage in the country, native plants can give you options to grow on.

Native plants are good choices for landscaping for a variety of reasons. For some people, choosing native species is about connecting with nature on a more personal level. Others opt for natives because they have a limited time to devote to landscaping projects. 

For some, it’s both reasons. More and more people are discovering that the plants that occur naturally in our prairies, forests, wetlands and glades can give us excellent landscaping ideas about what we can do around our home.

Many of the grasses and flowers that adorn our yards are exotic species – plants that were brought here from other parts of the world. Maintaining the beauty of these plants is often a high-maintenance job. Many exotic species require high amounts of water, fertilizer, pesticides or some other type of labor-intensive chore that takes more of your time – and money – than you had originally intended.

In many situations, native plants – the trees, flowers and grasses that were here to begin with – can be just as beautiful to look at and a lot less trouble to grow.

There are many benefits associated with a well-planned, diverse native landscape. One of these is wildlife attraction. The songbirds, butterflies, small reptiles and mammals that you go to parks and other public facilities to see can often be enticed to your backyard with the proper plantings.

These plants provide food, nesting and other habitat essentials needed by these animals. Those instinctual needs will draw a variety of wildlife to specific plants whether those plants are growing at a nature center on in your backyard.

As mentioned above, native plants usually require less care than exotics. The reason for this is simple; millions of years of evolution have adapted these plants to the conditions found here. That means they’ve grown accustomed to the soil, weather patterns, insect pests and other factors that affect plant growth in this region of the country.

Francis Skalicky

Exotic plants have few of these inherent adaptations and, in some cases, can only be sustained through extensive “life-support” procedures such as heavy watering, fertilization and pest-control applications.

In many cases, once native flowers and grasses get established in an area, homeowners don’t have to worry as much about weeding, either. Remember, these plants were holding their own in our local soil millions of years before we came along. Their large root systems and effective seed dispersal systems are effective at sustaining their populations.

Native plants come in many shapes, colors and forms. Those interested in growing indigenous plants have a variety of flowers, shrubs, grasses, small trees and large trees to choose from. The best natural landscaping plan is one that involves a mixture of plant types, but if space for plants is limited – that’s still all right.

Native plants can work for you whether you have 10 acres on the edge of town or a single flowerbed along the edge of your driveway.

Some people shy away from native plants because they think a landscape centered on native plant species will have a rougher, “woolier” appearance than the well-manicured flowerbeds to which they’re accustomed. That’s not necessarily a fair criticism because people can still control the neatness of their plantings.

Just because you have native plants doesn’t mean you can’t mow, weed-eat, edge and do other aesthetic maintenance procedures that are done with non-native plantings.

(Francis Skalicky works for the Missouri Department of Conservation in southwest Missouri. He can be reached at 417-895-6880.)

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